October 7, 2014

Q&A: WEDC's Lisa Johnson on Capital Catalyst

Lisa Johnson of WEDC
Lisa Johnson is vice president of Entrepreneurship and Innovation for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), Wisconsin’s lead economic development organization. Lisa has served a variety of executive roles in business startup and business investment strategies. Lisa has spent more than 22 years in business development and technology licensing and operations in the biotechnology sector.

Q: How would you describe the Capital Catalyst program?

A: WEDC’s Capital Catalyst program is designed to support the efforts of entrepreneurial-minded communities and organizations to stimulate new business creation by providing capital to high growth technology-based companies in Wisconsin.

Capital Catalyst provides grants to communities and other entities to capitalize a seed fund that provides funding to high-growth startup and emerging growth companies.  The grant from WEDC must be matched on a 1:1 basis by the community/entity.  The seed fund created by Capital Catalyst dollars and the required match is managed and administered by the community/entity to provide capital to eligible businesses in the form of grants, loans or investments (equity or royalty-based).  No amount of the Capital Catalyst or matching funds may be used for administrative expenses.

Q: What communities have successfully accessed the program?

A: Whitewater was the first community to take advantage of the program in early 2013, supporting six local businesses through funding made available in its initial $300,000 fund.  That success led to a second round of funding from Capital Catalyst that, along with Whitewater’s matching funds, totals an additional $500,000.

Capital Catalyst grants have also been awarded to Baraboo, Green Bay, and the Eau Claire region.  In addition, the program has also funded healthcare-specific funds with organizations in Madison and southeast Wisconsin.  Capital Catalyst was also the source of funding that matched UW System support in creating the Ideadvance Seed Fund program, which supports startups from UW four- and two-year colleges, excluding UW-Madison.

Start. Seed. Scale.
Q: How much money does the program currently have available over what timeframe?

A: For the current fiscal year ending June 30, 2015, Capital Catalyst has a $2 million program budget available through an open application process.

Q: Can you describe some success stories from the program?

A: In addition to the many businesses that participating communities have funded through the program, the Ideadvance Seed Fund has energized startup activity on UW campuses statewide.  To date, 23 startups have been accepted into the program, which provides grant funding as well as business model training and mentoring.  Startups from campuses including UW-Platteville and UW-Whitewater are progressing through a variety of business development milestones, with some having acquired key partnerships and early adopters.  These are the critical steps that Capital Catalyst funding can support until the businesses are positioned to attract investment capital.

Q: I am a start-up business in the region. How do I go about accessing the program?

A: Capital Catalyst provides grants to seed funds that are managed at the local level, so WEDC does not provide direct funding to businesses or review business applications under the program.  Businesses should check the list of current Capital Catalyst-funded entities to inquire about the availability of funds and the application criteria.  Those organizations are listed on the program page of WEDC’s website.

It should be noted that the program is designed to support startups and emerging growth companies primarily in technology sectors, and may not be used to fund real estate, retail or hospitality industry businesses, including restaurants.