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,, 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.

September 24, 2015

One Block at a Time: Support the Region's Entrepreneurial Future

StartingBlock Madison -- an effort launched in 2012 to build a 50,000 square-foot entrepreneurial hub in Madison's Capitol East District that will give local innovators a home for turning great ideas into companies -- will soon become a reality. The growth and economic success of the region depends largely on helping entrepreneurs and business leaders start, grow and succeed here. With this in mind, StartingBlock hopes that the Madison Region community will help bring this exciting project to completion.

StartingBlock has secured anchor tenants gener8tor, Capital Entrepreneurs and Sector67, and has already raised 85% of its building costs. To close the financing gap, StartingBlock launched a novel online crowdfunding campaign where participants are invited to purchase a virtual block and upload a picture into that block to collectively build a community collage of StartingBlock supporters. The completed collage will be on StartingBlock's website, included in press coverage, and displayed at the finished StartingBlock building.

As noted by Neil Heinen in a recent Madison Magazine article, "this is an extraordinary opportunity to be a part of history, to join a cadre of civic leaders who are positioned at a pivotal point in this city's future -- and that's the StartingBlock."

Visit to see how it works and purchase your block, and help spread the word about StartingBlock's #buildingblocks campaign to your network. For more information, please contact StartingBlock Madison Executive Director Scott Resnick.

September 16, 2015

bluDiagnostics: Success in Pitching & Predicting Pregnancy

Q&A with Katie Brenner, Founder of bluDiagnostics

Katie Brenner
Image source:

Q: Tell us about your company, bluDiagnostics.

A: At bluDiagnostics, our mission is to help women to understand their bodies and take control of their fertility. There are 6.2 million women of childbearing age in the U.S. today, and over 30% of them fear that they have some problem with their fertility. Twenty-five percent of U.S. women will struggle at some point in their lives to become pregnant, and they are currently spending over $700 million annually on fertility-related testing. Current options include over-the-counter tests that give yes/no answers and tell them little about what their bodies are actually doing, or months of expensive, inconvenient blood tests and ultrasounds. There is currently no comprehensive, convenient, affordable solution that gives women the information that they need to accelerate the path to pregnancy. bluDiagnostics will fill that void with an all-in-one product that quantitatively measures fertility-related hormones with a small saliva sample.

Q: You recently won the Governor's Business Plan Contest, Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce's Pressure Chamber, and the Doyenne Group's 5x5x5. Coming off these wins, how have you grown as an entrepreneur through your recent experiences?

A: Each opportunity helps us to strengthen our story and to identify areas where we need to do some work to move Fertility Finder one step closer to helping women. I have been so encouraged over the past few months to realize that this truly is an important idea, filling a need that many people deeply understand. I have also seen the value in doing something you care a lot about. There are a lot of highs and lows in entrepreneurship. What keeps our team going is that we know that what we are doing will change lives and truly help people in a powerful, meaningful way.

bluDiagnostics wins Pressure Chamber pitch contest
Image source:
Q: Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs looking at entering these competitions?

A: Take a look at what you are doing. Why are you doing it? That pain-point needs to really bug you and keep you up at night, and you need to communicate that very clearly when you pitch.

Q: Tell us a little about how you bridge your roles as scientist and entrepreneur?

A: They are one in the same. All scientists are business people --they have to hypothesize that there is a need (in research, it is a topic that really needs to be understood in order to better the world or society); they need to tell their story well to funding agencies (NSF, NIH, etc.); then they have to hustle, get it done, and meet deadlines in order to keep their funding and get more. I would also say that if you have done a Ph.D., I think you have the tenacity to be an entrepreneur. Research is a continual experience of highs (exciting results) and lows (experiments or directions of thought that don't work out). You learn to have stamina, stay optimistic, and push hard to find the solution. I'd say my training in my Ph.D. prepared me really well for entrepreneurship.

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

A: We have an incredible network of mentors, resources (many free), and startups that have gone before us. I find that people in Madison and in Wisconsin in general are very approachable, and I appreciate that there is a culture of reaching back to help those who are after us. We drew upon many mentors and advisers to get to where we are, and we'll continue to rely upon them as we go forward. We feel very lucky to be in Madison!

