CC036: Matt Cordio of Skills Pipeline // Getting a lay of the land in Startup Milwaukee

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Matt Cordio 0:00
Being able to get the attention of Fortune 100, Fortune 500 companies and getting them involved and engaged in the ecosystem has been really a positive thing that I think a lot of our advocacy work that we’ve been doing for eight years now is starting to pay off.

Jay Clouse 0:17
The startup investment landscape is changing, and world class companies are being built outside of Silicon Valley. We find them, talk with them and discuss the upside of investing in them. Welcome to Upside.

Jay Clouse 0:44
Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to the Upside podcast, the first podcast finding upside outside of Silicon Valley. I’m Jay Clouse, and I’m accompanied by my c-host, Mr. Doggy-Birthday-Party himself, Eric Hornung.

Eric Hornung 0:57
Hank turned one year old. How come all my nicknames are always about Hank? Is there nothing else interesting about me?

Jay Clouse 1:04
My favorite thing about you is your dog.

Eric Hornung 1:06
Is that why you made the trip all the way down to Cincinnati to celebrate a canine’s one year birthday?

Jay Clouse 1:12
I’ve never seen a dog’s one year birthday party. I was curious about that. I was also in need of a bed which you provided. So thank you. And I have to say, you and friend of the podcast, Colleen, we’re both very happy to see that after Hank went to the groomer, he still had his gnarly, curly whisker. And I think you gotta do something about that. I don’t think it’s a good look.

Eric Hornung 1:36
You don’t like the curly whisker?

Jay Clouse 1:37
I don’t think it’s a good look.

Eric Hornung 1:38
Oh, you’re gonna get in. You’re gonna get in trouble with friend of the podcast, Colleen.

Jay Clouse 1:41
Why is, why would you want the curly whisker?

Eric Hornung 1:43
I call it the Salvador doggie.

Eric Hornung 1:45
Salvador doggie. That’s good. That’s good. And the party was good, too. It was well done, it was a well done, very fun, very nice birthday party. Probably a better birthday party than I’ve had for myself. So, kudos.

Eric Hornung 1:58
It well, Colleen….

Jay Clouse 1:59
Well Kujos.

Eric Hornung 2:01
Oh that was pretty good. It would have been better if you would have knocked it off, knocked ot out the first time.

Jay Clouse 2:05
You’re right.

Eric Hornung 2:06
Yeah, we had a specialty drink. It was called Hank’s Swiss kiss. It was goldschalger, which is from Switzerland, which is where Bernese mountain dogs are from. And Bernese’s apple cider and a few — oh, some rum and a few other things. Overall, lot of fun. We had 35 plus people come through my less than 1200 square feet apartment. So it was a bit crowded, but everyone had a good time. And then we went over to Blink.

Jay Clouse 2:32
And I know you’re thinking, dear listener, you’re thinking how irresponsible to have an alcohol inspired birthday party for a one year old. But don’t forget that Hank, as a dog, is actually seven.

Eric Hornung 2:44
Does that make it any better?

Jay Clouse 2:49
It was good. It was good way pizza. We had pastries. We had a good time.

Eric Hornung 2:52
You know what city is known for having a good time in my history, Jay?

Jay Clouse 2:56
What’s it is that Eric?

Eric Hornung 2:57
Oh man, I’ve had some great times in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Jay Clouse 3:01
Milwaukee. Old Milwaukee.

Eric Hornung 3:03
Old Milwaukee, known for alcohol. So you know we have a Segway there as well. I really could have pulled a couple things out of there. This is a rough segue.

Jay Clouse 3:11
It’s a stretch. Have you seen the Will Ferrell Old Milwaukee commercials?

Eric Hornung 3:15
I have not.

Jay Clouse 3:15
Will Ferrell did a series of commercials for the Old Milwaukee beer brand. And they were not commissioned. They did not ask him to do that. He just decided he wanted to make commercials for Old Milwaukee. And they are great.

Eric Hornung 3:28
Alright, so check out the Will Ferrell Old Milwaukee beer commercials. I’m guessing he yells in them. That seems to be a caricature he takes on.

Jay Clouse 3:36
I’m not going to ruin the surprise. Just it search on YouTube, Old Milwaukee. Today we’re going to focus on new Milwaukee, current Milwaukee with Matt Cordio, the founder and president of Skills Pipeline but also one of the driving forces behind Startup Milwaukee. Matt came recommended to us, introduced to us by Grady Buchanan at Omni Valley who has introduced us to several of our ecosystem builders that we talked to here on the podcast, and he said if you need to talk about Milwaukee, Matt Cardio is the guy to go to.

Eric Hornung 4:08
We’ve talked a little bit about Milwaukee on the podcast, but only with Sherry Zhang, the founder and CEO of GenoPalate, and only very briefly, since we focus mostly on her company. So it’ll be fun to dive into a more holistic conversation around the community with someone who knows what, what’s going on.

