‘UpFront’: Northwestern Mutual CEO discusses company’s new venture capital fund

Northwestern Mutual CEO John Schlifske said his company is dedicating millions to a venture capital fund to help build new local businesses and attract people to Milwaukee.

“We’re trying to build a more robust technological community here in Milwaukee to attract people to come and work in the digital space,” Schlifske said Sunday on “UpFront with Mike Gousha,” produced in partnership with WisPolitics.com.

Schlifske said Northwestern Mutual has dedicated about $5 million of its $225 billion in assets to the venture capital fund.

“One thing we saw that was missing was a vibrant startup community,” he said. “There’s just not a lot of investment or opportunity for people to build businesses that way.”

He said the fund is looking for startup investments from $100,000-$500,000. He said the venture capital investments won’t be related strictly to tech companies, but “we’re trying to find more entrepreneurs and startups that will be in this digital space and we hope to encourage people to put their proposals to us.”

Also on Sunday’s program, which was about startup activity in Wisconsin, BrightCellars.com co-founder Richard Yau discussed locating his startup in Milwaukee. Bright Cellars is a monthly wine subscription club.

Yau said he saw the “genesis of a great startup ecosystem” in the area.

Yau’s company has grown to 19,000 subscribers and nearly 40 employees.

Former Trek executive and 2014 Democratic candidate for governor Mary Burke also appeared on the program to discuss her startup non-profit, BuildingBrave.org.

“The goal is to create a global online community of ten million women who are connecting and inspiring and empowering each other,” Burke said.

“I believe that women thrive when they have a community that recognizes their potential, supports and encourages them and always has their back,” she said.

Burke said lessons learned in her failed run for governor helped inspire her to create Building Brave.

Burke called running for governor “the scariest thing I had ever done in my life.”

But ultimately, she said “it was the best decision I ever made in my life, and it is because I did find who I really am.”

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