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January 30, 2015

2015 Madison Startup Fair

It's part career fair, part startup showcase.

2015 Madison Startup Fair
Tuesday, February 3
12pm-4pm
Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery


The 2015 Madison Startup Fair features successful startups from the Madison area. Anyone interested in technology and entrepreneurship can talk one-on-one in an informal environment with startup founders and employees about their experiences. Find out more about the burgeoning Madison startup scene and the opportunities startups have to offer, including ways you can get involved by starting your own company or through internships and full-time positions with existing startups.

The event is OPEN TO THE PUBLIC and FREE to attend.

Learn more.

January 20, 2015

University-Community Partnership Creates Ideal Entrepreneurial Environment in the City of Whitewater

Q&A with Ronald “Bud” Gayhart, Whitewater University Technology Park Board Member, Director of the Wisconsin Innovation Service Center and Small Business Development Center at UW-Whitewater, and MadREP I&E Committee Member 

Photo of Innovation Center by Craig Schreiner
Q: How did UW-Whitewater and the City of Whitewater decide to launch the Whitewater University Technology Park Innovation Center? 

A: The project was designed to attract professional and technology businesses to the city and to foster development of new business-based research conducted by University of Wisconsin-Whitewater faculty and staff and their business partners.
The city, University, Whitewater Community Development Authority and other founding partners knew that the Whitewater University Technology Park Innovation Center would have a positive impact on the future economic growth of southeastern Wisconsin. It was seen as an exciting opportunity for students, faculty and staff members at UW-Whitewater to connect with the community and generate ideas that can translate into new companies and jobs.

The Innovation Center is one, highly visible example of UW-Whitewater’s commitment to community and economic development. The University is known for its deep involvement in the region. In fact, it was just announced that the Carnegie Foundation bestowed UW-Whitewater with the 2015 Community Engagement Classification, a prestigious national designation held by only 361 colleges and universities in the United States.

Q: What makes the Whitewater University Technology Park Innovation Center such an asset to the region?

A: The 37,000 square foot building, located on the city's east side in the Whitewater University Technology Park, opened May 2011 and has become a leading hub of innovation, entrepreneurship and business growth. The building features all the technology you would expect—wireless Internet, broadband, VoIP telephone, and a state-of-the-art IT infrastructure supported by UW-Whitewater professionals. An outstanding achievement, the Innovation Center has received accolades from the U.S. Green Building Council, Build Wisconsin, and the International Economic Development Council for its sustainability features. Beyond that, the architects and builders created an appealing space to work in.

Q: But it’s about more than the building, right?

A: Absolutely. As a tenant, entrepreneurs gain access to UW-Whitewater’s knowledge base, academic resources, and student interns. There are also the kinds of synergistic opportunities that arise when a group of talented, high-achieving innovators occupy shared spaces. For example, we see a company like iButtonLink who has been a private tenant for just over a year regularly engaging UW-Whitewater students, faculty and staff members in its business operations. And now we are starting to see the beginning of a cluster of sensory technology-related companies attracted to the Innovation Center to have the opportunity to work in close proximity to one another and benefit from that association.

Q: How does the Center support business incubation?

A: The University runs Innovation Hub, “iHub” business incubation services. The iHub program provides coaching, mentoring, and support services to businesses linked to the Innovation Center. For example, UW-Whitewater faculty experts and students assist with growth opportunities, business plans, and marketing and branding.

Q: So how successful has the Innovation Center been as a business incubator? Can you name some of the successful businesses launched at the Innovation Center?
A: Sure. There have been several great examples I could talk about, but I will pick a few that come to mind. There’s MobCraft Beer for one, a company that most people in the Madison Region have heard of because they successfully utilized the new state law enabling crowdfunding and they won the Governor’s Business Plan contest. Another is Scanalytics Inc, a sensor-based technology company also co-founded by a former UW-Whitewater student, Joe Scanlin. A third that comes to mind is UW-Whitewater graduate Andrew Hoeft’s company Pinpoint Software, Inc. Hoeft’s company has created Date Check Pro expiration date management software for grocery stores and other software solutions. These companies all benefited from being at the Innovation Center and from the business outreach capabilities of UW-Whitewater.

Q: Are there public resources or events that people throughout the Madison Region might want to learn about? 

