Supporting Local Startups Through Cream City Venture Capital
“Why is a financial services company investing in a wine subscription startup?” This is a question I’ve been asked on more than one occasion.
The answer is simple. At Northwestern Mutual, we recognize technology and innovation will drive the future of the city of Milwaukee, and in order to attract and retain top technology talent, we must transform the city into a vibrant tech and startup community. The wine company mentioned above, Bright Cellars, is a local startup that we have invested in through Cream City Venture Capital, a venture fund dedicated to investing solely in startups based in southeast Wisconsin.
The Milwaukee startup scene has grown significantly over the past few years, but there is still more work to be done. We believe Milwaukee has the talent, resources and entrepreneurial spirit to be a premier ecosystem of startups, but in order to get there, entrepreneurs need access to capital, support and resources from the earliest stages.
So, instead of a dedicated focus, Cream City Venture Capital looks to partner with Milwaukee-area entrepreneurs who are leveraging technology solutions to address large problems and have a clear vision of the business they are trying to create – regardless of their industry.
Since launching in October 2017, we’ve already announced investments in 10 local companies:
- Socialeads – a platform that uses social media to provide insights to financial representatives and sales professionals for qualifying prospects, referrals and influencers – and winner of our first Reverse Pitch MKE event
- Lumanu – a marketing platform built to scale influencer marketing programs
- Bright Cellars – a personalized wine subscription service powered by data science
- Wantable – an online fitness and fashion retailer focused on providing customized clothing selections for customers
- SteamChain – a platform for deploying Machine as a Service (MaaS) business models on industrial machinery, equipment and software
- Alinea Engage – online patient intake, engagement and payments platform for physical therapists
- Pythonic AI – an artificial intelligence-based platform for extracting data from electronic medical records – and winner of our second Reverse Pitch MKE challenge
- PROMISS Diagnostics – a company developing an early-detection ovarian cancer test
- PAXAFE – smart packaging that aggregates critical supply chain data and enables intelligent shipping insurance
- Fiveable – a social learning platform offering livestream tutoring sessions and AP test prep
Cream City Venture Capital further demonstrates our commitment to growing the local startup community to create a vibrant tech ecosystem in Milwaukee. These partnerships go beyond just a financial investment – we want to ensure the startups become successful right here in our community.
In addition to early-stage capital, we also provide our portfolio companies with additional Northwestern Mutual resources, like access to financial representatives, mentors, technology resources and our Cream City Labs innovation space.
Larry Hitchcock, CEO and co-founder of Socialeads, tells me: "Part of our success so far is being able to have open, collaborative dialogue and access to the very executives and teams whose job it is to solve these problems every day. The co-development nature of our relationship, where we're really partners on bringing a great product to market, is as important and valuable, if not more, than the investment capital."
Too often, high potential companies are forced to look outside the region to find the resources required to reach their next stage of growth. Cream City Venture Capital’s goal is to make Milwaukee’s potential a reality, and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead for the region.
We’re always interested in learning about the ideas Milwaukee’s entrepreneurs are working on – please contact us if you’re interested in beginning a conversation.