Jay Clouse 4:27
We got a little bit of a taste with Scott Resnick and Madison.

Eric Hornung 4:30
Okay, so we’ve had a little, a couple tastes of Milwaukee, but we haven’t had the full entree.

Jay Clouse 4:35
Got a little bit more of a taste with Joe Kurgues of gener8tor.

Eric Hornung 4:37
Couple tastes. We had some hors d’oeuvres and have not had the full entree. Metaphor still holds up, Jay.

Jay Clouse 4:43
Seems like I savored more of the taste of Milwaukee than you have.

Eric Hornung 4:47
Old Milwaukee.

Jay Clouse 4:49
We’re excited to hear what Matt has to say and explain about Milwaukee to us as you have. If you have thoughts as we go through this you can tweet at us @upsidefm or email us Look forward to hearing from you. And we’ll get into that interview right after this.

Eric Hornung 5:06
Jay, would you say you’re more of a operator or an alligator?

Jay Clouse 5:10
Operator, for sure.

Eric Hornung 5:11
You’re definitely an operator? Well, if you are going to hire someone to hire for you, would you want to hire an operator or an alligator?

Jay Clouse 5:21
Eric, I’ll be honest with you. I don’t know what the term alligator really means in this context.

Eric Hornung 5:25
All right, well, let’s pretend it means capital alligator.

Jay Clouse 5:28
Ah, I would want to hire an operator.

Eric Hornung 5:30
All right. Well, that’s great because our friends over at Integrity Power Search are a team comprised of ex-operators of successful high growth startups and tech companies, which allows them to be a true strategic partner. See, Integrity Power Search is the number one, full stack, high growth startup recruiting firm between the coasts. They partner with venture capitalists, private equity groups, and CEOs to build amazing teams for the world’s most disruptive companies like upside, Jay. Since 2012, they’ve successfully executed 600+ searches and are on track for 200 more in 2019. Their clients have successfully raised over 2.5 billion in venture funding, and that is still counting.

Jay Clouse 6:11
Sounds like they know how to operate a recruiting firm.

Eric Hornung 6:14
And they know how to identify great operators for your startup.

Jay Clouse 6:19
Smooth operators. So if you guys want to meet Integrity Power Search and learn what they can do for your high growth startup, go to and get started.

Jay Clouse 6:35
Matt, welcome to the show

Matt Cordio 6:37
It’s great to be here.

Eric Hornung 6:38
On upside, we like to start with a background of the guests. So can you tell us about the history of Matt?

Matt Cordio 6:44
Sure. So I’ll start with I grew up in the Milwaukee area. Really, as a kid, I guess, was pretty entrepreneurial, had various little side businesses and whatnot and realized I was gonna probably go into entrepreneurship. Studied entrepreneurship at Marquette University of Milwaukee. Had the opportunity to start a tech company. That company was like a homeowner contractor matching service, and not dissimilar to a company like Angie’s List. They would be considered a competitor to what we were trying to do. That company didn’t last very long. Learned a lot though. One of those things that I learned was Milwaukee’s tech startup ecosystem — this is back in 2011 — no one was really talking about it, no one was bringing it together. And out of that experience, myself and some other entrepreneurs really started to think about how do we bring together the right stakeholders to build a startup ecosystem in our city. And that’s where Startup Milwaukee came from. And also around the same time I launched Skills Pipeline, my company, which does tech recruitment.

Eric Hornung 7:46
So I’m going to steal one of Jays favorite questions, and I want you to take me back into this younger Matt, who was very entrepreneurial. What was one of your favorite entrepreneurial ventures kind of growing up?

Eric Hornung 7:57
So, one of my favorite startups as a kid was actually really a tangible product business. I started a company that called Mattery Barn, stole the name from Pottery Barn baby, and actually built like home goods. So you guys are really getting me to open up about that. But that was probably my favorite. Mattery Barn really launched me on my entrepreneurial career trajectory, which I am still on today.

Jay Clouse 8:25
And how did that kind of come to be? When did you say I want to do home goods and and sell these pieces of furniture?

Eric Hornung 8:31
So as a kid, often when I would fake sick or during the summers I’d watch like TLC or Discovery Channel. Apparently I wasn’t into car to sell, you know, some of the different home shows inspire me to think well, I could sell line of furniture. And got me down that career path, I guess temporary career path.

Jay Clouse 8:51
And what, what happened to Mattery Barn?. Did you wind that down at some point?

Eric Hornung 8:55
Yeah, it winded down. I think I lost interest in manufacturing and furniture, and sales waned as my family came less and less interested, more and more disinterested in my furniture offerings.

Jay Clouse 9:10
Alright, so you did the home good store, you did matter the barn, you’re experiencing entrepreneurship at some point. You said you pulled stakeholders together to talk about the Milwaukee startup ecosystem. What year was that and what existed at the time in Milwaukee?