A: When you look at the regularly held events at the Innovation Center, you have the Elements for Success seminar series. Elements for Success seminars feature experts on areas of interest to business owners and entrepreneurs. Topics range from start-up basics to protecting intellectual property to listening to successful entrepreneurs share their story of success. Every event offers invaluable opportunities to connect with regional entrepreneurs, business owners, and business resource providers. These events are free and open to the public. An event calendar is available on the Technology Park website at this link.

Q: What should an entrepreneur do if they want to learn more about the Whitewater University Technology Park Innovation Center and UW-Whitewater business assistance?

A: I encourage entrepreneurs and small business owners to learn more about Innovation Center programs and offerings by visiting the Whitewater University Technology Park website at whitewatertechpark.org and by contacting Mark Johnson, Interim Director, at 262-472-5290.

The SBDC programs serve the public throughout the state. To learn more about no-cost professional business consulting through the SBDC, I invite business owners to visit the program website at wisconsinsbdc.org and search for a center near them or call our UW-Whitewater office at (262) 472-3217. The Wisconsin Innovation Service Center provides market research for more informed business and new product development decisions. Call (262) 472-1365 or go online to wisconsinsbdc.org/wisc for more information.

The UW-Whitewater College of Business and Economics serves businesses in the region through a variety of outreach centers offering faculty and professional staff expertise and employing student interns. Those interested in learning more should call Denise Ehlen, Business Outreach Services Director at 262-472-1956 or email ehlend@uww.edu.

For more information on the Whitewater Technology Park Innovation Center, visit: http://www.whitewatertechpark.org/.

Start-Up Spotlight: iButtonLink

iButtonLink is a research and development company dedicated to producing the best possible tools for extracting physical data, which allows us to better understand and respond to the world we live in. iButtonLink gives individuals and businesses the tools and ability required to make more efficient decisions, effectively making our world a more stable and sustainable place to prevail.

In November of 2013 iButtonLink President, Rob Olson, took hold of an opportunity as iButtonLink reallocated operations to the Whitewater University Innovation Center. It is here that iButtonLink brought the value of a well-established product line to the newly developed Innovation Center.

Utilizing their new space, iButtonLink has created a R&D facility turning ideas into solutions. Not only has iButtonLink helped to advance the Innovation Center’s R&D assets, but they have integrated an entire flexible manufacturing facility for creating, testing, and producing trusted networked sensor solutions.

iButtonLink CEO, Rob Olson, said about the move, ”For an established technology company like ours, we are excited to join forces with the Innovation Center. The additional ability to collaborate with the university, access to Whitewater’s excellent labor pool, along with great community support and focus will give iButtonLink the resources required to continue our progress.”

Founded in 2003, iButtonLink produces and distributes high-quality sensors and solutions that can be outfitted to fit nearly any business needs. iButtonLink’s ever-expanding product line includes temperature, humidity, voltage, light, lightening, airflow, and corrosion sensors to name a few. iButtonLink serves clients ranging from Fortune 50 companies and university researchers, to small startups and individual hobbyist. iButtonLink products have been used in the harshest environments around the world, from the Antarctic to the African Savannah.

For more information, visit the iButtonLink website.


January 16, 2015

Three groups chosen to manage $4 million in venture capital

Excerpted from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
By Kathleen Gallagher
Three state-based groups have been chosen by the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority to invest a total of $4 million in venture capital.
The authority, known as WHEDA, chose the groups from among those who responded to an April 2013 request for proposals, said Kevin Fischer, a spokesman.
The groups are required to raise a minimum of $4 for every $1 WHEDA provides. The agency previously had a requirement that they focus on areas in Milwaukee around the 30th Street Industrial Corridor, Menomonee Valley, Port of Milwaukee and south of General Mitchell International Airport. That requirement was dropped because WHEDA did not receive any applications from people willing to invest in those areas exclusively, Fischer said.
The groups chosen to receive awards are:
Madison Development Corp. received $1.5 million. The group has put $11 million of pooled loans and investments into 35 Madison-area technology and high-growth businesses. Its territory is Dane County, but it is considering expanding that, Fischer said.
NEW Capital Fund II, Appleton, received $1 million. NEW Capital raised $25 million in 2012 to invest in companies in Wisconsin and the Great Lakes region, particularly in the advanced manufacturing, information technology, and life and material sciences areas. The firm focuses on northeastern Wisconsin, a "very capital-starved area of the state," Fischer said.
Kegonsa Capital Partners received $1.5 million. Kegonsa, in a partnership with Santa Fe, N.M.-based Sun Mountain Capital, is planning to launch the Badger Fund of Funds, which hopes to seed small venture capital funds around the state to invest in high-potential Wisconsin companies. The Badger Fund of Funds received its first investment commitment of $25 million in January 2014 from the State of Wisconsin.
Although the fund of funds is "creative and ambitious," it is still developing an organizational infrastructure, Fischer said. "This proposal has the greatest risk, but also the most potential for leveraging additional private capital," he said.

