By Akbar Ahmed
Speaking at a pharmaceuticals start-up on Wednesday, U. S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said her first Senate bill would boost the capital available to small businesses.
Baldwin said her bill targeted the biotechnology and life sciences industry, which were specifically excluded from the venture capital bill Gov. Scott Walker and allies pushed through the Assembly earlier this summer.
Baldwin said she would "hazard a guess" that biotech was excluded from the industries for which the Assembly boosted venture capital access due to political reasons.
"In this state, the embryonic stem cell was immortalized, and now there's drastic restrictions in public funding of that research," Baldwin said. "It shows incredible promise but it's been highly politicized."
Baldwin's bill, the Small Business Innovation Act of 2013, would authorize the federal Small Business Administration to set up a fund for private investors seeking to support early stage business in biotech, clean energy and advanced manufacturing.
In deciding where to invest, the fund would give preference to startups that have already received grants from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health or the Small Business Innovation Research program, she said.
Baldwin introduced the bill on July 11, just over a month after the Wisconsin venture capital legislation passed. She said the next step would be for the legislation to be considered by the Senate's Small Business Committee. Committee chairwoman U.S. Sen Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, a fellow Democrat, "has, I think, some strong interest in the bill," Baldwin said.
BioForward, an advocacy organization for the biotech industry, has endorsed Baldwin's bill, as have the Wisconsin Technology Council, Wisconsin Innovation Network and Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.
Baldwin was speaking at a visit to the downtown Milwaukee headquarters of Promentis Pharmacueticals, a three year-old operation that has received a $1.8 million award from the NIH through a program Baldwin's legislation would strengthen. The company is a corporate member of BioForward, a Promentis staffer said.
Wisconsin has one of the lowest rates of entrepreneurial activity in the nation, Baldwin said, citing research by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. This is despite the fact that the majority of new U.S. jobs are presently being created by start-ups, she added.
Asked whether she thought Gov. Walker's policies were to blame for the low levels of entrepreneurship, Baldwin said the Kauffman Foundation research is longitudinal and was conducted over 15 years. But she added, "I do have to say that I believe policies ripple through the population, and if there are policies where thousands of people in the state have less take-home pay, that affects whether they have a meal out on Main Street."
"The fact is that concurrent with (certain) decisions, we've seen Wisconsin really lagging behind in job creation," Baldwin said. "All of these things have ripple effects (though) you may just think you're talking about one thing, like the total compensation of a public employee."