Eric Hornung 9:24
Between Mattery Barn and Startup Milwaukee, had Serveke, my homeowner contractor matching service with a friend from college. And through that process, both of us were not technical. So we realized we need a technical co-founder to build a tech company obviously. So we, as college students, really weren’t aware of networking and how to do that. So we figured, might as well start our own networking group, I guess. So as college students, we were kind of blind as to how you go about building a business networking group. And so we just started getting together with friends over beer. For those of you’re not familiar with Milwaukee, we’re a beer town. It’s part of our history, our entrepreneurial heritage. We have brands like Miller, Pabst, Schlitz, Blacks that came from Milwaukee and made Milwaukee really the economy what it is today, in a certain respect. And so we just started gathering entrepreneurs over beer, talking about our challenges, what we need to grow our businesses, and I figured we should come up with a name for that group. Startup Milwaukee seemed like a pretty simple name and a brand people could rally around. And just started hosting various networking events, pitch nights, we did a couple startup weekends, and the Startup Milwaukee movement has kind of continued to grow, now in our eighth year. We’ll turn eight in August.

Eric Hornung 10:47
How big were those initial kind of meetings and meetups?

Matt Cordio 10:52
Probably about five or so folks around a table. But quickly then we started…That was kind of more of the planning phase of what we were doing, as we looked to formalize it. At kind of our first event, it had probably about 50 or so people there, but, you know, continued to grow the audience and whatnot. And, and part of what we do too is an email newsletter and Twitter presence that really shares the different news, the tech jobs, the tech event, startup events to a community and and that’s continued to grow to an now the thousands.

Eric Hornung 11:26
You mentioned that people might not be familiar with Milwaukee. And I have a little bit of familiarity because my brother went to Marquette. But for the audience who might not be aware of Milwaukee as a city, what’s kind of happened over the last 20-30 years in Milwaukee? Can you just give us like a high level introduction to the city and what it’s like?

Matt Cordio 11:47
Yes, so I’m most familiar with the past 10 years since I’m 30. But essentially, Milwaukee’s economy has historically been driven by really, kind of, I’d say two industries. One is traditional manufacturing. We have a lot of companies that that make tangible products, whether it’s Briggs and Stratton, which is making odors for lawn mowers and snow blowers. Or, you know, companies that are in the food and beverage space. So I mentioned the breweries that have come out of Milwaukee. Miller’s probably the largest operating brewery that’s still someplace, those other brands have faded, but are now making a comeback. Papst is obviously wildly popular, but I think only maybe contract brewed by Miller and Milwaukee. So the economy has been very, there’s also a financial services aspect to the economy here as well. Northwestern Mutual, which was a Fortune 100 life insurance companie, is based here. And they made a big commitment to Milwaukee and in the past few years building a major skyscraper and making an investment in hiring a large tech workforce here in the city. There’s also a healthcare aspect, too. GE Healthcare has a large outpost in the Milwaukee area, employing also hundreds of software engineers and whatnot. So the tech economy is here. But I think we’ve been a little slower to evolve into a tech driven ecosystem because of our heritage and manufacturing. And so we really, I think, started though in the past few years to get really serious about building a tech driven economy here n Milwaukee and as manufacturing — annd by the way, I should have mentioned Rockwell Automation, which is a Fortune 500 company in the manufacturing space actually developing a lot of technology for manufacturers is here as well. They’re quite large in terms of employing tech workers and also kind of merging technology and manufacturing. So they’re here as well.

Eric Hornung 13:53
Given that manufacturing isn’t the most tech for sector, what’s the relationship between the big companies in the area and the emerging startup community?

Eric Hornung 14:05
We’re definitely still trying to figure that out. As I mentioned, Northwestern Mutual is based in Milwaukee. They have led to kind of this effort to try to build the tech and startup ecosystem that that for it’s only about two years old. They’ve done that in partnership with Advocate of our health care, which is the 10th largest health system, which is joint headquartered in Illinois, in Downers Grove, and Milwaukee. You know, Advocate Aurora or Northwestern Mutual have kind of worked to launch a couple investment funds that are investing in local health care, for example, healthcare technology funds, as well as early stage tech startups. That’s $10 million in funding that has come online from corporate partners specifically looking to invest in Milwaukee startups over the past two years. Advocate Aurora, Northwestern Mutual, Foxconn, and Johnson Controls, which is also based in the Milwaukee area, both of them, Foxconn’d North America headquarters will be in Milwaukee. All four of those companies on top of that have recently launched 100 million dollar venture fund that is collaborative and not focused specifically on Milwaukee, but based in Milwaukee and investing in startups across the country. And part of that fund, I think will be focused on connecting Milwaukee’s ecosystem to kind of what’s happening on the coasts and other parts of the country by making those investments all around.