August 27, 2015

Video Game Industry Meet-Up fuels momentum around Madison’s gaming cluster

A capacity crowd of more than 75 people attended a Video Game Industry & Higher Ed Meet-Up on August 26 to discuss growing the Madison Region’s gaming industry and creating an innovation ecosystem for video games. The event was held at Filament Games as part of the 2015 Forward Fest and was planned and co-sponsored by Madison Region Economic Partnership (MadREP), the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), and the Higher Education Video Game Alliance (HEVGA).

“Madison is a city with gaming opportunities and gaming talents,” notes City of Madison Mayor Paul Soglin. “Our residents have the skills to create games of entertainment and games of impact. Thanks in part to the talent at Epic, our IT sector is exploding, and gaming is an integral part of that. I am thrilled with the energy that has been growing and the potential for Madison to be a major player in the gaming world.” 

Last night’s conversation at this first-ever local industry meet-up centered on establishing an understanding of current assets, identifying gaps and barriers, and forming a coalition to help develop, brand, and lead the local gaming industry cluster. 

“We had an awesome evening of connecting people who care passionately about games and about Madison,” comments Lee Wilson, CEO of Filament Games. “We ‘found’ a vibrant scene that is already here and surfaced some exciting ideas about how to take it to the next level.”

“This was a fantastic step toward making Madison more well-known on the world gaming scene, notes Timothy Gerritsen, Director of Business Development at Human Head Studios. “Human Head is thrilled to be a part of building that scene.” 

The region’s gaming industry has been gaining momentum over recent years, with a handful of anchor companies like Raven Software, Filament Games, PerBlue, and Human Head Studios growing steadily in the Madison area and at least 15 additional start-up companies taking root. Training and education in the gaming industry is available locally through programs at UW-Madison, UW-Whitewater, UW-Stout, Madison College, Madison Media Institute, and Herzing University.

“We’re excited to see Madison become a virtual reality hub of innovation,” says Jon Brouchoud, CEO of Arch Virtual. “As we prepare to take Arch Virtual to the next level, this event couldn’t have beenmore timely, and we’re looking forward to the exciting opportunities to come. This was a very inspiring event.” 

Participants of the meet-up mapped out next steps for continuing the conversation and growing the cluster, including issues related to talent and skills, education, physical space, capital access, business technical assistance, public policy, and branding and marketing. It was clear that participants want to continue this dialogue as soon as possible and on an ongoing basis. Therefore, the consortium will plan an immediate follow-up meeting hosted by a Madison gaming company. 

“Madison has many of the necessary ingredients to build a solid gaming cluster,” observes Constance Steinkuehler, Co-Director of UW-Madison’s Games+Learning+Society and Executive Director of the Higher Education Video Game Alliance. ”We just need some coordination and intentionality behind shaping an ecosystem that will continue to build upon our critical mass and create a density that can compete with the coasts. This meet-up represents an important first milestone in that process and we could not be happier to have MadREP and ESA as partners in making this happen.” 

August 19, 2015

Meet Madison’s Newest Entrepreneur:
Wes Garnett of Kurbi

A Q&A with Wes Garnett, CEO and Co-founder, Kurbi Health

Q: Tell us about your company, Kurbi. What does the company do and how did you get into it?

A: Kurbi is a goal and activity tracking app for people living with chronic pain and/or disease, who are striving to maintain an active lifestyle. Our business is to connect people to local trainers, coaches, and other resources at a discounted rate to help them safely get beyond sticking points they may encounter when trying to reach a goal. Say for instance someone is training for a 5K, but struggles with low back pain. If their pain starts to get in the way of their training, we recommend therapists or trainers with experience in treating back pain and marathon running to help them keep moving forward.

Many of the people we’re hoping will use Kurbi are likely already using a tracker of some sort, a wearable like a Fitbit or Jawbone, or a software-based product like the Apple Health app, Myfitnesspal, or Runkeeper. The issue with these solutions is that they don’t know a person is living with a chronic aliment. That may seem like a small detail, but think for a second about someone you know living with health-related limitations. Wouldn’t it seem that the specifics of that person’s story should change the way those products fundamentally work? When we started building Kurbi in 2013, we asked ourselves how a person’s health data could be leveraged to help them set achievable goals and increase their quality of life. The answer to that question is something that I’m personally affected by.

