April 29, 2015

Innovation By Design: Janesville’s Best Kept Secret

By Laura Barten, Barten & Associates, LLC

What do personal lubricant, flanges and mobile marketing apps have in common? Before you get too creative, we’ll end the suspense. All three – and many more products and services – are being developed or manufactured locally at the Janesville Innovation Center.

Strong Beginnings
In 2011, the City of Janesville was awarded a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA) to further economic development by building an innovation center to support new and growing businesses. To make the project a reality, the City of Janesville provided $850,000 in matching funds plus land within the City of Janesville’s Tax Increment Finance (TIF) District 22 near the intersection of Highways 11 and 51. The project was completed and accepted its first tenants in April 2013. Located at 2949 Venture Drive, the 22,000 square-foot Janesville Innovation Center (JIC) is comprised of nine office spaces and four manufacturing bays. The office spaces include office furniture, Internet, phone and utilities as part of the monthly rent, plus a shared kitchen and conference room. The manufacturing space features high ceilings, loading docks, floor drains, separate suite entrances and restroom facilities. “These are turnkey spaces for startups and early stage businesses,” said JIC Operations Manager Mike Mathews.

More Than Office Space
The location has proven ideal, with easy interstate access and short drive times to surrounding communities. But far more than a place to operate, JIC provides mentoring, business counseling, tools and connections to facilitate business development. “When we bring in new clients, we assess the business—what key opportunities and challenges exist. Together we work through prioritizing essential needs and then work to identify resources that can assist,” said Mathews. “We provide mentoring, offer legal assistance through the UW Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic, answer questions about prototyping, the hiring process, identifying sources of capital, and more—it’s a comprehensive approach, tailored to the individual client.”

New tenants make presentations to the JIC Board after securing space, sharing what makes their business special. The board includes a diverse mix of senior private and public sector leaders, including city and county officials and higher education professionals, providing access to a wide range of talents and invaluable advice. Ongoing one-on-one meetings and tenant support complement this assistance. All tenants also have access to a product called “Growth Wheel,” which formally assesses and tracks their business readiness and knowledge. “We appreciate the tenants and what they are investing to realize their dreams for growing their businesses. They are so committed to the community and want the whole area to benefit from their entrepreneurial successes. Some of our existing tenants are developing products and services that are already being sold internationally. The energy and potential is amazing,” said Mathews.

In addition to hosting new and fledgling businesses, JIC is available to established businesses that require short-term “surge” space to manage growth or product development and to established companies relocating to Janesville that might require temporary space until permanent facilities are available.

JIC Office Suite
A Community Collaboration
The JIC facility is owned by the City of Janesville and managed by a non-profit entity called Janesville Innovation, Inc. (JII). The center has received tremendous support from city representatives and their staffs. “The city is an important part of the operation of the facility—without their support this would not be possible. The resources and ideas they provide have been invaluable,” said Mathews. Other contributors are similarly generous. The Janesville Foundation, for example, awarded JIC a grant to make additional improvements to better serve tenants, including conference room equipment and technologies, and the Janesville Art League has offered to place art works from local artists throughout the building as an expression of their support. Said Mathews, “It’s great to see the creative community participating in the creation and innovation of new businesses in Janesville and Rock County. The JIC has really been welcomed and well received. This is truly a collaborative, community effort. It is an investment in the community and has communitywide support. That collaboration and broad base of support is something that differentiates the JIC. The ultimate success of the center and the tenant companies will be a real tribute to the community.”

Learn More
One ongoing challenge is identifying qualified candidates “Unfortunately, you can’t Google ‘potential entrepreneurs’ and come up with a list of local possibilities,” jokes Mathews. If you or someone you know in the community might be a good candidate, contact Janesville Innovation Center Operations Manager Mike Mathews at (608) 206- 7121 or or City of Janesville Economic Development Director Gale Price at (608) 755-3059 or For more about the Janesville Innovation Center, visit

Janesville Innovation Center
2949 Venture Drive
Janesville, WI 53545 |  608-755-3059 |


Provided by Mike Mathews, Janesville Innovation Center Operations Manager

As the Janesville innovation Center celebrates its second complete year of operations, several exciting developments have occurred in 2015:

JIC Floor Plan
New Manufacturing Suites
Construction of four manufacturing suites (ranging from 450 to 1400 square feet) was completed in February. The manufacturing suites are located adjacent to the office portion of the building, creating opportunities for companies to combine professional office space and manufacturing suites for production, assembly, shipping and receiving.

Business Expansion
K4 Innovations, LLC expanded its operations within the Innovation Center in March by relocating to a new office and a new 1100 square foot manufacturing suite. The additional space allows K4 to efficiently manage their inventory and order fulfillment under one roof.

New Tenant
DLG Naturals, LLC moved into the JIC in March.  DLG sources, imports, exports and sells southern African botanical ingredients to the cosmetic and personal care industry around the world. The company has an office and a 550 square foot manufacturing suite.

