The WRBA is what it is because of who we are. We know business development because we live it. Meet Jeff and Leon, the founders of the WRBA, and learn why and how they started the group.
President – Jeff Ebel
For more than 35 years, Jeff’s career was centered on the woodworking industry. It started in the mid-70s when he and two associates launched their first business in wood crafts. Though it was short-lived, it stoked his passion for woodworking and business.
In the woodworking industry, Jeff spent 13 years working his way up through the ranks at two Central Wisconsin manufacturing companies, and in 1989, he started his own woodworking business. Beginning in his garage, he built Ebel Woodworking to a manufacturing business with two manufacturing locations, 45 employees, and over $4M in annual sales, selling primarily to yacht companies. In 2007, he sold his ownership to his partner and now spends most of his time teaching, mentoring, coaching, and volunteering.
Jeff is active in his community, currently serving as a member of the Stevens Point Area School Board and volunteering as a SCORE member, presenting free monthly workshops in Central Wisconsin for beginning entrepreneurs. As an adjunct instructor for the UW Stevens Point, he conducts two eight-week Entrepreneurship Training Program (ETP) classes annually for the Small Business Development Center/Continuing Education.
A strong advocate for communication and leadership, Jeff continues his lifelong learning through Toastmasters and is a graduate of Leadership Wisconsin and Leadership Portage County. He has conducted speaker training for his fellow professionals at the Architectural Woodwork Institute (AWI) and was awarded the President’s Award for his work creating their National Speakers Bureau.
His passion for working with entrepreneurs and small businesses led him to join forces with his current business partner, Leon Ostrowski, and to form Midwest Wealth Ventures, LLC (MWV) where he serves as President. Working as a team, MWV provides mentoring and coaching to small young businesses and works to fund these businesses through their angel investing group, the Wisconsin River Business Angels.
Chair – Leon Ostrowski
With a career in international business spanning 4 decades, Leon draws on his vast experiences to perform extensive due diligence on investment companies and guide them to success.
Born and raised in Central Wisconsin, Leon graduated with a BS in chemistry from UWSP prior to beginning a 35-year career with the international Dow Corning Corporation, now owned by Dow Chemical. A valued asset to the company, Leon served in a variety of roles, gaining a broad range of expertise, all of which have proved invaluable to him as an angel investor and the investment group manager.
Leon’s career with Dow Corning was wide-ranging and covered R&D, product development, patent application, market research, financial analysis, product line management, promotion, demand assessment, economic evaluation, compensation and benefits, managerial development, strategic planning, and much more. His career has taken him to numerous countries on 5 continents.
Particularly formative to Leon’s approach of evaluating current and new business opportunities was the time he spent studying and implementing the Planned Innovation Philosophy and program at Dow Corning, including 6 months at their Japanese operations. Understanding this system has helped to make Leon particularly adept at the evaluation and commercialization of new opportunities, as well as detecting the often surprising and hidden multilayers that account for the success of a product, service, or company, exemplified in this case by the unexpected cultural and linguistic differences between Japan and the West. This experience in particular has given Leon extraordinary analytic sensitivity to the typically overlooked factors, often emotive in nature, that lead to competitive advantage in the marketplace.
Officially retiring from Dow Corning in 1997, his expertise and knowledge of operations and systems led the company to retain him in a consulting role for the next several years. Leon also began to realize that his deep and abundant experience could be valuable and vital to new companies and capital investors.
In 2003, having noticed the need for seed capital in Central Wisconsin, Leon collaborated with executive directors from the Heart of Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce and the Portage County Business Council to create the Central Wisconsin Business Angels (CWBA), Central Wisconsin’s first angel investing group, of which he soon became the founder-coordinator. This group quickly attracted 15 qualified investors and invested considerable capital in a dozen exciting new companies within several years. The portfolio returned 22%/year on its capital investment, handily meeting the national average return of angel investing groups, and exceeding the average return of other common investments like stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. Among these companies is Ki Mobility, now a global wheelchair manufacturer and distributor that has thrived from the seed capital provided by members of the CWBA, some of whom are still part owners of the company which has created 400+ jobs in Central Wisconsin alone. The economic downturn of 2008 limited investors’ willingness to participate in angel investing and conditions were no longer favorable to support the CWBA.
In late 2013 Leon and John Leschke, an associate professor of business at UWSP, began to evaluate and understand the Central Wisconsin ecosystem for entrepreneurship, with the ambition of creating a new organization to serve unmet needs.
In 2014 this process brought them to Centergy, a regional economic development organization, which offered a series of forums co-coordinated by Jeff Ebel to identify gaps in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. These events brought John, Leon, and Jeff together with the result of confirming three key unmet needs in the business development ecosystem of Central Wisconsin:
- Access to early-stage capital
- Clearinghouse and comprehensive, accessible central listing of all support services available to small businesses and entrepreneurs
- Temporary part-time access to experienced executive management and mentoring
The results confirmed their belief that a new angel investment group was the best organization to meet them, becoming the Wisconsin River Business Angels (WRBA).
Additionally, Leon saw room for improvement and innovation within the art and science of angel investing. From analyzing the performance of the last angel investor group as well as many others across the country, several enhancements became obvious, including:
- Focus on the openness of the entrepreneur to accept and implement advice and build a team around them
- Utilize the Planned Innovation Philosophy through matching customer’s unmet needs to the technology created by the entrepreneur
- Determine the value in economic terms to the customer from their solution, which becomes the financial basis of the business
- Provide ongoing support in the form of angel investor mentors who offer guidance and skills needed by the entrepreneur.
These are the principles that currently guide the extensive due diligence process used to evaluate investment opportunities by the WRBA.
In 2015 Jeff joined, becoming its president, and soon after that the WRBA brought on its first angel investor member and began making investments. Jeff brings an unparalleled level of passion and energy to the organization, drawing from his years of business ownership, and masterfully mentoring the entrepreneurs of investment companies. Both Jeff and Leon are actively involved in business development in Central Wisconsin, giving them clear and comprehensive insight into the economic pulse of the area and the impact that angel investing can have.
Ready to join the WRBA and start angel investing? Click here to request more information about joining the Wisconsin River Business Angels