In an unusual pairing of a giant tech company and a football team, Microsoft and the Green Bay Packers are trying to spur innovation in Wisconsin by forming a $10 million partnership that will make investments, give workspace to startups and encourage innovation among local businesses.
Called TitletownTech and located next to the Packer’s Lambeau Field, it will include an 18-week accelerator for companies, a venture capital fund that will invest in those startartups and a lab to help existing business to inject innovation into their firms.
“By combining the Green Bay Packers’ deep engagement in this community and our expertise in helping businesses digitally transform, we believe TitletownTech will be a valuable resource for Wisconsin and a model for fostering economic development in other parts of the country,” said Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, in a statement.
It’s also good for tech companies to present an image of helping create solutions amid a political backlash that has cast digital innovations — like artificial intelligence, robotics, automation and self-driving everything — as economically disruptive to the nation and also the world.
While it is obviously a much more complex issue, other companies — including Apple (investments in advanced manufacturing partners in the U.S.); Google ($1 billion donation aimed at job growth); Amazon (new second HQ somewhere in the U.S.); and Facebook (CEO Mark Zuckerberg visiting livestock and having pie with regular folks all over) — have all tried different highly public initiatives to show that they can help the situation.
This move by Microsoft is part of its TechSpark program, which is pushing a half-dozen digital initiatives in local U.S. communities outside major metropolitan cities.
In addition, as tech grows , the industry is in need of creating and encouraging the development of talent outside of digital centers like the Seattle area — where Microsoft is located — and Silicon Valley. And other regions, suffering from job losses from more traditional manufacturing, are also seeking to find new economic growth that has created enormous wealth in tech regions.
“Economic development is the key to our region’s future, and Microsoft, with its array of tools and expertise, will help grow new businesses as well as assist our existing companies to use technology to realize greater success,” said Mark Murphy, president and CEO of the Packers.
While the initial investment is very tiny by most tech standards, the pair have said it would seek more investors and also would donate all returns from the fund to philanthropy and economic development. In addition, it will lend Microsoft employees from Seattle to the volunteer at TitletownTech, in person and via the magic of the Internet.
(And here’s a fun fact this sports-ignorant reporter did not know: The Green Bay Packers are the NFL’s only community-owned team with more than 360,000 shareholders. Apparently, they are also pretty good at football.)