Packers and Microsoft form business accelerator partnership for Titletown District.
GREEN BAY – The next Bill Gates might be in Green Bay or Appleton or De Pere, waiting for his or her opportunity.
If so, the Green Bay Packers and Microsoft Corp. will be there to give a boost. The organizations on Thursday announced a partnership to advance technology and innovation in northeastern Wisconsin through TitletownTech, a new entity based in Titletown District in Ashwaubenon near Lambeau Field.
"We intended to develop Titletown District as a magnet to draw world-class people. The Microsoft involvement clearly takes this to another level," said Ed Policy, Packers vice president and general counsel, who oversees district development. "The remainder of the century will belong to communities that can draw talented young people."
A new building immediately west of Hinterland Brewery will be home to three new initiatives:
» TitletownTech Accelerator, a program that provides resources, advisors and mentors for young companies to develop and market new digital technology products and services.
"We are creating a group of Microsoft mentors," Smith said. "This is something our employees actually love to do."
» TitletownTech Venture Capital Fund, an investment fund jointly financed by the Packers and Microsoft.
»TitletownTech Labs, a support program for technology development.
The building will also house the northeastern Wisconsin headquarters of Microsoft's TechSpark program, which was announced in Appleton on Oct. 5, and offices for the Packers' Titletown District staff. At least one other tenant will occupy the building.
"If you think about any industry that is in northeastern Wisconsin today, we would say there is an opportunity, if done well and done right, to innovate and really grow using digital technology in new ways," said Brad Smith, president of Microsoft Corp. "A big part of what we are focused on doing is really bringing to Green Bay the very best of the best things we see around the world."
The three things needed to accomplish that, Policy said, are an effective and inspiring space, access to technology and mentors, all of which TitletownTech will provide.
Smith said he is most excited about TitletownTech Labs, a new venture for Microsoft.
The lab will enable established businesses to send employee teams to work at TitletownTech for 18 weeks to develop new digital technology products and services. They will have access to Microsoft resources around the world.
"What we're seeing across the country and really around the world is that every business is becoming to some degree or another a digital business," Smith said.
As examples, he cited precision farming, which uses low-cost sensors in fields to provide farmers with new levels of data, and Johnson Controls Inc. of Milwaukee, whose HVAC (heating and air conditioning) units now have a range a sensors that allow the company to manage climate control of buildings, and even monitor fires.
"They now have a new line of business," he said. "These are examples of digital transformation. And yet it is not necessarily easy, if you are a business, to figure out how do I make heads or tails of this?"
TitletownTech is designed to help them do that.
Funding and resources
The Packers and Microsoft will contribute $5 million each to management of the center and the venture capital fund, which will be available to TitletownTech participants. Profits from investments will be contributed to philanthropy or economic development.
Policy said additional investors will be recruited, but the Packers and Microsoft will remain the largest.
The Packers will pay for the building and receive rent from tenants, including their own separate Titletown District entity. The team declined to say how much the building will cost.
"One of the key factores that motivated us to move forward with Titletown District was that Green Bay was at a disadvantage because of the small percentage of college graduates we have in the area. This will help address that," Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy said.
Microsoft will base three full-time staff members at TitletownTech, including Michelle Schuler, TechSpark community engagement manager for Wisconsin.
TechSpark is a national civic program aimed at fostering economic opportunity and job creation through partnership with rural and smaller metropolitan communities.
Microsoft is sponsoring six TechSpark programs in smaller U.S. cities. Each will have a signature project. TitletownTech is that project for Green Bay.
"There's talent everywhere, yet we concluded we're not as connected with the talent or the innovation needs and opportunities outside the largest metropolitan areas of the country," Smith said.
Also based there will be a TEALS program manager and a person whose job is to make sure companies and individuals at TitletownTech have access to Microsoft's broad range of resources.
TEALS pairs volunteer technology professionals with teachers to “co-teach” computer science. Microsoft hopes to add 1,100 volunteers and 100 schools this year.
The Titletown Tech building is expected to open in fall 2018.
A natural fit
A partnership between an NFL franchise and one of the world's most successful technology companies is not as strange as it would seem, Smith said.
NFL teams are very much digital companies and the Packers' culture matches well with that of Microsoft.
"You can't put a world-class team on the field unless you have a world-class team off the field, especially when you are the smallest city of any professional sport in the country," he said.
Microsoft also was attracted by the Packers' level of community engagement and philanthropy.
The combination of the Packers and Microsoft excites Peter Zaehringer, vice president of economic development for the Greater Green Bay Chamber.
"You have an NFL franchise that is potentially creating the entrepreneurial support and innovation hub in northeastern Wisconsin," Zaehringer said. "There are a lot of resources behind the Packers and Microsoft as well."
TitletownTech fits the chamber's Economic Development Strategic Plan, which the Packers helped develop.
"We compete with some 3,000 communities across the country. This puts us in the top 12 or 15," Zaehringer said. "Mark Murphy said he'll get on the phone with us to attract businesses. People will take that call."
Both Smith and AOL founder Steve Case, who was in Green Bay earlier in the week, stressed the importance of regional cooperation.
Smith, a graduate of Appleton West High School, said it takes as much time, and sometimes more, to drive across Seattle as it does to go from Green Bay to Appleton.
"Where I think people who live here sometimes see two cities, we see one region," he said. "And we see one region that has a potential to grow even more dynamically if it can harness the potential in a more integrated way."
TitletownTech is designed to make contributions to the entire Fox Valley, if not the state, he said.
Case, speaking at the Rise of the Rest gathering of northeast Wisconsin entrepreneurs and innovators, had the same message.
"We're trying to encourage more of those connections so it’s not everybody doing their own things. That will be critical to attract the talent and the capital to encourage what we’re seeing," he said. "It's a growing recognition of the importance of a network, of cooperation, so it’s not just Green Bay versus Oshkosh versus Appleton."