Jay Clouse 15:26
When you were starting startup Milwaukee, who are you looking to or what were you looking to to help guide the way that you were building that?

Eric Hornung 15:34
I think, you know, Brad Felds “Startup Communities” book was definitely something, it was actually, I don’t think it came out until 2012, 2013. But, you know, the principles in there, Ithink it really helped us guide what we do. I think we were uniquely positioned in that all of us were building tech companies or or are building tech companies as co-founders. So you know, we uniquely understood that need of founders. And if anyone’s read “Startup communities,” they know a startup community really can’t grow if you are focused on the needs of the tech company founders.

Jay Clouse 16:09
When you look back over the past 10 years or so doing this, what are some of the highlights or landmark moments that come to mind for you, as Milwaukee has grown and evolved as a startup ecosystem?

Eric Hornung 16:25
I think some of the highlights have been that we’ve started to get large companies engaged in the ecosystem. It’s been challenging. The local venture scene has not historically been very robust. Them getting… the large corporations getting involved in in the venture ecosystem, as well, has inspired other folks to get involved in the venture ecosystem, whether it’s angels or their couple funds, being raised locally sale, being able to get the attention of Fortune 100, Fortune 500 companies and getting them involved and engaged in the ecosystem has been really a positive thing that I think a lot of our advocacy work that we’ve been doing for eight years now is starting to pay off. We’re really excited, too, recently, American Family Insurance, which is another Fortune 500 company, recently committed to opening a pretty substantial tech and innovation office in Milwaukee. We think that it’s great that they’ve realized kind of the available tech talent. Well, we have great universities developing a lot of great tech talent, it’s historically been exported. So American Family coming in and being willing to hire that, that talent, help develop that talent has been a big win for us as well. So you know, having a company from the outside commit to hiring hundreds of people in the city I think is an exciting validator that the ecosystem is building. They’re also offering, they’ve been a great catalyst in the Madison ecosystem. And I know you talked to Scott Resnick, a good friend of mine, who’s been working hard to build the startup ecosystem in Madison through Starting Block and other initiatives. And so to have them join us here in Milwaukee and realize that the urban environment that Milwaukee offers is different and attractive to a different group of tech employees, and might be attracted to work at their Madison campus and having that additional option and them investing in the city has been great. I think there’s just more support that’s come on board. You know, it used to not be cool to do tech and startup events when we started eight years ago. Now. It seems they’re events every night of the week, different groups popping up trying to help support entrepreneurs. So it’s been great to see that growth. And now allows us to focus on some bigger issues, which are, how do we create policy in the state of Wisconsin that enables early stage investment to occur at a greater rate? And how do we think long term and make sure we’re building a strong tech work force and tech talent pipeline, and part of that starts with educating middle school and high school students to get into computer science careers. And you know, that’s how I think we ultimately will have a strong tech workforce that’s diverse, that gets us towards gender parity in computer sciences, is how do we work on labeling some earlier stage education and also upscaling existing workers and getting them into tech career paths. That’s now what we think about and we’re also working on to continue to aggregate a lot of the great organizations that are supporting entrepreneurs, investing in entrepreneurs, and helping entrepreneurs really grow and scale here in Milwaukee.

Jay Clouse 19:39
What about the companies themselves? Have you guys had any startup company wins over the past 8-10 years?

Matt Cordio 19:45
Yes, we’ve had several. What’s exciting is some of those entrepreneurs that have exited, companies have gotten involved in startups, whether it’s investors or some of them have gone and started their their own things. One is Heaven entrepreneuer who built the largest online costume retailer by seasons. He sold that company experimented with a different, a few different startup ideas. And he’s now at his second startup, which is Wanable, which is a subscription e-commerce company and he’s grown that company from a few people probably about five years ago to now well over 200 employees in the Milwaukee area, and they are continuing to grow. Another example is Zywave. So Zywave is insurance brokerage software. And that startup has spawned entrepreneurs in the insurance brokerage space. So we’ve had other companies start up and get built around that insurance brokerage software space, one being TechCanary, which was just sold to Applied Systems earlier this year. And another one being Dynamis which was also sold to Applied Systems, which is a large insurance software company earlier this year. And now Applied Systems has opened to Milwaukee office. So…and created a liquidity event for those founders to reinvest in the ecosystems. Those are some tech success stories. We have some tech services entrepreneurs who’re building large businesses around like the salesforce platform. Penrod and Seven Summits are both large companies that are building consulting practices nationwide, based in Milwaukee, employing a lot of people here in Milwaukee’s tech ecosystem, doing great things. And we also have other interesting like e-commerce startup. So Bright Cellars, they just scored series A lead by Revolution, their subscription, e-commerce play, they’re selling wine to millennials online and using the data they’re gathering to actually develop their own brands of wine that are custom tailored to our millennial taste buds.