January 9, 2015

2015 Slow Money Wisconsin Showcase Business Application Now Open

Food & Farm businesses invited to apply: 2015 Slow Money Wisconsin's 3rd annual Business and Investors Showcase

The Slow Money Wisconsin Showcase is a chance for entrepreneurs and investors to find meaningful ways to work together to support an economically, socially and environmentally resilient food system for Wisconsin.

Food and Farm Business Entrepreneurs:  Here is your chance to get some one-on-one pitch and financing coaching from Wisconsin's leading food business coaches. Be confident as you seize the opportunity to tell your business story to people in a position to offer investment assistance. This is entrepreneurship at its most intense!

Completing an application takes under an hour, with a chance to upload business and/or project plans.

Application deadline:  11 pm, Sunday, February 15, 2015. No charge to apply.

Learn more about last year's presenters, the application, and sponsorship opportunities.

The event will take place Friday, May 1 at the Lussier Family Heritage Center in Madison. A reception offering a casual learning opportunity about local investment options will take place the evening prior, April 30 in Madison.

January 7, 2015

Q&A: Adrian Reif, Chief Goodness Warrior, Maker of Yumbutter™ // Mouth Rockin’, World Changing Nut Butters

Q: How did you and Matt D'Amour come up with the idea for the Yumbutter product?

A: Well, first of all, we call our offerings “potions,” not products. Our potions are so much more than something we sell. And they also contain love. Seriously, look at the ingredient list.

Yumbutter has been inspired by a combined 15+ years of passion for food and wellness. Matt and I have been crafting our own homemade nut butters for years, always experimenting to make them tastier and more nutritious. One inspiration in particular -- the impetus for our Spicy Thai peanut butter -- took place at an altitude of 15,000 feet in the Nepal Himalaya, when I was trekking in 2009. Headed toward Mt. Everest Base Camp over 3 weeks, one lunch stop manifested the sprinkling of sichuan spices on some crappy peanut butter and crackers I had packed. But the combo was amazing. I attribute it to oxygen deprivation. Today, our Spicy Thai potion is a fan favorite and has even been enjoyed by the likes of Martha Stewart, whom we met in 2013 at her American Made Awards.

With all of this inspiration for outta-this-world food, Matt and I wanted to build it on a conscious business platform, using it to improve people’s lives. So, we added ethical sourcing and the BuyOne:FeedOne model -- for every jar or pouch of Yumbutter you buy, you help feed a child with malnutrition. Over the years, Matt and I have traveled quite a bit, getting to see parts of the world where a little amount of resources could go a long way. I’ve spent some time in Guatemala and built a relationship with an amazing non-profit working to alleviate malnutrition in the second most malnourished country in our hemisphere.

All of this combined into the inspiration for Yumbutter.

Q: How did you first launch the product?

A: Yumbutter launched out of my sister’s kitchen, where I began dialing in recipes in early 2010 in a small food processor. From there, I wanted to see if people would actually pay for such things like Spicy Thai and Cranberry & Coconut peanut butters. So, I bought a few more food processors, a bulk bag of peanuts, and got a food processing license from the state through Bloom Bake Shop in Middleton, where Annemarie was so kind to rent me her kitchen one day per week. From here, I signed up for the Hilldale Farmer’s market, bought a tent, and began selling Yumbutter. By the end of the first summer, people were coming back for more and it gave me the confidence to take the next step.

Q: What is a Certified B Corporation and how has the designation helped your business?

A: Certified B Corporations use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. At Yumbutter, we realize how critical this period is in Earth’s  history, where humans have never been unhealthier or unhappier and the Earth has never been so depleted.  We feel a responsibility to serve others with a responsibly run company that makes super clean & nutritious food, sourced ethically, made responsibly, and gives back to those with the least.

B Corporation Certification is our way of proving we walk the talk -- like organic is to food. It’s a third-party verification for transparency. It’s also our connection to a community of over 1,000 other B Corporations (only three in Wisconsin though) like Patagonia, Etsy, Seventh Generation, and more, who are building this movement collaboratively. We’re all working together to build a better world.

