When government officials and business professionals meet here in Wisconsin to brainstorm ways to make our State a better destination for technology startups and to attract more investment capital, we often look for ideas from nearby states like Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio. It’s certainly important to understand what Wisconsin’s neighbors are doing to promote their tech sectors, but Wisconsin should really set a goal to be the leader, rather than just keep up, here in the Midwest and beyond. Perhaps it’s time to seek some inspiration from farther afield.
My business partner, Preston Austin, and I recently had the opportunity to spend several days in Dublin, Ireland because our company, murfie.com, was selected to participate in a gathering of 150 of the top new companies from around the world (an event called START) that took place alongside the Dublin Web Summit. While in Dublin, we spoke with a wide variety of people on the public and private side of economic development in Ireland, including Naoise Ó Muirí, the current Lord Mayor of Dublin.
It turns out that Wisconsin and Ireland have far more in common than our ability to brew and drink great beer. Ireland’s population is 4.7 million versus 5.7 million in Wisconsin. The Irish GDP is $217 billion versus $251 billion in Wisconsin. In both Ireland and Wisconsin, about 25% of the general population has a college degree, and we both host a strong public university system.
Both Ireland and Wisconsin have made it a priority to attract and grow technology startups and the sources of investment these businesses require. We’ve both established venture loan programs and tax credit programs for angel and venture investors. Ireland has several venture co-investment programs in place similar to those currently under discussion in Wisconsin.
Ireland’s approach to growing its tech sector appears to be working. Many venture funds have opened offices in Dublin, and these funds now account for $800 million in available growth capital for Irish startups. Not all of this capital is guaranteed to go to Irish companies, but 70% of the capital invested by these firms last year did.
Companies here in Wisconsin often visit (or even relocate to) the coasts to gain access to pools of venture capital this large. I’d love to see that change. While I have no intent to give up my Capital Autumnal Fire in favor of Guinness, it’s worth looking at the similarities and differences and seeing what Wisconsin and Ireland can teach each other.