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9 May 2014

Wisconsin debating $25m fund

The Joint Finance Committee is to make a decision on whether to move forward with a $25m venture capital programme.

Author: Thierry Heles, reporter

Wisconsin's Joint Finance Committee, the state's budget panel, is debating whether to approve a contract with Sun Mountain Kegonsa, the manager of a new state-sponsored venture capital fund. Under the deal, the state would be contributing $25m to a master fund, while Sun Mountain Kegonsa would be required to contribute $300,000 and raise another $5m.

The venture funds will focus solely on businesses that are headquartered in the state and employ at least half of its workforce in Wisconsin. It is hoped that the resulting increase in deals, and the growth of a sustainable venture capital industry, could attract out-of-state investors. Sun Mountain Kegonsa is aiming to create a large ecosystem with an economic impact that would dwarf anything the state has seen in decades.

Governor Scott Walker and lawmakers set aside $25 million in the 2013 to 2015 state budget to fund the venture capital program and followed up with trailer legislation in July 2013 laying out how the programme would be run. A partnership deal was then struck between Sun Mountain Kegonsa and the state's Department of Administration in January 2014. If approved by the budget panel, Sun Mountain Kegonsa will be required to invest half of the $30.3m within 12 months, and all of it within 24 months.

At the same time, the budget panel is also debating Wisconsin University system's budget surplus. A non-partisan state audit in November 2013 had found no documented spending plans for $142m of the unrestricted programme revenue balances — 18.8% of the total $755.4m — that the university system and its campuses quietly carried over from fiscal 2012. The proposed policy would require that chancellors justify year-end balances exceeding 15% of expenditures by explaining their purpose and a spending time frame.

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