Start-ups key to job growth, investor says
OED outreach speaker’s foundation behind $8 million in donations

By Gary Achterberg - News Graphic Staff

May 12, 2015

THIENSVILLE — If significant job growth is going to occur in Wisconsin, it must be fueled by small start-ups, a self-described “angel investor” told Ozaukee County business leaders April 29.

“The big companies did not get there unless they were small to begin with,” said Thomas M. Shannon, president of the BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation.

He was the keynote speaker at the eighth annual Ozaukee Economic Development outreach event, which attracted about 200 leaders of business and government from across the county to the Watermark at Shully’s Cuisine & Events.

Shannon said that Wisconsin now ranks 45th in the nation is generating start-up businesses.

“That’s terrible,” he said. “That’s not going to keep our kids here. That’s not going to do anything for us.”

He said that he has personally put his money behind a number of fledgling ventures and has had a better-than-typical success rate with those products.

Those products include a form of concentrated milk that comes in a plastic packet and has a yogurt-like consistency until it is mixed with water. He said the product developed by a Markesan company has a long shelf-life at room temperature and – unlike powdered milk – tastes like the real deal.

Shannon said that to kickstart the state’s job growth, more investment needs to flow into start-ups. It’s unlikely that a significant amount of that will come from more angel investors.

“It’s a risk,” he said. “We’re conservative with our money. We don’t want to blow it.”

He added that Wisconsin initially made some inroads in investing in start-ups with public money and then backed off.

This situation prompted Shannon to start BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation in July 2013. He said he has attracted a total of $8 million in philanthropic donations that have been invested in 14 different start-ups, primarily in medical technology and software.

Details on BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation are available on their website,

Prior to Shannon’s presentation, Kathleen Cady Schilling, executive director of Ozaukee Economic Development, welcomed those who attended.

OED has gotten involved in 51 projects since 2007 and created 1,703 jobs and retained another 2,003. The group also is involved in a variety of education and outreach activities, including a recent session to help businesses tap the export market. An upcoming seminar will focus on the effective use of social media.

Gary Achterberg can be reached at .