November 19, 2014

Q&A: George Austin on StartingBlock Madison

George Austin, StartingBlock Madison
Project Facilitator
StartingBlock Madison is a proposed entrepreneurial hub and ecosystem that will help Madison’s entrepreneurs succeed. StartingBlock Madison plans to build an approximately 50,000 square foot entrepreneurial hub in the heart of Madison’s Capitol East District where entrepreneurs, investors, advisors, and community members can connect, share innovative ideas and create next-generation businesses.

George Austin, Project Facilitator for StartingBlock Madison, shares his insight on the project below.

Q: Imagine we are five years ahead. What does a day-in-the-life of Starting Block Madison (SBM) look like? What types of tenants are there? How they interacting with each other? How has the community changed as a result?

A: It has been proven many times over that the planned “collision” of people from diverse backgrounds is often the creative spark needed to develop solutions to difficult problems. SBM will be the melting pot where this dynamic collision of talent, tools and experience occurs, fostering the innovation and excitement needed for our region’s economic future, and the future of our children, too.

  • Imagine startup companies and individuals residing and growing together within a supportive community of mentors, peers and professional assistance…all located in in the heart of the vibrant Capitol East District along East Washington Avenue in downtown Madison. 
  • Imagine young and retired people together, tinkering and creating at Sector 67… through classes and programs and access to prototyping, 3D printing, and machine shops. 
  • Imagine daily community networking, start-up weekends, accelerator programs, seminars and lectures sponsored by SBM collaborators and Capital Entrepreneurs. '
  • Imagine a place where entrepreneurs go to their office space in the morning and without ever leaving the building, can collaborate with peers designing a new device, observe the engineer building the prototype, meet with potential investors, and sit in on a workshop featuring a nationally known speaker.   This is the type of ecosystem that will be found at SBM.  

Companies located at SBM will be from many industries, but a significant number will be involved in developing products for health care IT, social media, online games and a host of related applications.

The Madison Region can expect within the next five years to increase the number of successful startups; increase investment dollars in our technology, healthcare and IT sectors; create a pipeline for talent of all ages and improve retention of high talent individuals; and establish the Madison Region as a startup hub recognized for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Q: Though Starting Block will be physically based in Madison, what type of impact will it have on the broader eight-county region? How can innovators outside of Dane County be a part of this?

A: What the Madison Region needs next is a way to bring these groups, and many others, together in an interconnected entrepreneurial ecosystem. SBM is dedicated to supporting entrepreneurism, education and economic growth in the region. Programming at SBM will be accessible to anyone from the eight county region.
Our region’s information technology cluster is large, strong and growing. Proven entrepreneurial leaders are shaping what’s next in order to grow this sector and our economy. They include some familiar names…Sector 67, gener8tor, Capital Entrepreneurs, 100 State, the Doyenne Group, the annual Forward Technology Festival, MadWorks and Horizon co-working locations.  One common characteristic shared by all of these groups is that none of them were even in existence five years ago. Think of all the positive energy and accomplishments that have been generated in just the past few years that will benefit the entire region.

It will be easier for entrepreneurs from the region to find support services when they are located in one spot. Increasing the number of startup companies "graduating" from SBM will also increase the opportunities for the region’s business parks to be the home of these new and growing companies.

Q: There are similar incubators/tech hubs with proven success in other regions – like 1871 in Chicago. How closely is Starting Block modeled after these other tech hubs, and in what ways is it different? 

A: SBM will be the only facility that combines high tech company office space with a successful makerspace of our own Sector 67.  Individuals and companies can not only dream up solutions to their problems; they will be able to wander down the hall and find someone who can build them a prototype of the idea without even leaving the building. Understanding this opportunity, a group of young technology entrepreneurs and community leaders have worked quietly for over a year to strategize and plan for an entrepreneurial center in the Capital East District of downtown.

The Madison Region has all the individual pieces in place to be a world-class entrepreneurial city.  Multiple national studies have shown that small businesses are the engine that drives economic growth, and Madison has been recognized as having one of the quickest growing information technology sectors in the country. With this additional piece of economic infrastructure, we are poised to retain Wisconsin’s talented young adults, an outcome too critical to ignore.  The impact of StartingBlock Madison to the City, the region and the State…more startups, more successful companies, better products and a stronger community…could be the difference between being a leader versus a follower in the 21st century.