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Corporate Venture Forum

image via Jeff Sherman

Just last Friday, over 150 entrepreneurs, corporations and other leaders of the entrepreneurship ecosystem came together for the Corporate Venture Forum hosted by American Express OPEN to have a first of its’ kind dialogue about best practices and opportunities for corporate venturing with local and national leaders.

Scale Up Milwaukee leader, Dan Isenberg, set the stage for the half-day conference reminding the crowd of the importance of this dialog happening here in Milwaukee. By facilitating this conversation, we are working to increase the engagement between different stakeholders in the ecosystem so that we can all grow together. Isenberg stressed that the partnerships that occur during these dialogues need to be centered around growth because growth is what matters and what unifies us in our efforts of economic development for the region.

We were very fortunate to have Jim McCann, founder and CEO of 1-800-FLOWERS, join the conversation with Dan to share his own story of growth and success. McCann shared a variety of different insights from his experiences– from starting his company to navigating the different partnerships he has established and recognized as essential to the success of 1-800-FLOWERS. McCann, along with the panelists later in the morning, reiterated the importance of relationship building throughout the process of pursuing a corporate partner and of course, a little humor never hurts. He also gave the entrepreneurs in the crowd with advice that resonated with much of the group: “make mistakes, then get over it! Great entrepreneurs recover quickly because they are willing to learn from their mistakes.”


“Think big, start small, act fast!” -Julie Cole, VP Marketing North America- ManpowerGroup

Following the “fireside chat” with Jim McCann, we welcomed our panel of corporations (American Express Ventures, IBM Venture Capital Group, ManpowerGroup) and their respective entrepreneur partners (Radius, HarQen, WeDeliver) for conversation on the “prospects and pitfalls of entrepreneurial partnering.” Once again the audience was treated to candid dialog as each of the partners shared their stories and advice with the emphasis on relationship building and identifying common visions being a resounding theme throughout.  The corporations represented agreed that the value in these kinds of partnerships often comes from the opportunity to collaborate with the innovative entrepreneurs to solve common problems.

Check out HarQen’s insights on their partnerships with ManpowerGroup here AND advice from WeDeliver’s founder, Jimmy Odom.

An important part of the pilot phase of Scale Up Milwaukee is to identify possible “action steps” to be implemented in the Milwaukee region. As a component of the breakout workshops, led by Silicon Valley Bank Midwest, IBM Venture Capital Group, American Express OPEN and GE Healthcare), the groups were presented with the challenge to come up with an idea for an activity or action that could be accomplished by the end of the year. Some of the ideas proposed were:

  • Taking mentor ship to the next level; focus on assisting entrepreneurs with finding funding and forming advisory boards
  • Creating a platform for dialog with corporations centered around growth opportunities i.e. “speed dating” or “office hours” with corporations
  • Establish a “supply chain symposium”

We will be working over the next few weeks to identify the partnerships and collaborations that would be necessary to help facilitate at least some of these ideas before the end of the year. Overall the message was clear: Milwaukee wants to be growth-obsessed and is willing to work together to make it happen.

Stay tuned as we continue to have dialogues with key leaders in the entrepreneurial ecosystem and continue to develop a plan to help Milwaukee help itself grow!

Attended the workshop, but didn’t get to share your feedback–fill out our event survey here!