Grow where you're planted. Starting-up (again) in Milwaukee.

This is a guest blog post by Jim Emling co-founder of WhyHigh Technology a stealth startup based in Milwaukee. Prior to founding WhyHigh Jim was President of Zywave one of Milwaukee's tech startup success stories. Jim started at Zywave in 1996 as their first developer.  I was encouraged by friends & family to start a blog on my experiences starting up our new venture, WhyHigh Technology. My first few posts will come from the most common questions I have heard since launching. The most frequent line of questioning comes from people trying to figure out what the heck we're doing - but that's not being revealed for a few more months!

First up: is Wisconsin a conducive place to start a business - a high-tech one at that?Is there readily available capital? Is there talent? Disclosure: I am proudly a life-long Wisconsinite - I grew up in a south-side suburb of Milwaukee, went to school in Madison (on Wisconsin!), came back to the Milwaukee area to work, and I’m currently married with two small kids living in the western suburbs of Milwaukee. I already helped build one 500-person software company here. I think there’s plenty of room for another (or hundreds more, for that matter)! Here’s why my confidence in location is unshaken.

Finding Capital While previous success has afforded us the finances necessary to fund the early stages of WhyHigh, there is plenty of capital for those that have proven they can make their investors a reasonable return on that capital. I think this latter point is perhaps the hang-up for some. While there are a handful of examples of the college drop-out turned billionaire, the more common approach simply requires a lot more sweat equity than most people like to write about. It took me almost twenty years working my way up through a single employer from intern to president - getting a little lucky along the way - to earn the privilege to forge my own path. Others have put themselves out there and taken chances in front of business accelerators to kick-start things. Like most good things in life, it probably won’t come easy. Remember, business ownership is a unique privilege of the highest order - it should take some effort!

I think the key takeaway is that no one is going to just give you money because you have a good idea on paper - you either have to prove it (by getting customers to pay you - how old-fashioned!), or come in with a track record that dramatically increases your odds of success in the eyes of your investors. As a case in point, we have turned down several inbound investment offers so we can stay focused on product and customers instead of investors in our formative growth years. I'll write more about the benefits of boot-strapping in future posts - it's definitely the way to go in the early days if you can pull it off. In any case, there is money and financing to be had in the great state of Wisconsin. It doesn’t grow on trees and you can’t just apply for it online - but you can most definitely earn it. The mid-western way of hard-work, patience, and resilience can still pay-off.

Talent is Everywhere. The talent concern is even more ludicrous. Wisconsin’s private and public schools produce tens of thousands of capable, motivated people every year. We also boast some of the world’s largest and most successful employers - across many different spectrums of industry. The challenge for us as business owners is to provide break-through opportunities that rival or surpass those coming from the legions of firms that come here to recruit our top local talent away from us. A long thirteen years ago I was featured in an article on preventing brain drain from our state. Clearly, there’s more work to be done here, because many of the salient points continue to need addressing. Nevertheless, I anticipate zero problems staffing our business with people who were born and raised here.

Staying Local has other Rewards There are other clear advantages of staying local. First, you can grow and cultivate a strong personal network of both business and social referrals that will stay with you for the duration of your career and life. These relationships are crucial for both success and happiness. I’ll have future posts on where and how we found most of our trusted advisors for WhyHigh. Hint - it wasn’t via google-driven searching or because we were blasted by email campaigns or telemarketers! Second and perhaps more importantly, your children will have a more consistent education and social experience as they grow up by staying in one place. Promoting a local-first mentality in words and actions can influence even the very young.

So yes, Milwaukee is a great place to start our new business! We are only yet beginning our business - ultimately, the market will judge our ability to solve problems and create opportunity for our customers - execution will determine our success more than anything. Thus, I see zero downside in planting roots and learning how to fly in the city you grew up in. The soil here is just fine, thanks.

this article was originally posted to: