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October 13, 2016

oneEvent Technologies brings life-safety systems into the modern age

The Village of Mount Horeb in Dane County is home to a population of nearly 7,500, characterized by its quaint downtown with specialty shops and a unique thoroughfare lined with wooden trolls – a classic feature of its Scandinavian heritage. It’s also home to one of the Madison Region’s most innovative companies: oneEvent Technologies.

OET at a planned burn, southwest of Verona
Co-founded by Kurt Wedig and Dan Parent in 2011, oneEvent Technologies (OET) is bringing life-safety systems into the modern age by using cloud-based technology to provide smart building protection. The company’s onePrevent system alerts building owners and occupants to issues -- such as rising humidity or temperatures -- before they become problems. By collecting and providing immediate access to data via smartphone or tablet, property owners are able to reduce the frequency and severity of emergencies, first responders can access vital information needed to save lives, and insurers are better informed in limiting and evaluating risk.

Co-founders Dan Parent and Kurt Wedig
The company has hit growth mode, expanding its office space as well as leasing additional space to house inventory and packaging. Recently, OET partnered with several local dealer-installers to make its product available to commercial properties in south central Wisconsin. In August, it took home a Most Innovative Company award during the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce neXXpo event, and will be among the seven finalists making pitches to a group of Wisconsin investors at the Nex7 Stage Event in December.

MadREP supports the region’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship (I&E) ecosystem, and had the opportunity to make a direct impact on this start-up’s success together with Mount Horeb Area Economic Development Corporation (MHAEDC). “MadREP and MHAEDC have been great partners in helping oneEvent leverage local resources, find key talent, and open up new business opportunities,” said OET Founder/CEO Kurt Wedig.

For more information on MadREP’s I&E efforts, contact Enterprise Development Director Craig Kettleson at 608.571.0405.

July 20, 2016

High Iron Studios: Slingwitch


In a quiet basement on the upper north side, another developer is working late into the night. Veteran game developer and founder of High Iron Studios, Greg Shives, is four years into his solo journey of making the game Slingwitch. Wanting to do less managing and meetings, Greg left his director role in the video game industry in 2005 to pursue his own creative ideas, independent of the large studio environment.

"I wanted to test myself and see what I'd learned. To say I got what I was looking for is an understatement," says Greg, laughing. "I am responsible for everything now. Animation, art, modeling, game design, user interface, coding, marketing...all of it. If there is a hat to wear, I'm wearing it."

In the game Slingwitch, you play as ancient tribal shaman who faces off against one to three opponents, racing to select and channel powerful elemental magics and medicines in order to win your freedom. Touted as a player vs. player (PvP) delayed-phase spell-caster, the game's unique approach isolates gameplay to focus solely on spell selection and timing in order to test your ability to plan and execute strategic decisions under pressure.

At a time when most indie developers are focusing on mobile platforms, Slingwitch is being developed for the desktop. "The desktop is where I prefer to play games," says Greg. "It's a great space to develop for, but the expectations for visual fidelity and design result in a heftier workload than mobile." The game has garnered enough attention in the gaming community for it to gain digital distribution rights on the popular PC game portal Steam and will be available for purchase by the service's 125 million registered users. "The PC is home for competitive gamers. Specifically, competitive MOBA players who are looking for tight, team-based game play experiences, but with smaller player team sizes, which Slingwitch provides. The game is also designed to provide a faster, 3D alternative to popular digital TCGs such as Blizzard's Hearthstone."

It is an ambitious attempt even for a small team, let alone for a team of one, but with an open beta and release window (Q4 of this year) in sight, Greg sees light finally beginning to seep into the the tunnel. "When people ask me what making games independently is like I jokingly refer them to Ernest Shackleton's famous arctic expedition ad: "Help wanted for hazardous journey: Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success."

You can learn more about the game and follow along with Greg's development at slingwitch.com.



April 12, 2016

Inside Innovation: Madison Region to be Home to New Fab Lab


Image Source: Isthmus
The Fabrication Laboratory (Fab Lab) concept grew out of a project of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and has spread to many parts of the world including the Madison Region. Stoughton High School opened the doors to its Fab Lab in 2013, joining the 100+ worldwide locations in operation at the time, a number which has recently grown to over 400. The region will be gaining another, with the Waunakee School District's announcement last week that it is in the early stages of creating space for its very own Fab Lab, becoming the sixth Fab Lab in the state.

Image Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Designed to spur creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship, a Fab Lab contains technology and equipment to bring ideas for products to life. Collaboration is also a key feature of these labs, with schools throughout the country and around the world communicating to share ideas. Such hands-on programs allow for cross-curricular learning in diverse fields such as art, business education, and engineering. With a reputation as the top metropolitan area in the U.S. for STEM graduates, it's no wonder the region is seeing growth in such innovative spaces.

In order to help equip public schools across the state to prepare students for the manufacturing jobs of the future, Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) is providing grants of up to $25,000 through the Fab Labs Grant Program to eligible Wisconsin public school districts for the creation or expansion of Fab Labs. The first grant year closed in January 2016 with a high volume of applicants. Look for award announcements, which will be made in the coming months!

If your community is considering a Fab Lab, or for assistance in pursuing a Fab Lab, contact MadREP Enterprise Development Director Craig Kettleson at 608.571.0405.

January 5, 2016

Madison Enterprise Center & Main Street Industries: Pioneers of Business Incubation

A Q&A with Sarah Hole
Facility Director, Madison Enterprise Center & Main Street Industries
Common Wealth Development


Q: How did Common Wealth Development decide to get into the business incubation game?

A: Common Wealth started in 1979 to address blight and preserve the vitality of the Williamson-Marquette neighborhood. Manufacturing companies that were the backbone of the economy had closed or left and there were many vacant buildings on Williamson Street. We recognized the importance of economic development in revitalizing and stabilizing the area. In 1987, we partnered with Madison Gas & Electric to open the Madison Enterprise Center (MEC). In 1997, Common Wealth renovated the former Greyhound Bus terminal garage into Main Street Industries (MSI), a second stage incubator. The MEC and MSI were pioneers in Wisconsin business incubation and helped lay the foundation for the re-development of the Capitol East District. Today the Williamson-Marquette neighborhood is thriving and we would like to think that Common Wealth played a significant role in helping to revitalize the community and the neighborhood. 

Q: Why two facilities (namely, the Madison Enterprise Center and Main Street Industries)?

A: The Madison Enterprise, established in 1987, is a partnership with Madison Gas & Electric. MG&E owns the former Gisholt Machine Tool Company building and Common Wealth operates the incubation program. The MEC is a mixed-use first stage incubator with an application process that requires a business plan and vetting by our Business Development Committee. MEC businesses must "graduate" after a stay of 3-5 years to make room for the next generation of start-ups. In 1996, we opened Main Street Industries in part to offer MEC graduates a second stage incubator space so they could remain in the neighborhood. MSI has the same application process as the MEC. Today MSI houses a mix of MEC graduates and start-ups. Year in and year out, MEC and MSI businesses create new jobs and contribute to the economic vitality of Madison and the region both while they are in the incubator and after they graduate.

Quince & Apple
Photo by Kent Sweitzer
Q: Can you describe how your tenant base or the regional market may have changed since you first started?

A: Both of our incubators are mixed used which has given us the flexibility to serve a wide-range of small businesses over the years. Originally our focus was serving light manufacturing companies, but as the market changed so has our tenant mix. Our goal is to continue to offer affordable production space as well as fair priced dedicated office spaces.  In recent years we have supported food production companies including: Potter’s Crackers, Quince & Apple, Underground Meats, Underground Catering, Old Sugar Distillery, Yumbutter and Mad Urban Bees. University of Wisconsin spin-off companies Virent Energy Systems, AquaMost and Ebullient Cooling have utilized their spaces for research and product development. In early 2015, we added six small office spaces at the MEC to better serve early stage start-ups.   

Q: Can you name some of the successful businesses launched by MEC and MSI?

A: MEC graduate businesses that include Virent Energy Systems, Applied Tech Solutions, LocknCharge and AquaMost have put down roots in Madison and continue to create well-paying new jobs. Filament Games, an educational games developer and MEC 2010 graduate, is a key player in Madison’s thriving video game cluster. This year they moved into the top floor of the renovated AT&T building downtown where they created an innovative workspace to house their growing company.

EVP Coffee, Full Spectrum Solar and Shopbop.com, three incubator graduates clustered within a block of the intersection of East Washington Avenue and Baldwin Street, played a key early role in the re-establishment of the Capitol East District as an employment center. EVP Coffee, a MEC 2002 graduate, opened its first coffee shop at 1250 East Washington and now operates five coffee shops in the greater Madison area. Full Spectrum Solar, a MEC 2010 graduate, purchased a former auto body shop at 1250 East Washington Avenue and renovated it into a super insulated energy efficient facility. In the summer of 2011, Shopbop.com, a Main Street Industries 2004 graduate, moved its operation and hundreds of employees into 200,000 square feet of space owned by the Mullins Group. 

Ebullient Cooling
Photo by Kent Sweitzer
Q: What’s coming for the region’s innovation ecosystem from the MEC/MSI perspective?

A: It is exciting to see the acceleration of redevelopment in the Capitol East District that will soon include the StartingBlock project.  As entrepreneurial programs and facilities proliferate, the Capitol East District will become a start-up hub that will benefit not only the immediate area but the region as a whole. However, affordable and available production space is becoming a rarer commodity in the Capitol East District which will offer opportunities for regional economic development entities to create additional incubation facilities. Creating a robust entrepreneurial pipeline across the region will best serve the coming generations of start-ups. 




November 11, 2015

gener8tor: A top 15 U.S. accelerator in our backyard


A Q&A with Joe Kirgues, Co-Founder of gener8tor

Q: Let’s start with the basics. What is gener8tor? How and when did it get started, and how do you help start-ups? 

A: gener8tor is a top 15 U.S. accelerator investing in high-growth businesses. gener8tor runs two, 12-week programs per year, alternating between Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin. Our 38 alumni have raised more than $50 million in follow-on financing and acquisitions since we kicked off a little over three years ago.

Our Madison-area alumni include EatStreet, ABODO, catalyze.io, Beekeeper Data, OpenHomes, MobileIgniter, AltusCampus, AkitaBox, Quietyme and PinPoint Software.

We started in 2012 with a commitment to make ourselves the most entrepreneur-friendly accelerator program. We fulfill that commitment by investing our capital, mentorship, network, community and experience into each of the companies we have the privilege of joining as investors.

Q: Tell us about gBETA and the newly-announced partnership with WARF. You seem to have a new focus on helping commercialize UW research and license technology through WARF, an area that has historically been regarded as a shortcoming for a university so prominent in R&D.

A: gBETA is a six-week pre-seed accelerator program for startups with a connection to a Wisconsin college or university. We believe that with the support of gBETA's sponsors American Family Insurance and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), we can offer the region's most promising entrepreneurs a program that takes all of the benefits of our core accelerator program and makes them available for free to the best and brightest entrepreneurs emerging from our colleges and universities.

With our WARF sponsorship we are excited to work more closely with emerging entrepreneurs and technologies from the university. We believe this partnership is the first of its kind between a top licensing institution and accelerator and we're hoping it sets a precedent for other universities in the region. But for now, we're focused on delivering the best product to our customers -- the entrepreneurs we're working with through gBETA.


Q: gener8tor has locations in both Madison and Milwaukee –- arguably the state’s most active regions in terms of start-up activity.  What role does gener8tor play in increasing connections between these two region’s start-up communities?

A: We believe Milwaukee and Madison need to work together if the region is going to make a mark nationally. For our part we make a point of bringing as much of our programming to both cities and that includes our Premiere Nights, Meetups, the accelerator programs and the OnRamp events that facilitate customer meetings between established corporations and emerging startups. We spend a lot of time on I94.