Almost 13 years ago, my mom was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). She was 43 years young. Shortly after her diagnosis my uncle and two cousins were also diagnosed. Despite years and years of doctors’ appointments, notes, tests, lab results, medications, etc. they’ve still not figured out how all that data fits into their day-to-day lives.

I’ve met hundreds of people like them since starting Kurbi.

In 2013, I read an article about Annette Fredskov that really opened my eyes. At first glance I thought she and my mom had a lot in common. The next line has haunted me for two years; it said that Annette “ran 26.2 miles every day for a year and topped off her heroic feat of endurance with a double marathon.” What’s so special about Annette? Absolutely nothing. She’s a self-described “ordinary woman.” She’s a 43-year-old mother of two. She hadn’t been a runner prior to her MS diagnosis. She ran 366 marathons in 365 days even while battling the symptoms of her MS. 

While Annette got lucky enough to find something her MS responded well to, many people don’t. Just like Annette, they were told by their doctors that their futures were grim. These statements were reinforced by friends and loved ones who thought it appropriate to tell her to slow down and not expect too much. I started Kurbi to give those people hope and to walk alongside them as they do extraordinary things that will pave the way for others to do the same. 

Q: You recently moved to Madison from Delaware to continue growing your business. What prompted this decision?

A: Most entrepreneurs are looking for a place they can call home as much as they’re looking for a place to grow their company. I was born and raised in Delaware. In the 32 years prior to moving to Madison, I hadn’t spent more than seven days outside of the state. It was abundantly clear to anyone who knows me that I was trying to build a legacy as an entrepreneur in Delaware. But as I began to meet more and more people that needed Kurbi from around the country, I was compelled to start thinking outside the box. It’s not that I couldn’t have stayed in Delaware. Nearly a third of the nation’s population either lives or works within a two-hour drive. My problem was having to drive two hours to grow my startup, but live my life in Delaware. I didn’t think that needed to be the case. 

When I saw how big companies like Google were investing in the future of Madison and read the story of Zendesk relocating here because of the high quality of life Madison provides, I figured you all were on to something.

So far, I think moving here was the best thing I could have done for my career, Kurbi, and my family. We have absolutely no regrets.

Q: What’s next for Kurbi? What kinds of growth are you aiming for?

A: We’re still in the pre-launch phase right now. The goal is to test the app through the winter and formally launch in the spring.

I’m the only one from the team in Madison right now. My objective is to build relationships, figure out distribution channels, and where our seed capital will come from.

Hopefully this time next year we’ll be passing the 60,000 user mark.

Q: You have an active background as an entrepreneur. Tell us about some of the work you did in Delaware.

A: I never set out to be an entrepreneur. It actually took a while for me to figure out that I could call myself one when I started my first company. I’ve always wanted to do work that makes an impact on the world and solves unnecessary problems. I’ve been really lucky to have had several opportunities to do that over the years.

In 2009, my business partner Steve Roettger and I started a marketing firm to help small businesses retain more customers. We started the company after we left our jobs as financial planners. We targeted small businesses, so we learned a lot about their struggles from the inside. It turned out that most marketing firms made big promises and followed fads, but never truly helped their clients grow. Once we realized it was because business owners didn’t have customer retention strategies in place, we built a business to fill the niche. We’ve been lucky to work on projects with Fiat USA, United Way, the University of Delaware, Barclay, NFL, and many others.

In 2010, we decided to open a coworking space. We’d been looking for a big opportunity to showcase our talent as creative problem solvers and brand builders, but ironically didn’t have any good ideas. We were bothered by an address Governor Jack Markell gave at the University of Delaware that essentially called the people of Delaware to step up and improve our national ranking for entrepreneurial activity. The state ranked last at 50 out of 50 at the time. About a month later Steve read an article in Entrepreneur Magazine about coworking, and The coIN Loft was born. Since the launch of the space, nearly 100 early stage companies have called it home, and we recently received $250,000 from the State of Delaware to expand our operations.

In 2012, Steve got a phone call from his alma mater asking for a donation. He declined, but was so bothered by the call that he wanted to find a better way to engage alumni to contribute to the school. We decided to create a Kickstarter concept for college and university students to get projects funded by alumni that graduated from their school. We called it The College Fund (now called USeed), but turned it over to a member of our coworking space to remain focused on growing The coIN Loft.