Eric Hornung 21:48
So I kind of picked up subscription e-commerce, insurance, but I’m curious like, when, from your perspective, what kind of clusters are you seeing emerging in like, “this is where Milwaukee plays right now?”

Matt Cordio 22:02
Yeah, there are there are few. I also would be remiss to mention health tech as one of those Milwaukee’s I think somewhat uniquely position and that we actually have quite a few, as I mentioned, GE Healthcare. We’ve seen a lot of people exit GE Healthcare and end up starting their own startups, and being able to raise capital and, and build strong teams based on the experience that they gathered working at GE. So health tech is a space where we have some exciting companies developing here in Milwaukee. Another space would be that kind of b2b software space, as I mentioned, Zywave kind of being a catalyst. They were founded in the 1990s and sold to Vista Equity for well over 100 million probably around 2010. That catalyzed more b2b SAS products with interesting products, everything ranging from Arbor tech, which is they’re making an IoT device and software platform that helps arborists track the growth of their trees and orchards. So that’s like a very tactical technology that obviously has a very niche market, but it is an interesting tech company that is coming out of Milwaukee. Another company in the b2b space, Montage Talent. They were recently merged with a company out of Ohio, but that company will be based in Milwaukee. And they’re doing recruiting automation platform, working with 100 of the Fortune 500 companies streamlining their interviewing process using video voice text. So that’s an interesting b2b software company. I think another theme is that subscription e-commerce we have a lot of agency talent. Milwaukee has an unusually high concentration of digital and creative agencies. So a lot of that talent I think helps support the growth of e-commerce companies here in the area. And then lastly, I think there’s an opportunity around financial services. As I mentioned, Northwestern Mutual being here, that is a clear priority of theirs. And their digital transformation is to support startups in the FinTech space here in Milwaukee. And they’ve actually helped see the startups in the FinTech space through a unique program they launched during startup Milwaukee week a couple years ago called Reverse Pitch Milwaukee where they have now invested in two different very napkin ideas basically out of that Reverse Pitch program, but they pitched essentially a bunch of entrepreneurs different ideas and offered $85,000 in seed funding and space in their, theeir building, an innovation lab to these entrepreneurs. And out of that have come social leads, which is an interesting company applying machine learning to social media data, hoping insurance brokers kind of mind their social context to figure out who might want to buy Northwestern Mutual life insurance policy from them. And another one, Iconic AI, which is using machine learning to analyze health data. And that one, just, they just want that a couple months ago. So they’re still very much in development. But that’s an example of kind of a focus on FinTech that’s emerging here in the Milwaukee ecosystem.

Eric Hornung 22:10
What does Milwaukee need more, early stage capital or entrepreneurs? Right now?

Matt Cordio 25:26
It’s a tough question. I think, both, frankly. And I think it’s a chicken and egg question that often, I think may plague other Midwest ecosystems, as I’ve kind of explored them, is, I think, we need, if you ask the folks with the capital, they would say there aren’t enough entrepreneurs. If you ask the experts, they’d say there’s enough capital leading to an interesting cycle. You know, what I would really like to see, and one of the things we’ve worked to advocate for, is more attraction based really seed stage funding for entrepreneurs here in the region. For example, I really like what St. Louis has done with the Arch Grants program, basically seeding 20 entrepreneurs a year with $50,000 grants, helping them move and start their company in the St. Louis region. And I think something like that might help the walk ecosystem grow, where it’s both attracting entrepreneurs from outside our ecosystem as well as seeing them and supporting them and really helping them get started. And so I think we need both entrepreneurs and early stage capital. Also, I think entrepreneurs are vitally more important, because if you’re a true entrepreneur, you can figure out a way to continue to finance your business, regardless if the capitals in our backyard or not.

Eric Hornung 26:40
How connected is the Milwaukee ecosystem to like Chicago? I mean, that’s like the mecca of the Midwest for VC.

Eric Hornung 26:48
We’re working on a more intentional about that. We’ve started to see some good connection. There are definitely venture firms in Chicago that have invested in Milwaukee companies. I mentioned Bright Cellars earlier, we have investors from the Chicago area. I think that, you know, we’ll see more and more deals close that involve Chicago funds. That being said, there’s not any real, intentional connections being made. We’re really lucky that we are a 90 minute train ride from Chicago. And that I think, will allow entrepreneurs to grow and scale here with the help of being near Chicago, faster. And I should mention too, we’ve seen startups from Chicago either launch, you know, Milwaukee as a second market. Farmers Fridge is a good example of that. They’re popping up all over the Milwaukee market and they’ve been very active here. We’ve also seen Chicago companies open second offices here in Milwaukee to take advantage of the tech talent we have here. An example there is, there a couple different companies that have built development teams in the Milwaukee area, and really love the talent and the cost of living difference of living in Milwaukee vs. Chicago.