Q: What trends or observations have you noticed in the companies graduating out of your Madison classes? Are there any similarities or differences among companies who participate from Madison versus other parts of the country?  

A: gener8tor's Madison graduates tend to have strong community ties and almost consider their Madison location a part of their startup brand. One way they've chosen to express this attachment is by creating a startup cluster around the capitol square and we anticipate this density increasing as the StartingBlock project gets off the ground. We don't tend to find this sense of community identity in the other startups coming through our program.

In particular, our Madison alums are proud of their ties to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and we think it plays a big role in their deciding to build a company in the region. We also find that they are proud of the talent pool they can draw from in building their company thanks to the capabilities of graduates in departments such as computer science and engineering.

Q: What’s coming in the next 5-10 years for the region’s innovation ecosystem, either from gener8tor’s perspective or just from a broader start-up perspective?

A: For the ecosystem the next big step is the completion of the StartingBlock project, which will serve as a permanent home for programs such as gener8tor and Sector67. We believe StartingBlock will become a one-stop shop for entrepreneurship in the area and we're excited to play a small role in helping it get off the ground.

For gener8tor, our success is tied to our entrepreneurs’ success. Over the past three years it has been a thrill to see EatStreet go from two to over one hundred employees, and we want to be a small part of more stories like theirs.

October 15, 2015

AltusCampus: Accelerator grad delivers online continuing medical education courses

A Q&A with Daniel G. Guerra Jr., CEO, AltusCampus 


Q: Tell us about your company, AltusCampus.

A: Founded in December 2013, AltusCampus’ online platform provides continuing medical education courses to healthcare professionals and healthcare facilities. For healthcare professionals, AltusCampus enables individuals to meet and track license requirements. For healthcare facilities, AltusCampus protects billing reimbursement eligibility by tracking their workforce’s compliance with license requirements. AltusCampus is a Madison-based, Wisconsin C-corp. AltusCampus currently licenses their platform to 61 healthcare licensees.

Q: Can you describe your experience going through the gener8tor program and how it may have helped you grow as an entrepreneur?

A: gener8tor was an amazing experience! Although I personally had been an entrepreneur for many years, gener8tor gave me the important chance to learn the difference between a lifestyle business and a high-growth business. I was arrogant to think I knew what business had to offer. Looking back, I realize how much I didn’t know and how much I’ve learned. Learning the skills to grow and run a high-growth business and making it investment-ready is a completely different skill set. The gener8tor team was great; they helped us refine our business model, product offering, etc. 

I think many entrepreneurs feel that by taking suggestions on products and their business model that they are losing their idea, and their business. But in working with an accelerator program like gener8tor that has an investment in your business, they really have no intention of you losing the idea. Their goal is to help you refine the product and business model to make it investable. The goals are in alignment, which is important. 

Q: Can you describe your experience trying to raise your initial funding round in the Madison Region? Where you able to raise all of the money locally?

A: Difficult. Difficult. Difficult. Of the $800k we have raised or committed, less than $100,000 came from the Madison/Dane County area. State wide, we have only raised about $400,000 from Wisconsin investors. A significant amount of our investment has come from outside the state (in Minnesota, Illinois and California). Many of the out-of-state investors have also asked us to relocate our operation as well, not as a condition of financing but to be helpful in providing more access to resources.

We’ve given our pitch to more than 80 investment groups (in Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago, Minneapolis) this year as part of the gener8tor program. What sets gener8tor apart from every other business development program is that they are not only committed to helping an entrepreneur improve their business, but they also get you ready to pitch. They help you on the slide deck, the presentation, and effective tactics for talking with investors. 

While it’s difficult for start-ups to raise funds here, I do hold out hope. Investors interested in start-up/early stage investing should be participating in accelerators like gener8tor. We need more accelerator programs that have real world investment funding. In addition to the accelerators working with start-ups, they will also work with new investors to help them set expectations for start-up/early stage investing. The magic for growing our region is in access to capital! 

Q: What about the Madison Region has allowed your company to be successful here?

