The Valley of the Midwest

Nov 23, 2009

Starting a company is in some ways similar to having a child: You put in a ton of work at the beginning and hope the reward will come someday down the road. To be an entrepreneur, you need to have a high tolerance for risk. The uncertainty that comes with not knowing if you are going to succeed or fail is intense, especially if you have invested most or all of your savings and have dependents and a mortgage.

In California’s Silicon Valley and along Boston’s Route 128, the atmosphere is high-adrenaline, the workers there focused on the potential of their high-risk, high-reward ventures. Here in Wisconsin, that culture of entrepreneurialism is not bred. People go to work at companies and often stay there for their careers.

Part of that is because Wisconsin simply lacks the vast resources of the coasts. To remedy that, there have been many discussions and debates about how to get more capital to Wisconsin and allow new companies access to the educational resources within the University of Wisconsin system. Things are beginning to happen, and I’ve been fortunate to benefit from them in the past year while starting Sharecipe.

For one thing, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has recently launched a new program, MERLIN Mentors, to link business leaders and entrepreneurs through startup specific advisory teams. I’ve been involved in MERLIN for five months and received invaluable advice on investments, marketing, sales and strategy. The backgrounds of my mentors are vast and impressive, from CEOs of two local IT and biotech companies to two entrepreneurs-turned-early-stage investors, and one serial executive and business owner. It is hard to articulate how helpful it is to get the unbiased opinions of business owners who have the best interest of you and your company in mind, and who generally seem to enjoy these long boardroom-type meetings.

Other groups, like the Wisconsin Technology Council, Accelerate Madison, Buy Local, High-Tech Happy Hour and Capital Entrepreneur Group, are also meant to connect Madison start-ups with each other. There is definitely a feeling of excitement here in Madison, and in the end, giving Madison business owners guidance as they take measured risks is great to see and fun to experience.

This week’s feature, Roasted Turkey with Cider Gravy, is a recipe of thanksgiving for the Sharecipe mentor team: Bob, Dedee, Laura, Bryan and David.

Katie Colbert and her husband recently launched a social networking site, Sharecipe.com, out of their Madison home. Colbert writes biweekly about the challenges and triumphs of balancing work and family.

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