I was also a very active mentor for high school and university students, as well as established companies through our local economic development offices. Last year I co-developed a code school program for the Boy’s and Girls Club of Delaware.

These are the types of activities I hope to continue doing here in Madison.

Q: What are your impressions of the Madison start-up scene?

A: Prior to moving here I was fortunate enough to meet the Redox guys (Niko Skievaski, Luke Bonney, and James Lloyd) while they were working on 100Health. I was really impressed by how much passion they had for Madison. It left a mark on me that I hope to pass on to someone else considering Madison as their new home.

So far, Madison has been exactly what I expected – open, helpful, and full of world-class talent.

Places like Austin, Denver, and New York were great cities before they were great startup cities. I was Googling for the best places to live before I started looking for the best places to launch a health-tech startup. I was looking for a specific type of life-style in a place with enough resources for my stage of business to grow.

Madison offers me exactly what I’m looking for. Looking back on Delaware, I’ve realized that the holes on the quality of life side are too big to become a startup destination right now. While Madison is certainly still maturing and perhaps even experiences some growing pains that feel like set-backs, all of the big pieces are here and people like me are happy to be here.

Q: As a minority entrepreneur, what are your thoughts about the importance of diversity and inclusion?

A: Growing up, I never considered how the color of my skin would affect my future in America. Sure, I was aware of the reality of racism in America, but it somehow never tainted my worldview that hard work with the right set of tools would eventually lead to success. This is the perspective my parents raised my sister and I to believe in. While I have faith that recent events in our country will lead to greater awareness and behavior change, I am weary of our tactics.

Diversity and inclusion, while well intentioned, tell me that I still need the approval of a gatekeeper for the civil right of racial equality.

When I was in middle school I attended a predominantly white Baptist college prep school in the suburbs. At the end of each year we would have a school-wide field day. It was the best day of the year. Each student got the chance to compete for bragging rights no one could change for the entire summer. I was fast, I could throw far, I was a team player… dare I say I was a natural choice for first pick for anyone's team. One year, our teachers organized a flag football game. Our four 6th grade classes were combined into two teams. Only the boys played, but the teams were still very large. Warming up before the game began I thought I could show off my talent to make sure I got a chance to start. I blew past the other guys in our races. I threw the ball further than all but two people (I was never able to beat these two at anything). I quietly ranked myself in the top 5 on the field.

Well, I didn’t get picked, I got placed. And when I did get a chance to play, despite getting myself wide open on almost every play, our teacher quarterbacks never threw me the ball… not even a pump fake. I was the only black player on both teams.

At the time I had all kinds of questions. Were they being fair to the other players by not throwing me the ball? Was I showing off a little bit too much before the game? Are the other players really that much better than me? Was it because I’m black? Maybe they couldn’t see me because I’m black?

You see, it could have been none of the above, and more than likely wasn't. The problem is that I have no idea why I wasn’t included, and I would have had even less of a clue if I were. This is the fundamental problem with our striving for inclusion; it’s not truly equal outcomes for equal efforts. The questions of one’s race, or gender for that matter, will always loom overhead.

I don’t know what the answers are. I wake up every day ready to work hard with the right set of tools. It’s what my parents taught me and it’s been working just fine so far.

August 6, 2015

Wisconsin Portfolio: Putting Risk Capital to Work

The Wisconsin Technology Council and its Wisconsin Angel Network recently released its annual report -- The Wisconsin Portfolio -- which provides a comprehensive look at angel and venture deals in the state. According to the 2015 Wisconsin Portfolio, 113 early stage companies raised more than $346 million in investment capital in 2014 – nearly three times more than 2013’s total of about $128 million. The largest deals in 2014 include Madison Region’s SHINE Medical Technologies, Propeller Health, Comply365 and EatStreet. The report also shows Wisconsin’s tech sector diversity, with deals ranging from manufacturing to digital health, from biotech to consumer products, and from software to medical devices.

“One of the enduring gripes about Wisconsin’s startup and scale-up climate has been the lack of enough angel and venture capital. Perhaps, we’ll look back on 2014 as the year Wisconsin finally turned the corner,” said Wisconsin Technology Council president Tom Still in an article about the report in the Wisconsin State Journal.

