A public-private model, Badger Fund of Funds is performing for Wisconsin

Nearly a quarter of the Wisconsin legislators sworn into office this month are new to the Senate or Assembly this session. Compared with just six years ago, more than half of the Legislature’s 132 faces in 2023 are new.

Fresh blood has its merits, but there’s a learning curve for lawmakers who assume office with little or no knowledge of programs and policies enacted before their time. That’s true for everything to tax policy to social services; it’s also true for public-private investment programs such as the Badger Fund of Funds.

The Badger Fund of Funds is an umbrella for five early-stage capital funds spread across Wisconsin. It was funded by the governor and Legislature in the mid-2010s and spent the next few years matching that $25 million with twice that total in private dollars. It began investing in the late 2010s. Under rules set by the Legislature at the start, it can only invest in Wisconsin-based companies.

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The mission is to make money for all investors (including the state) over time, but also to provide a secondary “return” in the form of jobs, higher salaries and momentum to Wisconsin’s startup and technology-based economies.

By most measures, the Badger Fund of Funds is hitting those marks. As of Sept. 30, 2022, the five funds had invested in 36 companies, of which 31 were operating, two had “exited” — meaning sold for a financial gain — and three had been shut down.

In the angel and venture capital worlds, company failures are a risk that comes with the business, so losing three of 36 thus far is well within the norm.

Operating companies have collectively produced about 200 jobs with a quarterly payroll of $4.34 million, which works out to an average salary…

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