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TitletownTech announces extension of expertise to Milwaukee

The venture capital firm will establish full-time presence in the AI Co-Innovation Lab at UW campus

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May 14, 2024

WISCONSIN – Since its inception, TitletownTech – formed in 2019 out of a partnership between the Green Bay Packers and Microsoft – has been focused on helping support the growth and innovation of startup and early-stage businesses.

That partnership took a giant next step earlier this month with the announcement of TitletownTech-Milwaukee – which will be embedded in the AI Co-Innovation Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM).

“TitletownTech-Milwaukee is an extension of what we do here (at TitletownTech in Green Bay) – and I think that is an important message,” Managing Partner Jill Enos said. “It’s an extension of the expertise and the work we’re already doing, which is connecting founders and entrepreneurs to innovation, tools and resources to help them advance.”

The announcement came in tandem with Microsoft announcing a $3.3 billion investment in southwest Wisconsin at UWM’s Connected Systems Institute, which will house the nation’s first manufacturing-focused AI Co-Innovation Lab.

Brad Smith, the president of Microsoft and an Appleton West graduate, said the project aims to make Wisconsin a leader in high-tech manufacturing – which Enos said has always been an area of focus for TitletownTech.

“We’ve been focused on manufacturing as one area of investment since the day we opened, so we’ve always had that interest – we know it’s a core strength of the region,” she said.

Though physically located in Northeast Wisconsin, Enos said TitletownTech’s presence blankets the state – with the Milwaukee expansion only furthering that reach.

“(TitletownTech-Milwaukee) extends it to be able to be in a position where we can collaborate more with other partners in a city that is a center of this as well,” she said.

Enos said TitletownTech has already been “really active” in Milwaukee – but a permanent presence there, “certainly won’t hurt” getting the name and resources out there even more.

“It will deepen the network and give us more opportunities – having boots on the ground, literally,” she said. “I think that always creates more opportunities to meet people we might not otherwise connect with.”

Enos said the plan is to hire two in-house TitletownTech employees to work out of the AI lab in Milwaukee – with the lead staff member having already been selected, and will be announced soon.

The “boots on the ground” in Milwaukee, she said, will work in tandem with the staff in Green Bay – with occasional crossover as needed.

“It will be a fluid exchange of information and support,” she said. “It’s an extension of our team, and they’ll be a part of our regular team meetings. And then where there are opportunities where startups need some extra support in addition to the AI Lab – potential needs for investment capital – our team up here is going to be as involved as the team down there.”

The core of the project
Though it didn’t get as much of a spotlight as President Joe Biden’s appearance or the $3.3 billion investment, Enos said she would say the AI Co-Innovation Lab is the most interesting aspect of the announcement.

“I think this is the story that is probably more impactful because the whole role of the AI Co-Innovation Lab is to give companies of all sizes better tools and capabilities to compete,” she said.

To her, Enos said the lab and TitletownTech’s role in it, is the “icing on the cake that enables all of these pieces to come together.”

“If you have a huge data center that has all this ability and compute power – if you’re not putting it to use in the most incredible ways possible, then you’re missing something in that,” she said. “We can arm companies of all sizes with resources to be more competitive in the most natural place they should be – which is in the Upper Midwest, in Wisconsin.”

According to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), the Badger State is home to more than 470,000 manufacturing jobs – making it No.1 in the country for manufacturing employment concentration.

“I think there’s something special about focusing on manufacturing in a state where that’s been the core strength for a century,” Enos said. “Instead of thinking about innovation on the coasts, build the innovation where people are building things.”

The AI Co-Innovation Lab and TitletownTech’s extended presence in southern Wisconsin, Enos said, “is going to draw an increasing amount of talent here.”

“(Companies) will say, ‘this is where I should be building – connected to my customers, connected to my markets,” she said. “I’m no longer forced to make a trade-off where I need to leave to go places where there’s capital and talent. The talent and the capital is here, with these tools and capabilities.”

Connected, but different
Enos said though TitletownTech-Milwaukee is an extension of its presence in Green Bay, it won’t be the same.

“We won’t have co-working space or any in-residence offices for startups (like we have in Green Bay),” she said.

However, Enos said, the design of the AI lab enables companies to come in and work for days and, in some cases, a couple of weeks – “almost always with the idea of them leaving with a working prototype.”

“It’s like a sprint session where they’re getting surrounded by resources, bringing in what they’re developing with their established company – they build it in the lab, they take it back and put it to use,” she said. “Or (some businesses) may find something they could spin out, and we can help with spinning out new startups. Or (if it’s a) startup, we will have opportunities, potentially, to support them with investment, if they’re seeking investment.”