Read the full report.

July 28, 2015

Madison equipped to become a startup city

Excerpted from Madison Magazine
By Brennan Nardi

(Left to right) Eric Oakland of TruScribe, Gregory St. Fort of 100state,
Heather Wentler of the Doyenne Group and Matt Younkle of Murfie.
In case you haven’t noticed, a startup scene is surging all across Madison. Ideas are taking shape at coffee shops and on campuses, in coworking spaces and accelerators. Emerging new companies and academic spinoffs are launching products and services. They’re attracting consumers and clients and finding and growing resources to give their dreams a go. If local entrepreneurs and civic and business leaders capitalize on the city’s size, location and unique culture—and make inclusivity a priority—Madison has all the makings of becoming a startup city.

If you’re looking for evidence that your mother’s or father’s Madison, Wisconsin (think hippie college town, good local food, great protests), has become a bonafide startup city, you have to talk to a lot of people experimenting in this emerging space. There weren’t many startups a mere five years ago, or even three, but that’s not the case anymore. That’s a very good turnabout because startup density is a leading indicator of what’s known as an “entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
The evidence gathered is now crystal clear: Communities that notice and nurture emerging businesses will be the best places to live, work and play well into the future. What that means is whether you are in Wisconsin or California, Madison or Manhattan, such an ecosystem can be fertile ground for a variety of entrepreneurs, from software developers and brewpub owners to insurance agents and cancer drug researchers. Despite the perception of Madison as a domain of the public sector, the reality is quite the opposite. Between eighty and ninety percent of the job growth here is happening in the private sector, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “It’s an important phenomenon,” says Dan Kennelly, economic development specialist for the city of Madison. “We are almost carrying the state on our shoulders.” And those companies that start small could one day be the next Oscar Mayer, American Girl or Epic but will sport new-age names like Murfie, ConfPlus and—just three local brands in the local startup marketplace.

July 22, 2015

Qualified New Business Venture Program
Powers Wisconsin Start-Ups

Excerpted from Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation's 2014 QNBV Report

Research consistently shows that the vast majority of net job creation comes from young companies. In 2003, the Wisconsin State Legislature created the Qualified New Business Venture (QNBV) Tax Credit Program with the goal of helping startup and early-stage companies with proprietary technology raise the funds they needed to grow. State issued tax credits would serve as an incentive for investors to contribute to these companies’ development, and in turn, this private investment would help young, promising companies attract grant funding and funding from other outside sources. These companies would then leverage this investment to raise funds far beyond what would otherwise be available to them.

In 2014, the QNBV Program marked its 10th year of helping create an environment conducive to new business development and attractive to investors -- with a total of 298 QNBV certified companies in the state responsible for creating more than 1,000 full time and over 200 part time jobs to date. Participating companies have raised a total of $1.2 billion in funding with the help of $80.3 million in state tax credits. In 2014 alone, 21 companies received QNBV certification and $51.1 million in investments were attracted by promising companies in the state, offering investors $12.8 million in tax credits.

The factors that encourage entrepreneurship are complex, but the public sector can play a role in making entrepreneurship easier when conditions are right. Companies developing new technologies and innovative products are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to attracting capital--they are viewed as exciting and are often spotlighted as the next big thing. But they are also risky, and in the current lending market, banks are reluctant to provide loans to startups and investors are understandably cautious. This is where the QNBV Program comes in. Investors receive a Wisconsin income tax credit equal to 25 percent of the value of the investment made in the certified company, which offers an immediate return on their investment ($0.25 on every $1.00 invested often received as a tax benefit in the same year as the investment), thus reducing the risk profile of the investment.

Over the years, the program’s eligibility criteria has gradually broadened, and the mix of participating companies has evolved--the IT sector in particular has seen strong growth in the number of companies that qualify for the program and the volume of qualified investment. Other industries with strong QNBV representation include biotech, health tech and manufacturing--all sectors that demonstrate leadership in the Madison Region. QNBV-certified companies from these sectors are developing pioneering medical solutions, creating novel materials, engineering next generation products, building cutting-edge software and solving energy problems. They are also the companies that are driving future economic potential. Wisconsin needs these entrepreneurs and risk-takers to move its economy forward, and WEDC is proud to assist them through the QNBV Program.