Jay Clouse 27:59
You mentioned that Scott Resnick is a friend of yours up in Madison. So it sounds like you two are close. How close would the typical startup community member in Milwaukee, how would they think about Madison?

Eric Hornung 28:12
It’s great question. We need more connectivity between the cities. And I think the entrepreneurs, that I think that it is an hour drive away, and it’s hard to get over there. I mean, I even find it hard to get over there on a consistent basis. And part of what we’re trying to do is, is get those resources that are fresh for us in Milwaukee, that are available in Madison, here in Milwaukee, and vice versa, you know, help kind of make more connections across ecosystems. What is interesting is there isn’t a lot of, I think, investment, there’s more investment activity happening between startups in Milwaukee receiving capital from firms in Chicago versus firms in Madison. Although I think there are both there’s more capital available in both ecosystems for Milwaukee entrepreneurs than in the Milwaukee ecosystem. I think they’re more like an entrepreneur in Milwaukee if they were to drive to Madison, which takes an hour or take a train to Chicago, I think they’d be more likely to jump, jump a train to Chicago.

Jay Clouse 29:10
You work in the world of talent. Is there a talent battle between the two ecosystems, and secondarily, maybe even start with this actually, what does the talent ecosystem look like in Milwaukee? And is there any type of competition between Milwaukee and Madison?

Eric Hornung 29:26
I think it’s more of a competition between Milwaukee in Chicago than Milwaukee and Madison. I think Milwaukee and Madison are very different lifestyles and offer a technologist, different lifestyles. Madison is very much a college town and is small, I think about 100,000 is the population of Madison. Milwaukee, the metro area is over a million and the city is over 600,000. So although we are much smaller than Chicago, obviously in the Chicagoland area, we do offer an urban lifestyle that you couldn’t get in Madison. Madison offers a lot of great things that, I have a lot of family in Madison. And so it’s a great place to, to live and hang out, but it’s just a different lifestyle. I think that’s why, for example, American Family Insurance, who would fly it employs thousands of people in the Madison area, decided they wanted to offer employees and other option if they’re looking to relocate to Wisconsin, that’s more urban. In terms of tech talent, as I mentioned, we have a lot of great universities, we actually have over 24 colleges and universities in the Milwaukee area. A lot of those universities have great computer science programs. A lot of that talent currently is being exploited. I think that as we look to kind of highlight what Milwaukee’s strength is, it is the availability of young tech talent as well as emerging and growing tech talent and companies that have relocated here, for example, Bright Cellars. They moved from Boston to Milwaukee when they were just three employees big — and now have of over 50 — is they’ve had no trouble growing their team here in Milwaukee. In fact, it’s been easy for them to recruit, because they are a big fish in a small pond. So as a tech company looking to grow and scale their team quickly, its customer success, software development, digital marketing talent, they’ve been able to find it. And they’ve been able to do that by offering a kind of differentiated experience to employees in the Milwaukee area that might be at a more established company. And for young people, you know, they’ve been willing to bet on young people graduating from one of the universities here and helping them start their career here Milwaukee in tech. So there are great opportunities I think for companies that are looking to access a strong tech talent pipeline that, that is cost effective and grilling.

Eric Hornung 31:50
Before we transition into 5 Lakes, what are your three favorite Wisconsin beers?

Matt Cordio 31:51
That’s a very tough question. So at least one of them has to be from Milwaukee, probably since we have about 15-20.. actually I lost count of how many breweries we have in the city. Right now I’m, I’m very into Hacienda brewing, and they’re actually an off shoot of Door County brewing up in Door County, Wisconsin and they opened a tap room and Milwaukee. It seems every time I go in there, they have different IPAs, and all of them are amazing. And they have really weird names. So I I don’t remember the name of the last one that I had. But Hacienda brewing, they’re great. I also love Central Waters, which is in Central Wisconsin. They actually have the largest barrel aging facility in the country. And they do great barrel aged like a great bourbon, bourbon barrel stout. And they also do some great IPAs. So I’ll say I like there are a barrel stout as well as they’re…actually they’re maple bourbon barrel stout is really amazing. But I also love their HHG IPA.

Jay Clouse 33:00
One question for me before we go into a little bit on Skills Pipeline, Matt, you’ve dedicated close to 10 years, maybe even a little bit more than 10 years to this startup Milwaukee movement and all things ecosystem building. What keeps you volunteering your time in that way, because I know how much of a time commitment it is to organize these events and pull people together and generally be a cheerleader for an ecosystem?