Enos said it provides TitletownTech more opportunities to “plug people in down there” and connect with investment opportunities as well.

A collaborative approach
Though nearly two hours separates TitletownTech and TitletownTech-Milwaukee, Enos said the approach, focus and importance are the same.

“It’s important to us we don’t have an ‘our office is here and their office is there’ approach – we think of it as fluid,” she said. “So, our staff will be extended. We’ll have two people working out of the UW-Milwaukee location, out of the AI Lab, but they will be connected to our team here.”

Enos said those team members will be working alongside Microsoft employees, who will serve as the technical experts.

Jill Enos said TitletownTech-Milwaukee will be an extension of what the capital venture firm does at its Green Bay location. Photo Courtesy of TitletownTech

“The Microsoft team is bringing in the best in the world – technical expertise around building and developing AI capabilities and working with companies from startups to the SC Johnsons of the world,” she said.

TitletownTech’s role in it, Enos said, is being able to help on the early-stage side of things – “helping more startups connect in and helping those founders that are thinking about how you transform innovation, especially in the manufacturing sector, utilize what’s cutting edge today.”

Enos said they anticipate welcoming 60-75 companies a year into the lab for “these sprint processes.”

The lab, she said, provides a multitude of benefits to founders/entrepreneurs/business owners.

“The first (benefit of the lab) is having access to the individuals who will connect them and share with them a different way of thinking about what’s possible, based on what they bring to the table,” she said.

The second, Enos said, is being connected to TitletownTech.

“(We might be able to help) if they’re also looking for capital and investment to continue to build it as an early-stage company,” she said. “And the third is being connected to a collaboration of market players – the university, the talent at the university, the other established companies in the market – that could be their partners, investors, customers. Having that connection point to all of those, to me, is incredibly robust from a resource perspective.”

From the start, Enos said the Universities of Wisconsin has been a core partner of TitletownTech, as have industry players.

“We knew when we launched (and worked with) founders trying to build something new and challenging – higher education has to be a part of that, as does industry,” she said. “That’s been part of the core tenets of how we designed TitletownTech – you have to have entrepreneurs and higher ed and industry players to make it work together.”

Having that all together in a physical place in Milwaukee where Microsoft is offering these AI lab services complimentary, Enos said, “is remarkable.”

“Companies that get to go through this are working with the best in the world as a resource to enable them to do more,” she said.

Wisconsin is the place to be
Extending TitletownTech’s culture of collaboration to reach even more partners, Enos said, is what the team is most excited about.

“And by that, I mean partnerships with industry, partnerships with more founders and entrepreneurs,” she said.

Being the first-ever Manufacturing Co-Innovation Lab in the U.S. – “we should be able to draw more attention here, to the state and attract more founders and innovators that say, ‘oh, I need to go be in Milwaukee, be in Wisconsin, work in Green Bay – to be closer to the center of this activity.'”

Enos said TitletownTech’s partnership with Microsoft enables it to “bring in the best” in terms of resources – “literally the best in the world from a technology perspective.”

Establishing TitletownTech-Milwaukee, she said, broadens that ability even more.

“It’s leveling up,” she said. “It’s leveling up what we’ve been doing (at TitletownTech), what the UW Connected Systems Institute can do, what the WEDC can do and what Microsoft can do in the state. And the (Green Bay) Packers have been involved in this, too, which is phenomenal.”

Connectivity processes between businesses and the AI Co-Innovation Lab, Enos said, continue to evolve.

“We’re going to continue getting the messaging out to communities and the startup communities we are connected with in other parts of the country as well – to let them know that by working with us, we can help them to transform the innovation they’re developing by giving them more resources and tools,” she said. “I want people to recognize this amazing resource in the center of the country that connects you to everything you would want if you’re building something new.”

The first in making that connection, Enos said, is reaching out to TitletownTech.

“We’ll be able to start enabling and connecting with companies of all sizes that are interested in participating in the lab,” she said.

Additional broad project details
Smith said the manufacturing-focused AI Co-Innovation Lab aims to serve 270 Wisconsin companies by 2030, including 135 manufacturing businesses – which underscores Microsoft’s commitment to equipping the workforce with the tools needed for success in an increasingly AI-driven economy.
“Wisconsin has a rich and storied legacy of innovation and ingenuity in manufacturing,” he said. “We will use the power of AI to help advance the next generation of manufacturing companies, skills and jobs in Wisconsin and across the country.”

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