On January 4, Wisconsin Public Television ran a documentary on the impact that entrepreneurship has had on the State of Wisconsin. We were thrilled to see many familiar faces on the program! The documentary highlights two successful entrepreneurs who have ties to the University of Wisconsin system: Zach Halmstad, co-founder of JAMF Software, and Katie Brenner, co-founder of bluDiagnostics. Throughout the documentary, both Jon Eckhardt, Executive Director and Dan Olszewski, Director of the Weinert Center contribute their commentary about entrepreneurship in general and how it helps to shape the economy of Wisconsin.
The documentary reports that many of Wisconsin’s communities are overly reliant on one or two employers. The rise in entrepreneurship, however, is helping to rectify that. Not only do local economies benefit from the increased number of small businesses, but Wisconsin communities benefit from the number of philanthropic entrepreneurs who decide to give back to their local communities as well.
Of all the Wisconsin-based entrepreneurs who are committed to making a difference in their hometowns, there is hardly a better example than Zach Halmstad. After graduating from UW-Eau Claire, Halmstad co-founded JAMF Software, now Jamf, which provides IT support to organizations that employ Apple products. Having witnessed the deterioration of downtown Eau Claire during his youth, Halmstad took advantage of his position as a business owner to help revitalize the city. He built a new state-of-the-art building for Jamf in downtown Eau Claire, which houses over 200 employees. Beyond his work with Jamf, Halmstad has found even more ways to bring new opportunity to his hometown. He has taken part in a number of real estate renovation projects – the largest of which was the Lismore Hotel – which have helped contribute to the rebirth of Eau Claire’s downtown. When describing startup founders, Dan Olszewski says “the best entrepreneurs are really good at understanding a customer problem, and helping customers solve that problem.” Halmstad is the rare breed of entrepreneur who cannot only understand and solve problems for customers, but can do so for entire communities as well. We were fortunate to have Halmstad as one of the featured speakers at the 2017 Wisconsin Entrepreneurship Showcase.
The other entrepreneur highlighted by the documentary, Katie Brenner, also aspires to give back to the community. As a scientist, however, Brenner has a different method of doing so. Brenner is the co-founder of bluDiagnostics, a business built around a science that helps women with fertility issues. Having faced fertility issues herself, Brenner was especially motivated to solve this difficult problem faced by women all over the world. While working in the laboratory at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery as part of her Ph.D. at UW-Madison, Brenner developed an innovative way to isolate and test fertility hormones using saliva instead of a traditional blood sample. While she appreciated the science for its own sake, she also knew that in order to have the biggest impact and to help women around the world, there had to be a business built around the idea. After attending the Morgridge Entrepreneurial Bootcamp (MEB), Brenner felt ready to turn her idea into a commercially viable business. “It was exactly what this idea needed in order to really get moving,” Brenner reflects.
While the documentary only focuses on two startup founders, countless more are helping to change the fabric of the State of Wisconsin. Jon Eckhardt puts it nicely: “Entrepreneurship is the pure embodiment of the Wisconsin Idea. You’ve taken that next extra step from being an inventor in a lab to building a product or service in a company that has broad impact in the state of Wisconsin and beyond.”
We are thankful for the many entrepreneurs helping to shape our communities in the State of Wisconsin, and for Wisconsin Public Television for highlighting them in this wonderful documentary!
- You can watch the documentary in its entirety on the WPT website here: http://video.wpt.org/video/3008055445/