Visit to learn more about the state’s QNBV program.

July 21, 2015

Spotlight on Madison Region QNBV Companies

Middleton-based Lucigen has grown from one employee to its current 53 employees since its founding in 1998, with many employees initially coming to Wisconsin to attend the state’s educational institutions. The company has raised more than $2.6 million in eligible investments over the last decade. “Thanks largely to the QNBV Program, Lucigen has been able to secure the investor funding needed to advance development of the ClariLight molecular diagnostic assay platform,” says CEO Ralph Kauten.

PerBlue was created by two UW-Madison students who decided to turn their passion for video games into a business. The two friends developed a mobile role playing game (RPG) that would utilize smartphones’ GPS. Mobile gaming -- unexplored frontier back in 2008 -- is now a $20 billion global market. PerBlue now has 25 full time employees, and its games have been played by more than 10 million people around the world. The company has raised three rounds of funding so far, and QNBV certification was instrumental in enabling that, says COO Forrest Woolworth. “We’ve been able to reach more investors, and they’ve been able to justify writing larger checks because of the tax advantages offered by the QNBV Program,” he says.

July 7, 2015

Madison Region Claims a Winning Position in the Gaming Industry

A Q&A with Games Learning Society's Kurt Squire, Co-Director, and Brian Pelletier, Director of Project Development & Creative Director 
Q: Can you explain what Games Learning Society (GLS) Studios is all about? How do you relate to UW-Madison and Learning Games Network?

A: GLS Studios is really an informal placeholder structure that we set up to communicate to partners that we have a learning games studio on the UW-Madison campus. Most (but not all) of the game developers are employed through Learning Games Network (LGN), a non-profit focused on games for learning that does a number of sub-contracts to UW. LGN is kind of a unique structure. It's a non-profit we started a few years back to help academic projects maximize impact. Academic centers aren't set up to make commercial quality learning games or to really get games out of the lab and into people's hands. LGN is set up to do both.

LGN currently has offices in Cambridge, MA and Washington, DC, which is really helpful for us, being based out of Wisconsin. The Cambridge office is very connected to the learning technologies investment and development communities in New York and Boston, and the DC office has great connections to federal agencies. It's all really designed to help us get ideas and projects out of academics and into the world.

As an example of how it works: we might get a federal grant going to the UW-Madison to build a game on environmental issues. LGN has a sub-contract in that grant to build out key parts of the game. LGN staff in Boston and DC have strong relationships with textbook companies and investors, and are able to begin pitching deals for offshoot products.

In this case, the copyrights are all owned by UW faculty, since the work originated at UW. We're in the process of establishing licensing arrangements right now for those properties. Recently, the East Coast LGN offices have generated projects that they contract development to in the Madison office. We're really excited that we'll be getting our first revenue generated projects that will help underwrite the entire research and development enterprise here in Wisconsin. We're still working out the bugs as we go, but so far, it's been a really great way to leverage what we have in Wisconsin (a robust R&D center) and to make up for some of the "penalties" we take being removed from the coasts.

Q:  Can you describe your experience going through an accelerator program in San Francisco?

A: The co.lab is an accelerator for educational technology companies, particularly around games. It’s located inside Zynga’s headquarters in San Francisco. We learned a lot about the strengths and limitations of our product, as well as the current state of the market. One thing that became clear (and we could learn from locally) is that having a robust community made up for many of the deficiencies of being a small, grant funded team. They were tremendously helpful with interface feedback, quality assurance, and generally giving a critical take on the product. We think Wisconsin would benefit tremendously by having similar services.

Q:  How would you describe the gaming start-up scene in the Madison Region?

A: The gaming start-up scene in Madison is nascent. On the one hand, it's more robust than most any in the Midwest (or anyone not on the East or West Coast), and you can point to successful companies like Filament, PerBlue, Flippfly or Candlelight Interactive as interesting, diverse companies. Two big reasons for that are anchor company Raven Software and the UW -- which have both been tent poles in attracting talent and springboards for launching companies.

On the other hand, we lack many of the formal and informal networks that larger cities have. The indie scene thrives on informal, grassroots events, and I think that only now are we beginning to realize that we have the critical mass to sustain such a community.