Q: Were there particular resources or assets in the Madison Region that helped the business get started here?  Who are your top partners in Wisconsin?

A: Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen helped Matt and I step out of filling every jar by hand so that our business could grow. We gave them our equipment and they have now become a key partner in churning our potions. Commonwealth Development also worked with us before this to provide space to make Yumbutter after moving out of Bloom Bake Shop. Sarah Hole and her team were amazing to work with and very patient.

The Willy St. Co-op and Whole Foods Market both were early adopters to bring Yumbutter into their stores and be patient with us in the process. Several people at both stores have been big Yumbutter fans and mentors the whole time and really allowed us to start small and learn before expanding regionally, then nationally.

A gentleman named Ben Birkett, who worked for over 20 years in the natural food industry, found us early on and mentored us in the early stages and really changed our understanding of the industry and what it takes to actually make it. After working with Ben, we met Tera Johnson of teraswhey, who has coached into the next level.

And finally, we’ve picked the brains of almost every other food entrepreneur in Madison -- Quince and Apple, RP’s Pasta, Black Earth/Conscious Carnivore, Underground, and the list goes on -- to learn about what they've been through. This helped us make better decisions. We couldn't be more grateful for the collaborative atmosphere they've created.

Q: The Madison Region gets a lot of attention for its tech start-up scene, but clearly companies like yours in the food + beverage industry are prevalent as well. What makes the Madison Region an advantageous location for food + beverage start-ups? What advice might you have for other local food entrepreneurs?

A: The key driver for food + beverage is that people in this region care so much about food and wellness. It’s a small market, but the people love their local companies and we wouldn’t have been able to make it without caring customers here in Madison, and other parts of the state as we grew.

The other entrepreneurs here also set the region apart. We’re not competing; we’re all working together.

Other than that, Madison actually lacks the infrastructure for food + beverage compared to Boulder, SoCal, Bay Area, and Portland/Seattle. Probably Austin now, too. There aren’t many investors with experience and the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen (and now the FEED Kitchens) are the only manufacturing partnerships around, making it hard for young startups to get going. I’m really surprised this is the case. Fortunately, there are lots of people working hard on this (like MadREP, Tera Johnson, and more). I hope to see more investment and more curriculum around starting a food business in the coming years in the Madison Region.

It’s so inspiring to see other food entrepreneurs putting in the effort to get their ideas going. It’s so challenging these days. It takes money, know-how, a little bit of special gift, knowing the right people (or at least not being afraid to network), and a truckload of patience. In coaching other entrepreneurs over the years, the key areas I point to are: 1) Make sure you’re really freakin’ passionate about this whole business thing, not simply that you have Grandma’s recipe that is really good. Those days of entrepreneurship are over. 2) Your idea must add significant value (i.e. well-being, in my opinion) to customers and the world at large to make it in the marketplace. And it’s about more than just the making of the food. 3) Find really smart people and get them on your team, as key employees, advisors, investors, etc. 4) Get out there and do it! Get something produced and see if people will pay for it -- and come back. Do this with as little upfront costs as possible.

Q: I understand that you participated in the Ultimate Frisbee Championships in Toronto.  How do you go about balancing work and pleasure?

A: The work/life balance is crucial for entrepreneurs for so many reasons, so we really try to make it a priority.

I played with the Madison Radicals (everyone should go see a game at Breese Steven’s Field)  the past two years and both years we made it to the AUDL (American Ultimate Disc League) Finals. The 2014 finals were in Toronto. Ultimate frisbee has become my physical outlet where I’m 100% focused on something other than business decisions and to-do’s, so it’s an important part of my life. I also do yoga and started mountain biking this past year.

In college, I played football, which took up 70-80 hours of my time per week during the season and 20-30 hours in the off-season, plus I worked at the campus library and as a TA, and found time to take 15-18 hours every semester.

Now, the work is far more demanding, so I’ve had to scale back some of the play and try to find space for down time. It’s still challenging, to be honest. The past year was particularly hard mentally, so I’ve had to evolve my schedule a bit to get back to balance. I also recommend meditation for entrepreneurs. It’s been part of my life since 2009 (not always so consistent), and I’ve come to believe it’s an amazing tool (not only for entrepreneurs) to give the mind some space and train it to be more equanimous, which leads to making better decisions and living more skillfully and deliberately, and ultimately more moment-to-moment happiness. I don’t think Yumbutter would be here without it.