Planting seed money for start-ups
WHITEWATER Andrew Hoeft moved his young business into a larger space in Whitewater, thanks in large part to a grant program designed to help entrepreneurs flex their newfound wings.
Hoeft's company, Date Check Pro, received $10,000 from the Whitewater Community Development Authority, the city's economic development organization.
The authority partnered with the Whitewater University Technology Park and Innovation Center and UW-Whitewater to create the Whitewater Capital Catalyst Fund to help entrepreneurs move their business ideas closer to reality.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. contributed $150,000 to the Whitewater fund, which will be equally matched from local sources.
Gov. Scott Walker was on hand Tuesday to present ceremonial checks to Date Check Pro and another young company, Got Apps, Inc., both of which recently moved from the Innovation Center into larger offices downtown.
"We're not just here today to hand over a $10,000 check," Walker said. "What we're saying is that we're investing in you and your ideas.
"Start-ups and emerging companies often just need help in meeting the lease, paying the bills. This program helps them do that."
Based on his experience working at a grocery store, Hoeft started Date Check Pro to check expiration dates on grocery products. The cloud-based program runs on mobile tablets and laptops and syncs with a handheld scanner.
Joe Neuman started Got Apps, Inc., in 2012. The company specializes in creating apps for iPhone, iPad, Android and other mobiles devices and counts Date Check Pro as one its customers.
Hoeft said the program is unique in that it provides seed money without any strings attached.
"I put my money into office space," said Hoeft, a UW-W student majoring in entrepreneurship. "It's incredible that there's this trust in the entrepreneur.
"With this program, there's a commitment from the community and the state, but also a realization that strings aren't necessarily a good thing at this stage of a company's growth."
The $300,000 Whitewater program is just the second in Wisconsin. Eau Claire partnered with the state in a similar fashion last fall.
"This partnership between the WEDC and the Whitewater CDA is an innovative model to advance aspiring entrepreneurs to successful business operation and job creation," Walker said.
Jeffery Knight, chairman of the Whitewater authority, said the Capital Catalyst program is one more tool to enhance economic development and job creation.
"Date Check Pro and Got Apps, Inc., are two prime examples on how this fund has created opportunities locally and will only expand as we implement the program in its entirety," he said.
UW-W Chancellor Richard Telfer and Whitewater City Manager Cameron Clapper said the fund will provide new opportunities for start-ups and early-stage businesses in the Whitewater area.
"So often, great innovations and opportunities come along but lack the capital funding needed to get off the ground," Clapper said. "This program will provide entrepreneurs with needed funding to move their businesses forward, making their dreams become reality.
"We are fortunate in Whitewater to have such a proactive, visionary CDA and a strong, collaborative relationship between the city and university. This program is the direct result of those collaborative efforts and the backing of the WEDC."
Interstate expansion remains on track
Despite concerns raised last fall by state transportation officials, funding should be in place through the middle of 2015 to keep the Interstate 90/39 widening project on track.
That's due in large part to Wisconsin's budget picture, which improved dramatically in January when the Legislative Fiscal Bureau hiked its estimate of the state's surplus from $347 million to $484 million.
Reports surfaced in November that the state Department of Transportation had requested a two-year delay in the project that will widen the Interstate from two lanes in each direction to three lanes in each direction from the Illinois state line to the Beltline in Madison.
A portion of the route, primarily through Janesville, has been planned for widening from two lanes in each direction to four.
Construction has been scheduled to start in 2015 with an expected completion date of 2021.
Gov. Scott Walker said Tuesday that there shouldn't be any surprises in his Feb. 20 budget address about infrastructure funding.
Walker said the additional $137 million in surplus will allow the state to avoid gas tax or vehicle registration fee increases to pay for needed highway projects.
The surplus, he said, will allow the state to provide income tax cuts "and still keep our transportation budget intact and growing."
While the widening project appears to be on track through 2015, what remains to be known are funding levels included in future state budgets that cover the project's expected timeline.