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Four companies with Wisconsin operations announced today the formation of a $100 million corporate venture capital fund to accelerate the state’s tech ecosystem.
Apple supplier Foxconn, insurance company Northwestern Mutual, health care provider Advocate Aurora Health, and building materials supplier Johnson Controls are each investing $25 million to form the early-stage venture fund, called the Wisconn Valley Venture Fund.
The fund will target startups demonstrating “interdisciplinary innovations in health care, technology, manufacturing and financial services,” according to a press release, and will make investments ranging from approximately $250,000 to $5 million.
Northwestern Mutual, Advocate Aurora Health, and Johnson Controls are all headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, while Foxconn has pledged to build a factory in the Southeastern corner of the state and is making Milwaukee its North American headquarters.
It’s unusual for corporations from such disparate industries to band together to create one giant venture capital fund. The size of the fund is also notable when compared to the amount of VC funding Wisconsin startups raised last year — $231 million, according to the Wisconsin Technology Council.
In a conference call with representatives from the four companies, they said that the fund was born out of similar conversations they were having with one another about how technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, and cloud computing might disrupt their businesses.
Rick Klein, the chief business development officer for Advocate Aurora Health, cited Johnson Controls’ work in developing smart buildings, which aligns with Advocate Aurora Health’s work to evaluate the health of large patient populations, as an example of how the funds’ investments might aid multiple companies.
“It’s important for us to realize that no one company can be the master of all of these technologies,” said Robert Locke, the vice president of investment for Johnson Controls.
Some of the companies involved have already partnered together on other initiatives — Northwestern Mutual, for example, sold one of its Milwaukee buildings to Foxconn when the company expressed interest in establishing a Milwaukee presence, while Northwestern Mutual and Aurora Health (before it merged with Advocate Health) joined together to form a $5 million early stage venture fund for Milwaukee startups.
Though the fund is headquartered in Wisconsin, it will invest nationally and internationally. When asked how the fund will benefit Wisconsin if it doesn’t have a mandate to invest in Wisconsin startups, the representatives said that the fund can highlight the strength of Wisconsin’s business environment and talent pool to its portfolio companies.
The announcement comes as Foxconn is facing pressure to deliver on a pledge announced last year to build a factory in Wisconsin — for which it received a $3 billion incentive package from the state, said to be the largest incentive package a U.S. state has ever awarded to a foreign company.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) justified the incentive package by saying it would help create a better environment for technology companies — a community akin to Silicon Valley, which he dubbed “Wisconn Valley.”
Foxconn said it will invest $10 billion to create the factory, which will create 13,000 jobs. The company originally said that the factory would manufacture LCD displays, though in recent days it declined to confirm that initial commitment.
“We want to create an ecosystem in Wisconsin to become a greater technology hub — not only in the Midwest, but in the United States and globally,” Alan Yeung, the director of U.S. strategic investments for Foxconn, said. Yesterday, Foxconn also announced that it was investing $100 million in a research facility at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The next step for the Wisconn Valley venture fund is to select a fund manager. Representatives from the four companies said that they hoped to make the decision “as soon as possible,” but declined to give a specific date.
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