Matt Cordio 33:25
What really, I think has kept me here. And doing this ecosystem, building activity is I’m from here and realized that tech is really, as Marc Andreessen says, and everyone has to repeat, software is eating the world. So for Wisconsin to remain relevant and competitive in the 21st century, we need to ensure we have a strong tech workforce and also have a strong startup ecosystem because I think that’s such a critical ingredient of being able to build a strong tech driven economy of the region. So being from here, choosing to stay here after school because I had the opportunity to move to Chicago or move to to California, instead decided to start a company and start an ecosystem. Building movement — which definitely doesn’t make money, is definitely a volunteer effort, as you guys know, I’m sure — has kept me here. Yeah, really want to see Wisconsin grow. But also, I’m really passionate about the other stuff that’s happening all across the state. So we also have the Startup Wisconsin Initiative, which does events and programming in 12 cities around the state of Wisconsin. That ranges from Madison, where obviously there’s a lot of great stuff going on. And I’m sure the episode lists Scott Resnik, people should listen to and hear about what’s happening there. But also, there’s great stuff happening up in Green Bay. A lot of people know the Packers, propbably, but Packers and the Microsoft…and Microsoft recently launched a initiative called TitleTown tech, which has a $25 million venture fund around it. And it’s helping build startups and technology companies in Green Bay and impact that ecosystem. And there are other great tech entrepreneurs out there as well. So you know, love Wisconsin as a whole. As I mentioned, my favorite beer’s in Central Wisconsin. So we have quite a few startup Wisconsin events in that region. But a lot of stuff also happening up in Eau Claire, on the western side of the state, Jam Software, which is one of the bigger Midwestern tech startup exits, I think, in the past year or two, is based in Eau Claire with a dual headquarters in Minneapolis. But the founders of Jam have been really critical and building the ecosystem there, or starting to build in and opening and co working spaces and providing other infrastructure to tech entrepreneurs there. So lot of stuff happening. I love Wisconsin, I guess.

Eric Hornung 35:40
So one last thing we want to hit here. This 5 Lakes idea, can you tell us about what that is and what that looks to be?

Eric Hornung 35:48
We’re still trying to figure that out. So myself and my co-founder of 5 Lakes, Kathleen Gallagher, who runs Malachy Institute, which is an organization kind of its foundation focused on funding tech and startup ecosystem infrastructure in Milwaukee region, started 5 Lakes, and we have this theory that there’s a lot of great activity happening in the Great Lakes tech and startup ecosystem. So everywhere from, you know, Milwaukee, Chicago, Minneapolis, a lot of people forget Minnesota is on a great lake, Lake Superior, to what’s happening in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, also up in Toronto. And so we really want to create this platform that helps highlight and connect what’s happening all around the Great Lakes. And we started with an event in May called 5 Lakes Forum had about 500 leaders from the tech and startup ecosystem and the Great Lakes attend. And, you know, we just want to kind of continue to grow that brand through different events and programming. And right now we’re just kind of checking out other ecosystems around the Great Lakes region, and looking for people that kind of share our similar passionate growing the tech startup ecosystem here and creating platforms that connect the dots. I think it’s very similar to what you’re doing here with We’re looking for partners, looking to talk to people. So people, if they want to learn more about it and and help shape the future of it, they can contact me. My Twitter handle’s @MattCordio. My email is just

Eric Hornung 37:24
How much are the wasabi peas you buy at Kroger?

Jay Clouse 37:26
I think they are about $5, maybe $3.99.

Eric Hornung 37:30
That’s pretty expensive for for a little snack.

Jay Clouse 37:33
Just a little snack, but you know, the value is there. And I think it’s worth it.

Eric Hornung 37:37
How do you afford that on a podcaster’s budget?

Jay Clouse 37:39
It’s tough. It’s tough. I gotta dig deep. And I gotta lean on my other business sometimes.

Eric Hornung 37:43
Well, you know what, I think the listeners could help us out here, because there’s one thing that they could do that directly correlates with our ability to raise some advertising revenue on this platform.

Jay Clouse 37:53
I think I know where you’re going with this.

Eric Hornung 37:55
Oh yeah, I’m going to It is our 2019 Listener Survey. And it is a key part of our growth strategy here at Upside so we can keep on telling stories about founders, community builders, and venture capitalists outside of Silicon Valley. And we can get Jay some more wasabi peas.

Jay Clouse 38:14
That’s right. So dear listener, if you would do us a solid, if you would do us a kindness, please head over to, answer our 2019 Listener Survey. It should only take a couple of minutes. Myself and my wasabi peas thank you.

Eric Hornung 38:37
All right, Jay. We just spoke with Matt Cordio of new Milwaukee, because at the beginning of the interview, we were talking about Old Milwaukee. Sounds like a lot has changed.

Jay Clouse 38:48
Got a start up Old Milwaukee into new Milwaukee and that’s exactly what Matt Cordio did.