Q:  Have you or any of the companies involved with your organization benefited from any resources or programs offered to start-ups in the region?

A: We've benefited tremendously from folks like Rock Mackie & Sangtae Kim, who are involved in the Wisconsin Angel Network. On a few occasions, when we've had an opportunity to go after a big project, we've had members of this network help us do things we couldn't any other way. Former post docs, students, and staff have had companies supported by individuals in that network as well.
But most importantly, regional resources and programs are VERY big for us in terms of attracting talent and projects. Without them, we'd be at a real disadvantage in terms of convincing partners that Wisconsin is a worthwhile place to invest in.

Q: Do you see gaming companies experiencing workforce and/or capitalization challenges in our region?

A: From my perspective, being in the gaming scene in Madison for over 22 years, I see many challenges in this regard. The workforce challenges are multi-faceted involving experienced and new talent. I have recruited and hired over 45 people while at Raven Software and LGN. When recruiting for Raven, Madison lacked local experienced talent due to the limited number of game companies in town that would otherwise create a talent pool to draw from.

My nationwide searches brought talent in from outside the state, but it was often a tough sell due to the limited well-funded companies in town. When a prospect viewed Madison when deciding whether to move their family here, they wanted security with other options in town if Raven didn't pan out for them. There weren't any. It was a big risk to make that move and many turned down the offers sighting that there wasn't a robust gaming sector in Madison. However, many moved to Madison to get away from the high priced coasts to settle down and buy a house they could afford in a city that Money Magazine has listed many times as one of the best to live in.

As for new talent, we have four excellent higher education schools in the area that graduate many aspiring and highly skilled students. The challenge for students is the lack of gaming companies in town who can hire them. These high-tech jobs are found out of state and thus we struggle with brain drain. The other issue being these highly trained and skilled workers take low skilled jobs out of their field of study or only as short term contract gigs that ultimately can't support them in the long term.
The capitalization challenge from my knowledge is there are very few gaming companies who are seeking out investors in Madison for funding. I can only assume there are investors willing to fund this proven lucrative business sector, but with little movement from companies seeking funding, the opportunities are missed.

More local support to help educate the many independent gaming companies in Madison about growing their business could help create a more robust gaming scene. Games are now a part of human culture. According to Lewis Ward, International Data Corporation's research director of gaming, "Games downloaded to smartphones/tablets worldwide will nearly double to more than 60 billion between 2014 and 2018.” These download numbers fuel the increasing game revenue numbers as reported from research firm DFC Intelligence, predicting the worldwide game software market would reach $100 billion by 2018. Games can be independently published and distributed worldwide from anywhere. Why not Madison? With the recent swell of independent gaming companies in Madison, there is the potential for huge growth in this high-tech, high-skilled gaming sector. The challenge is in educating and supporting the Madison indie game developers.

Q:  How are you involved in putting together the GLS Conference in Madison?

A: We are now on the 11th annual GLS Conference, which brings together hundreds of leaders in academics, industry and government in Madison to chart the future of the sector. We've grown from just a few dozen folks to a vibrant international network. We see it as a real accelerator for the region.

This year GLS conference attendees can rub shoulders with gaming industry leaders like John and Brenda Romero, as well as researchers and faculty from top tier game programs like Carnegie Mellon University, University of Southern California, and Rochester Institute of Technology which fuel the industry. In fact, it's fun to look back at the program and see where many of the folks ended up. As an example, our first year featured sessions with Doug Church, who is now working on Virtual Reality at Valve and spearheaded a major initiative at Electronic Arts with Steven Spielberg. Cory Ondrejka, who led programming on Second Life and then went on to be VP of Mobile at Facebook was also featured the first year.

For a few days in the summer every year, we bring some of the brightest minds in technology and gaming in the world to Madison in a fun, accessible, relaxed atmosphere. It fosters lasting relationships that we hope will help position Madison as a leader in these sectors for years to come.

June 25, 2015

Innovation Needs a Neighborhood

A Re-Cap of Aaron Olver's IEDC Presentation

The International Economic Development Council recently brought its annual Economic Future Forum to Madison, in part to highlight the region’s culture of innovation. Aaron Olver, Managing Director of the University Research Park (URP), delivered a keynote presentation entitled “Innovation Needs a Neighborhood,” which focused on the idea that successful innovation requires density and compression in order to generate communication and collisions of people and ideas that spark new ideas.

