Badger Fund of Funds establishes Rock River Capital Partners fund

Managers will be based in southern Wisconsin

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:05 pm

The Badger Fund of Funds has established its third Wisconsin venture capital fund, Rock River Capital Partners Fund I, which will be based in southern Wisconsin.


Badger Fund of Funds will invest $6 million as the anchor investor in the new fund, which is expected to total about $15 million. The fund will be managed by Rock River Capital Partners, which is run by Andrew Walker and Christopher Eckstrom.

Both Walker and Eckstrom are Wisconsin natives who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and have moved back to the state to manage this fund. Walker previously was chief executive officer of a Chicago data analytics startup that was acquired by a strategic competitor. Eckstrom previously worked in Chicago in the principal investing arm of an international investment bank, managing a significant portfolio of investments for public and private businesses.

The pair has not yet established an office for the Rock River Capital Partners Fund I, but expects it will be in southern Wisconsin. It will invest $1 million or more in growing Wisconsin startups across the state.

The Badger Fund of Funds is working to bring together trained venture capitalists and early-stage companies seeking funding across the state.

“The Badger Fund allocates substantial time and resources to evaluating and developing local venture fund managers, often with the bias that knowing the culture and the people are equally important as a deep knowledge of the startup industry,” said Brian Birk, managing partner of Sun Mountain Capital and a Badger Fund partner.

The state of Wisconsin awarded $25 million in 2013 to establish the Badger Fund of Funds, which raised another $10 million from the private sector. The fund of funds was launched in June 2016, and had two years to create six to eight venture capital funds across the state. So far, it has established the Idea Fund of La Crosse and the Winnebago Seed Fund in Neenah.

The Badger Fund of Funds, which contributes about 40 percent of each fund and has $15 million left to deploy, also would like to establish a fund in Milwaukee, but has not been able to find a partner to do so, said Ken Johnson, a partner in the Badger Fund.

“We have tried very hard to interact with the community there because we would like to set up a fund in Milwaukee,” he said. “All of the funds that we invest in have a partner. I’m not finding anybody in Milwaukee that wants to jump in on that.”

Johnson, who has sold six companies (three of them for 10 times his investment), said Wisconsin has plenty of venture capital but that there aren’t enough trained venture fund managers directing investments in the state.

“If we have 10 great, young, new fund managers getting going with us… in 10 years or 15 years, Wisconsin will be a rock star state in venture capital,” he said.

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Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.

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