Today, Concordia University Wisconsin (CUW) hosted a round-table discussion of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Wisconsin. It was a great event, with a panel discussion led by CUW President Pat Ferry, and panelists Dan Lawton (Chairman, Promentis), Abby Taubner (Director, Milwaukee’s Gener8tor and gBETA program), Dave Latona (President, Milwaukee Economic Development Corp.) and Dan Sem (Dean, CUW School of Business). There was a lively discussion on what defines the Wisconsin entrepreneur, and whether we really deserve to be ranked 50th for startups (according to the Kauffman Foundation).
This event coincided with major announcements by Concordia, including the naming of their School of Business after Ted Batterman, who is making a significant donation to CUW to build a new building that will house the Batterman School of Business. Mr. Batterman is president and CEO (retired) of Spacesaver Corp. Batterman is a Wisconsin entrepreneur and innovator. In 1941 he founded Spacesaver, a high-density mobile storage and shelving company in Fort Atkinson. By 1998, Spacesaver evolved into a global employee-owned business based in Green Bay.
Batterman is known for maintaining high ethical standards and creating a culture of innovation. These traits, the panel discussed, are key features that defined many Wisconsin entrepreneurs: a strong work ethic, a spirit of innovation, integrity, and a sense of humility. While Wisconsin may not lead the country in new tech startups, we are at the forefront of building new and innovative companies that withstand the test of time, operate with integrity, and typically under-promise and over-perform.
The new building will also house incubator/startup space (the “collaboratorium”), along with something we are calling the Wisconsin Entrepreneur exhibit. The incubator space will facilitate the formation of student or faculty startups, in partnership with the business community; and, it will provide resources to help and connect students and business community partners, addressing real-world business needs via finance, accounting, marketing, software development and legal clinics.
This Wisconsin Entrepreneur exhibit is, in part, Concordia’s response to Wisconsin being ranked 50th for startups. We need to do a better job telling the inspiring stories of all these great Wisconsin entrepreneurs. Since the Wisconsin entrepreneur tends not to shout their successes from the hilltop (that humility thing …), this building will tell their stories for them, to raise awareness of Wisconsin’s many entrepreneurial successes, inspire the next generation of Wisconsin entrepreneurs, and convince our entrepreneurial talent that perhaps they should stay in Wisconsin. Eventually, all the major Wisconsin companies will be profiled, either in a kiosk display (at no charge), or in larger exhibits displayed throughout the corridors. Some of the initial participants already partnering to do wall displays include Sargentos (Gentine family), Palermos (Fallucca family) and Sendik’s (Balistreri family). Ultimately, though, we will tell the
inspiring stories of all of Wisconsin’s iconic companies and their founders, including Harley-Davidson, Miller, Schneider trucks, KwikTrip. Kohler, SC Johnson, Aldrich Chemicals, and the list goes on.
The building will be a monument to the Wisconsin Entrepreneur and their values, and will become the go-to place to learn about Wisconsin companies and their founders. These companies, and the entrepreneurs behind them, are Wisconsin’s “steeples of excellence.” Let’s tell their stories, so we can inspire, attract and retain more like them – in the new Batterman School of Business! We believe that business is better taught by the example and lessons of accomplished Wisconsin entrepreneurs, not simply by professors who have never been through the process of building, growing and running a business. Concordia’s approach to business education relies uniquely upon partnerships with Wisconsin’s business community, and this new building is being designed to facilitate those partnerships.