URP has developed a concentration of technology firms over its 30 year history that approaches the density of Boston’s Kendall Square, referred to by many as the “world’s most innovative square mile.” By Aaron’s calculations, URP’s 126 tech firms per square mile is second only to Kendall Square’s 160 per square mile and is substantially ahead of Stanford Research Park, Harvard Square, South San Francisco, Austin, Berkeley and the Research Park Triangle. He also notes that the patents issued per acre are 427 times higher in the URP compared to the county as a whole. The URP promotes business interactions and synergies by supporting ongoing programming including: High Tech Happy Hour, Madhacks, Biotech Happy Hour, Start-Up Weekend Madison, Carts in the Park, BioForward Leadership Breakfast Series, Madworks Coworking, and Merlin Mentors, among others. If you want to learn more, Aaron’s entire presentation can be found here.

June 10, 2015

1 Million Cups Madison: Brewing Startup Success

By Leah Anderson, Volunteer Organizer, 1 Million Cups Madison

How can we, as a community, help you and your business take the next step forward? This is the question we ask one startup each week at 1 Million Cups Madison. 

1 Million Cups Madison is a free, weekly program for area startups to pitch their businesses to an audience over coffee. The program was founded on the notion that it takes one million cups of coffee to launch a startup. The original 1 Million Cups began in 2012 at the Kansas City, Missouri-based Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan organization that aims to foster economic independence by advancing educational achievement and entrepreneurial success.

We established the 68th chapter of 1 Million Cups (and the second in Wisconsin, the first being in Milwaukee) in Madison in December of 2014. We’re proud to be an all-women-run chapter of 1 Million Cups; our volunteer organizers, Sarah Nettie of Catalyze, Megan Orear of 100state, Leah Anderson of Wollersheim Winery, and Rachel Neill of Nordic, are all Madison-area businesswomen with a love of startups.

1 Million Cups Madison meetings are akin to business workshops. Each week, a startup presents its idea for about 10 minutes, and then has a 20-to-30-minute Q&A session with the audience. Our meetings differ from traditional pitch sessions in that the focus is on the dialog of questions and answers between the presenters and the audience. 1 Million Cups encourages collaboration and inclusivity; startups of all varieties are welcome to apply to present, and anyone who is interested can attend to listen, ask questions, and offer advice.

Our goal at 1 Million Cups Madison is to become a must-do for local entrepreneurs. We see ourselves as providing a service to the community by educating entrepreneurs on how to grow their businesses, fostering discussion of new business ideas, bringing more attention to Madison’s growing startup scene, and uniting the entrepreneurially-minded folks in our area.  
To add to the list of resources we want to provide to local entrepreneurs, we also have plans to start a series of periodic legal roundtable discussions this summer. Drew Coursin, an attorney at Madison-based Neider & Boucher, will discuss legal topics that affect entrepreneurs, like establishing LLCs, negotiating contracts, and keeping up with employment law. 
We are always actively seeking presenters for our meetings. An ideal presenter has a scalable business idea and lots of questions about it, but doesn’t need a formal business plan, and can come from any industry. Benefits for presenters include promotion from us in our newsletter and on social media, a free live stream and recording of the presentation by Field59, opportunities for press coverage (we’ve had a reporter for the Capital Times cover many of our recent meetings), and indispensable advice from fellow entrepreneurs.

1 Million Cups Madison meets every Wednesday morning at 9:15 a.m. at the Madison Central Library. If you’d like to see us in action, but can’t make it to the meetings, visit our YouTube channel to watch recordings of our most recent presentations. A couple of presenters we think exemplify what is great about Wisconsin’s startup scene are Scanalytics, which provides foot-traffic analytics through its proprietary floor mats and software, and GrocerKey, which aims to improve online grocery shopping.

We love seeing new faces in the audience each week, and we encourage anyone who is interested to stop by, enjoy a cup of free coffee, and help a local business grow. Sign up for our weekly newsletter to learn more, or visit our website to apply to present ( Join 1 Million Cups Madison as we caffeinate our community!