Eric Hornung 38:53
It feels like, as we talk to a lot of these cities, we get a similar picture painted of, there wasn’t much and now there’s a lot. And I feel like that theme, especially in the Rust Belt, which is that kind of, for listeners who might not be familiar, is a crescent shaped patch of geography around Lake Michigan and Lake Erie. It feels like there were some little informal startup movements happening in the ’90s. We hear about it in Columbus, we hear about it in Cincinnati, we hear about it in Cleveland, we hear about it pretty much everywhere except for Chicago. And then they developed, and they developed, and they stayed informal, and now it’s kind of become institutionalized where you have these, each city has their large anchor companies investing back in the startup community.

Jay Clouse 39:42
Well, I think to our interview with Greg at 4490, and him talking about when he was looking at different areas in another country, some of the big institutional partners in Madison are pointing to, what he referred to as, the inputs of innovation and how they were present in the middle of the country. Things like universities, which Matt told us, they were 24 colleges and universities in the Milwaukee area. They have some major industries, starting with the traditional manufacturing industry, but now trying to put more of a stamp in retail, subscription e commerce, insurance, health, tech, b2b, financial services. A lot of those are pretty familiar for the middle of the country. But this term, ‘a lot,’ you know, this idea that there’s a lot happening now, super, super relative, right? And the beginning, the first 5-10 venture firms feels like a lot when you’re used to one or zero. But then remember our conversation with Alex at Stage Venture Partners, and how LA went from just a handful to now, what did he say, 120?

Eric Hornung 40:39
I think it was like 250.

Jay Clouse 40:41
Two hundred and something. That’s a lot. So it’s relative, and there’s a lot going on, relative to what it used to be. But still some people listening to this and hearing you know, some of these numbers may still think, yea there’s certain growth to be done there, which for sure there are, but some of the examples he gave of TechCanary and Dynamis and Zywave that have had meaningful exits, I think that’s the flywheel that needs to turn in most of these cities across the country is companies that had meaningful exits spawned off talents spawned off capital to continue that evolution because that’s, that seems to be the flywheel that needs to turn, you know?

Eric Hornung 41:19
It feels like Milwaukee is would be a great place to start a business. I think that they have this friendly rivalry with Madison that allows them to kind of play off each other as cities and as startup hubs. But then, you’re also kind of in the same predicament as like, LA to SF. It’s a little different because you’re a lot closer to Chicago. But you can live in Milwaukee and take an hour and 15 minute train to downtown Chicago. And then yeah, maybe there’s only a handful of venture capital firms in Milwaukee. But then you have the most venture capital firms in the Midwest in Chicago, an hour and 15 minutes away. You could do a day trip every day, if you needed to.

Jay Clouse 41:56
I’m interested to see if there’s more movement around this 5 Lakes Forum or Great Lakes movement that seems to be its own small branding movement for that area. Like, who’s going to get all these ecosystems and stakeholders to play nicely and get behind one thing that isn’t owned by one organization? It’s, It’s a hard thing to do, but there’s certainly a lot of upside in being able to pull it off.

Eric Hornung 42:20
Was that a subliminal message?

Jay Clouse 42:22
Yes, the titular line is what it’s called in the film industry, when you have the name of the film, the title, when it’s actually delivered in the film, it’s the titular line. And it’s often at the end of the movie, which was what I was trying to do there, Eric.

Eric Hornung 42:37
So we’ve reached an end, dear listener, this has been a fun one. It’s been cool getting up to Milwaukee and learning about the Milwaukee ecosystem. If you have any thoughts on the Milwaukee ecosystem, its future or its past, definitely reach out to us @upsidefm on Twitter, or if you got something longer

Interview starts: 6:32
Debrief starts: 38:33

Matt Cordio is the founder and president of Startup Milwaukee.

Startup Milwaukee is a community dedicated to encouraging and growing Milwaukee’s startup environment. They offer events and programs focused on helping tech startups find mentorship, talent, capital, and a network.

Originally from Milwaukee himself, Matt Cordio started his entrepreneurial experience making and selling furniture. In addition to Startup Milwaukee, he is the founder and president of Skills Pipeline and the co-founder of 5 Lakes Forum.

We discuss:

  • Ad: Improved methods to sourcing talent and finding new colleagues (5:11)
  • First entrepreneurial ventures (7:50)
  • Beginnings of the Milwaukee ecosystem and Startup Milwaukee (9:24)
  • Relationship between older companies and emerging startups in Milwaukee (13:53)
  • Startup Milwaukee 10 year highlight reel (16:09)
  • Emerging clusters in Milwaukee (21:48)
  • Capital vs. entrepreneurs: current ecosystem needs (22:10)
  • Milwaukee’s relationships to nearby cities (26:40)
  • Driving force behind Startup Milwaukee (33:00)
  • Five Lakes Forum with Kathleen Gallagher (35:40)

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This episode is sponsored by Integrity Power Search, the #1 full stack high growth startup recruiting firm between the coasts. They partner with venture capitalists, private equity groups and CEOs to build amazing teams for the world’s most disrupting companies.

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