A: Pam Christensen from Madison Gas & Electric. Because of Pam’s participation in the mentor swarm for gener8tor companies, she was able to connect with Marshfield Clinic to develop a partnership with AltusCampus and the UW-Madison School of Medicine to help us with content licensing for AltusCampus.

We received a $150,000 working capital loan from Madison Development Corporation. In addition to connections like these, local economic support is what gets us to the next level! Thank you Pam and MDC for being local champions!  

Q: Do you have any advice you would like to share with other local entrepreneurs looking to follow in your footsteps?

A: You will get a lot of no’s and even more lip service. Look into the mirror every morning and tell yourself you’re going to do something most people can’t. Raising capital is hard; be persistent! 

September 25, 2015

Large tech accelerator considered for Madison

Excerpted from Wisconsin State Journal
By Judy Newman


Madison could soon be home to a major new project aimed at helping technology companies get started and grow … if a local serial entrepreneur has her way.

Liz Eversoll – whose company SOLOMO Technology won the $100,000 Rise of the Rest competition last October – wants to start a super-sized tech accelerator and co-working space patterned after Capital Factory, a similar program in Austin, Texas.

“We are in the planning stage to determine if we will bring Capital Factory to Madison,” Eversoll said. “We are evaluating the market, community support and entrepreneurial activity level to help make our decision.”

Eversoll envisions as many as 50 startups in the accelerator and 200 people sharing the co-working space. That’s much bigger than any of the current business booster programs in Madison.

The Madworks seed accelerator, started in summer 2014, offers 10 weeks of mentoring to eight to 10 young companies at a time. Gener8tor, in Madison and Milwaukee, started in 2012, works with five companies at a time, in 12-week sessions. This summer, gener8tor added a shorter program for very-early-stage companies.

Of the city’s co-working spaces, 100state is the largest: it claims more than 200 members, executive director Gregory St. Fort said.

While some of the other accelerators are open to a wide range of young businesses, Eversoll’s focus is on tech companies, from the early concept stage to as far along as raising their first outside funds from investors.

“Companies from all over would be welcome. We want this facility and accelerator to be a draw and a reason companies start or move to Madison,” she said.

Eversoll said she has her eye on a building on West Washington Avenue. She and Patrick Vogt, chairman of SOLOMO’s board, will be partners in the project.

One big difference from the other accelerator programs is that this one would have no end date; companies can stay until they outgrow the program or the space, she said.

Why affiliate with Austin’s Capital Factory? “We think Madison has so many synergies with Austin and needs additional resources and programs to help foster the ecosystem,” Eversoll said.

Capital Factory’s executive director Joshua Baer was recently in Madison, speaking at the Forward Festival. He is out of the country and could not be reached for comment.

To give you an idea of the scope of the Austin program, here’s what its website touts: “Capital Factory’s mission is to be Austin’s center of gravity for entrepreneurs. Last year, 32,000 entrepreneurs, programmers and designers gathered day and night for meetups, classes and co-working.”

Saying the program is a place to hone skills, create a product, find a co-founder and connect with investors, Capital Factory urges people: “Quit your job and become an entrepreneur.”

Gener8tor co-founder Joe Kirgues is open to the idea of another tech accelerator in Madison. “We welcome any and all additional resources for Madison entrepreneurs and wish Liz well. We hope to collaborate with Capital Factory on opportunities to make Madison a more vibrant community for entrepreneurs,” he said.

Just the notion that the Austin program is considering a Madison outlet is a feather in the community’s cap, said Paul Jadin, president of the Madison Region Economic Partnership (MadREP).

“The fact that Capital Factory leaders recognized Madison as a location with the density of entrepreneurial talent and companies to warrant such a space speaks volumes about our rise as a start-up community and the reputation we are building,” Jadin said.

He said the eight-county south-central Wisconsin region that MadREP represents plays host to other business accelerators as well, such as Madcelerator in Fitchburg and the Whitewater University Technology Park.

Jadin said MadREP “will do what we can to assist” with Eversoll’s effort.

Read the full article.