Wisconsin Venture Capital
The Wisconsin Private Equity Program is primarily focused on venture capital partnerships active in Wisconsin and the Midwest. The program is an outgrowth of SWIB’s broader interest in private equity funds that began in the mid-1980s. Currently, six venture capital firms have commitments from SWIB. They are four Wisconsin-based firms: Venture Investors (Madison), Mason Wells (Milwaukee), Baird Venture Partners (Milwaukee), and 4490 Ventures (Madison) along with Northgate, a California firm, and Frazier Technology, a Seattle firm.
The Wisconsin-based venture funds firms are operating in Wisconsin with interests covering a range of technologies, including biomedical, life science, business service and enterprise software and applied technology (such as wireless devices, fuel cells). Together, these firms include investments from providing seed money to new companies to providing additional funds for growth.
The first initiative was approved in April 1999 with a proposal to invest up to $50 million in nonpublic healthcare and biotechnology companies in Wisconsin and the Midwest. Out of the $50 million, $45 million was allocated to Mason Wells Biomedical Fund I in Milwaukee and Venture Investors Early Stage Fund III, based in Madison.
The second initiative, approved in 2002, was to invest up to $100 million in venture capital funds active in Wisconsin. The investment focus was extended to all emerging technologies. In April 2003, a total of $90 million was allocated to Baird Venture Partners Fund I (B) and Frazier Technology Ventures II, a Seattle-based fund with a Madison office. In December 2005, an investment of up to $50 million in nonpublic healthcare, biotechnology and emerging technologies located in Wisconsin and the Midwest was approved. Out of the $50 million, $30 million, including a side-by-side commitment, was allocated to Venture Investors Early Stage Fund IV.
In 2008, SWIB invested $25 million in Baird Venture Partners Fund III. Baird Venture Partners. In addition to the $25 million commitment, $15 million was committed for direct co-investments in portfolio companies in Wisconsin that have been financed or will be financed by partnership funds SWIB has invested in over the past nine years.
In 2011, SWIB committed $80 million to Northgate Capital, a fund-of-funds manager with access to top-performing venture capital funds on the East and West coasts. The decision was made based on the access to high quality venture funds that generate the predominant amount of returns in the asset class but also to improve the changes for high-growth companies in Wisconsin to raise venture capital with SWIB acting as an intermediary (matching companies with capital).
In 2012, SWIB committed $25 million to Early Stage Fund V, bringing the total amount allocated to the Wisconsin Venture Capital initiative to $305 million.
In 2014, SWIB committed $25 million to Baird Venture Fund IV and $15 million to 4490 Ventures.
The State of Wisconsin Investment Board and Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation have created an early-stage venture capital fund focused on information technology. Called 4490 Ventures, a reference to the 44ᴼ N latitude and 90ᴼ W longitude lines that approximate the center of the state of Wisconsin, the $30 million fund will focus on early-stage companies primarily in Wisconsin. The private fund, capitalized jointly by SWIB and WARF, is intended to generate attractive returns and build value for state retirement fund participants and WARF’s primary beneficiary, the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Click here to read more about 4490 Ventures.