Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Spotlight: Appleton, WI

Appleton, WI

Originally settled in 1847 and later incorporated as a city in 1857, Appleton has a long history as the center of the Fox River Valley region, becoming a cultural and economic hotspot.

Appleton, WI, one of the state’s “Fox Cities,” sits on the Fox River in Outagamie, Calumet and Winnebago counties. Originally settled in 1847 and later incorporated as a city in 1857, Appleton has a long history as the center of the Fox River Valley region, becoming a cultural and economic hotspot. That history has made the city one of the best in the area for entrepreneurship and small business, especially among smaller cities.

In 2018, Forbes ranked Appleton 30th on its list of the best small places for business and careers, while ChamberOfCommerce.org ranked the city 10th on its 2019 list of the best small cities for business. Appleton also appeared on WalletHub’s 2019 rankings of the best small cities to start a business, at 387th overall, and on Verizon’s list of the most innovative metropolitan areas in the United States, at 33.

Based on these rankings, FundingSage has reviewed the resources that make up Appleton’s entrepreneurial ecosystem:

Entrepreneurial Meetups:

HBBA, Helping Businesses Build Assets, is an organization that hosts networking and referral exchange meetings that has locations across the area, including one in Appleton.

Located down the road in De Pere, Digital Fertilizer aims to support technology entrepreneurs in the Northeast Wisconsin area.

Just outside of Appleton in Neenah, the Fox Valley Business Intelligence and Analytics meetup group supports area business owners and entrepreneurs.

The aim of the Transformational Leadership Experience meetup group is to host regular meetings that help business owners and entrepreneurs gain skills and grow their businesses.

Wisconsin UX hosts monthly events, usually in De Pere, that work to support technology entrepreneurs and developers.


Regular Entrepreneurial Events:

Appleton is home to one branch of the 1 Million Cups organization, which hosts weekly events in which entrepreneurs meet to share stories, ideas and milestones.

The Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce hosts a variety of events, including awards ceremonies, networking opportunities, and even celebrations.

This is an annual weeklong celebration of entrepreneurship in cities across the state, including Appleton.


Startup Competitions:

College students from around Northeast Wisconsin, including at universities in Appleton, can compete in The Pitch, an annual entrepreneurship competition.

The Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament is a startup competition open to Wisconsin college students (other than those at UW-Madison) that offers a variety of prizes.

Residents of Wisconsin and those looking to launch a business there can compete for over $150,000 in cash and in-kind prizes in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Competition.


Co-working Spaces:

Founded in 2015, Appleton Coworking offers membership plans ranging from day passes to private office spaces for rent.

Menlo Park Coworking, with flexible membership plans no longer than a month at a time, has a wide variety of amenities and features available for its members.

Appleton is home to five locations of Regus, each of which has unique amenities and membership plans.

Located in downtown Appleton, Stateview Commons offers traditional co-working, private offices, conference rooms and 24/7 building access.



The Appleton Makerspace includes a woodshop, metal shop, art area, electronics area and other general tools and equipment for small-scale manufacturing work.

Students, faculty and staff at Lawrence University in Appleton can gain access to the school’s makerspace, equipment loan system and media room.

Just outside of Appleton, the Neenah Public Library offers the public free access to its 3D printers and some 3D design programs.



The Venture Center at Appleton’s Fox Valley Technical College works to provide both its students and the wider community with entrepreneurial support.

The Wisconsin Small Business Development Center, which hosts events and runs programs to support small business and entrepreneurship, has locations in nearby Oshkosh and Green Bay.

The Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC), which has a location in Appleton, works to support Wisconsin women in business and entrepreneurship.



Based down the road in Oshkosh, AeroInnovate is an accelerator program that works with aviation, aerospace and drone startups.

gBETA, a program run by the nationally-ranked accelerator gener8tor, is a shorter 7-week accelerator that has a location in Northeast Wisconsin.

Fox Valley Technical College’s Venture Center runs the Innovation Accelerator program, which helps veterans launch successful startups.



The Venture Center at Fox Valley Technical College runs a number of programs to support entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Lawrence University’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship program offers classes in social entrepreneurship, musical entrepreneurship and more.

Down the road a bit from Appleton, UW Oshkosh’s Alta Resources Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation offers an entrepreneurship certificate and other resources.


Angel Groups/VCs:

Founded in 2006 and located just down the road from Appleton in Little Chute, New Capital Funds invests in startups in the manufacturing, IT and sciences industries.

Based in nearby Neenah, the Winnebago Seed Fund’s goal is to be the first investor in startups throughout the state of Wisconsin.

Located in Madison, Wisconsin Investment Partners is an angel investment firm that makes seed- and early-stage investments in companies across the state.


Entrepreneurial Newsletter Coverage:

The Business News, which covers business in different regions around the state, publishes every other Monday and offers subscriptions for only $20 per year.

The Appleton Post-Crescent is one of several newspapers in the area that offers a variety of newsletters, including one on business news.

WisBusiness offers a pair of newsletter options covering business from around the state of Wisconsin, including both a daily roundup and a weekly insider newsletter.


Are you familiar with entrepreneurial ecosystem infrastructure in Appleton, WI not included in the article above?  If so, let us know via a comment, and we will add it to the article. 

Interested in Ecosystem Spotlights of other cities in the USA?

Oshkosh-Neenah, WI, Milwaukee, WI, Madison, WI

Quinn Pilkey

Quinn is a journalism major at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He also serves as a freelance author for Hashtag Basketball where he writes about the NBA's Charlotte Hornets and at FundingSage where he researches and writes about entrepreneurial ecosystems.