Created by the Wisconsin Startup Coalition and the University of Wisconsin Agricultural and Applied Economics--powered by Alliant Energy

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"Wisconsin is fortunate to have many small communities with innovative people. Our elected officials have a huge opportunity to ensure that entrepreneurship is supported across the state. This report establishes a baseline for impactful, collaborative policy work to make Wisconsin one of the best places for early-stage startups."

- Lydia Zeller,
Wisconsin Startup Coalition Board Chair


Compared to national rankings, Wisconsin's performance in startup activity needs improvement. The Rural Innovation Report explores the entrepreneurial potential of Wisconsin's rural communities and provides solutions to cultivate innovation and economic growth in our state.


The interface between innovation and entrepreneurship drives economic growth and development across the urban-rural spectrum.

  • The most rural parts of Wisconsin, those that are remote or adjacent to metro areas, not only have a high rate of proprietorship but the proprietors share of total employment is also relatively large.
  • Evidence indicates that, since the pandemic, a growing number of people are moving toward self employment.
  • New business formation is being driven by non-employer establishments which may signal an increase in entrepreneurial activity that is different from the past.
  • Wisconsin does not have significant levels of employment in industries that are considered high R&D investment.
  • Access to small business loans or other financing in the community is essential to support entrepreneurs.
  • A Community Capitals Framework suggests that innovators and entrepreneurs learn best from others like themselves.


The key to creating a dynamic and vibrant Wisconsin economy is to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem that embraces and fosters innovation.

  • Short term policy decisions should focus on the financial needs for the business to grow:
    • Support local business organizations that sponsor professional development workshops and promote networking.
    • Promoting programs that support regional non-metro areas.
    • Better access to financial credit where communities can encourage financing opportunities parallel to more traditional financial institutions.
  • Long-term policy decisions
    • Education Investments that are inclusive of problem solving and critical thinking skills.
    • Continuous learning opportunities across all ages, including older entrepreneurs.
    • Developing rural communities with the amenity and quality of life elements that attract entrepreneurs.

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