Tim Keane has met hundreds of entrepreneurs. While he doesn’t provide all of them with funding, the angel investor does try to help each one.
Keane is founder and director of Brookfield-based Golden Angels Investors, an angel investment group that helps fund early-stage startup companies in southeastern Wisconsin and across the country. He also is a successful entrepreneur and longtime entrepreneur in residence and instructor at Marquette University in Milwaukee.
“I get to talk to people all day long,” Keane said. “I get two or three emails a day of, ‘Can I come and talk to you about this or that?”
And he loves those emails, because Keane embraces the chance to meet new people who are just as full of ideas as he is.
“Getting to sit down with people and talk about their ideas is very gratifying,” he said.
For his assistance in nurturing the Milwaukee entrepreneurship and innovation communities, Keane will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Bravo! Entrepreneur & I.Q. Awards luncheon at BizExpo on Thursday, May 31 at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino.
In 1984, Keane left his secure corporate job as manager of marketing and communications at GE Healthcare to form a startup, Retail Target Marketing Systems Inc., which specialized in retail marketing data.
Edward Carroll, longtime senior vice president of marketing at Boston Store, gave Keane and his co-founders a chance to prove their concept at the retailer. RTMS was one of the first companies to bring data and analytics to retail marketing.
“We came in to work every day determined to figure out how we could make more money for those guys,” Keane said. “It was really a shame to see them fail. We were there through their last bankruptcy.”
Keane grew RTMS to more than 200 employees. In 1999, Keane sold the company in a two-step transaction, first to Experian and then to Metavante Corp. (now FIS) for more than $20 million.
In 2001, Keane became entrepreneur in residence and began teaching entrepreneurship courses at Marquette University, a role he retained until 2014. In 2002, Keane formed Golden Angels Investors.
“The original idea was I was at Marquette and it was going to be an alumni activity to get people interested in entrepreneurship to talk about entrepreneurship,” Keane said.
In 2006, it had evolved into what it is today: a member invitation group of accredited investors who seek out early-stage startup investments.
Now, in addition to his work at Golden Angels, Keane is president of Keane Consultants, his data analytics and strategy consulting practice, director of technology commercialization at Marquette, and president of startup co-working spot Workspace at the Bishops Woods office park in Brookfield. He’s also a director for First Business Bank, sits on the boards of several growth-stage firms, and is a limited partner in several venture and private equity funds. On top of all his other roles, Keane co-hosts a WUWM radio show about Milwaukee entrepreneurship called “How Did You Do That?” with Kathleen Gallagher, executive director of technology advocacy nonprofit Milwaukee Institute.
But he loves teaching and mentoring, so Keane didn’t stop there. Last year, he launched Golden Angels Advisors, a new membership group for young and mid-career professionals who want to learn more about investing in startups. It has grown to about 180 members.
“When I was running the company, I lived in Waukesha and the company was there. I don’t think I knew anybody in Milwaukee because I was working all the time,” Keane said. “Now, it’s hyper focused for short periods of time, because I’m coaching. I’m not playing so much anymore. The biggest kick I get out of all of this, is that I’m really grateful for having people to talk to.”
Keane holds a bachelor’s in journalism from Marquette and a master’s in education from Seattle University. He said being in the classroom was one of the greatest joys of the past 15 years of his life because he loves talking to young people about their ideas.
“I would put 12 or 15 hours into preparing for a two-hour class every week and I loved it,” he said.
Among the biggest success stories Keane says he’s invested in have been Milwaukee-based EMSytems, which was sold to Intermedix in 2010; Madison-based PerBlue Inc., which was acquired by GREE International Entertainment for $35 million in 2016; and Milwaukee-based Promentis Pharmaceuticals, which last year raised $26 million to fund its second phase of clinical trials.
And there have been other startups that failed, but that comes with the territory.
Managing through risk in the hopes of earning a reward have been a common theme of Keane’s career, from making payroll in the early days at RTMS to investing in brand new companies that have a high probability of failure.
Through it all, Keane’s mantra is “gratitude is an attitude.”
“(Entrepreneurship is) a team sport for sure,” he said. “I’m incredibly grateful for all the people that helped along the way.”