JIC Tenant Loan Fund
JIC tenants now have an additional source of capital from the newly established JIC Tenant Loan Fund. The fund was created to provide tenant companies with access to working capital for projects and investments that accelerate revenue growth, profitability and/or the ability to secure additional growth capital for their young businesses.

JIC  Second Anniversary Open House Celebration – May 14, 4:00 - 6:00
The Janesville Innovation Center and the City of Janesville are partnering to celebrate the Janesville Innovation Center second anniversary and the City of Janesville Volunteer Appreciation Program at the innovation Center on May 14, from 4:00 - 6:00. In addition, the Janesville Art League will have several select pieces of art on display. A brief program will begin at 5:00 p.m.

JIC Tenant Profile: Irais Valenzuela of IV Quest

Backstory: For years, Irais Valenzuela worked at the Rock County Job Center as a job developer, helping connect employers and employees. Working independently doing similar work was the logical next step. “The sky is the limit. If I work hard, I will succeed; it’s all up to me,” said Valenzuela.

Differentiator: While the vast majority of her work is via state contract, Valenzuela also helps individual clients uncover employment opportunities, craft cover letters and resumes, practice job interviews, and more. Valenzuela’s slogan is “helping people help themselves,” and that is exactly what she does, having placed five of her six independent clients thus far, with the sixth negotiating a better salary at his current job.

World Domination: Bilingual and well connected, Valenzuela is positioned to expand her services quickly. “Mike Mathews is wonderful. He always responds right away and is always helpful. The support we receive here—from Mike, the board and our neighbors—is an incredible springboard to growth,” said Valenzuela.

Next Steps: “My job is to connect people with employment. Going forward I would like to expand my individual client work while simultaneously connecting with additional area companies to form formal employment outreach programs. Once companies understand how much this can simplify hiring and increase retention it becomes very attractive—getting that first meeting to educate is the key,” said

Takeaways: Don’t be afraid to ask. “The worst that can happen is people will say no. Someone will eventually say yes,” said Valenzuela.

Visit or to learn more.

Editor's Note: Catch Irais Valenzuela at the Economic Development & Diversity Summit co-hosted by MadREP and the Urban League of Greater Madison on May 14, 2015! She'll sit on a panel discussing innovation and entrepreneurship. 

April 17, 2015

Madison Selected for Stop on Advanced Technology, Innovation Tour

Excerpted from Wisconsin State Journal  
By Karen Rivedal 
Madison for two days next week will host an international delegation featuring nearly 50 foreign trade and innovation ministers from 28 countries as a stop on the third Americas Competitiveness Exchange Tour, a week-long event designed to feature a selection of Midwestern centers of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Organized by the U.S. Economic Development Administration and other partners, the tour is aimed at setting up opportunities to establish long-term global and regional partnerships and to see the results of initiatives that are strengthening innovation and entrepreneurship.
In Madison, the tour will include presentations Tuesday at the Edgewater Hotel with featured speakers including Paul Jadin, president of Madison Region Economic Partnership, and Matt Erskine, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development.
“This is an extraordinary opportunity to feature Madison and its many academic, innovation and industry assets to a prominent foreign delegation,” Jadin said in a news release. “Being selected for the ACE tour points to the region’s global recognition as a leader in technology and innovation that invites international exchange.”
The delegation on Wednesday will tour Epic Systems Corp., UW Center for Dairy Research, Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, and University Research Park, followed by a community networking reception from 6:15 to 7:45 p.m. at the Edgewater.
Read the full article 

April 8, 2015

Entrepreneur Brainstorm Session

April 14, 2015, 6 - 7:30pm
American Family Dream Bank
Find inspiration for your entrepreneurial dream in an open brainstorming session at DreamBank! Facilitated by Connected Catalyst, an organization that champions small businesses large and small, this innovative gathering is the perfect place to bring your small business ideas to life.

Register now!

April 7, 2015

YP Week Fights Wisconsin's Brain Drain

NEWaukee, Milwaukee’s young professional organization, and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation have partnered to launch the first-ever statewide young professionals week program: YP Week Wisconsin. Taking place April 11-18, the weeklong event will feature 85 events across various Wisconsin cities including Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Appleton, Wausau and Kenosha. The events will serve as a platform to tackle the issues that matter most to young professionals, with a focus on what can be done to attract and retain younger workers.

According to data compiled by the University of Wisconsin, an average of 14,000 college graduates left Wisconsin annually between 2008-2012, with most of those between the ages of 21 and 29. Young professional groups across the state team up this week to address this brain drain, bringing together key leaders in the community in activities that engage the millennial workforce in experiences that are important to them, as well as educate employers on the important role these functions play in retaining a younger workforce.

“YPWeek Wisconsin establishes a framework for existing and emerging young professionals throughout the state to collaborate and brand Wisconsin as a workplace destination for all Millennials,” explains Angela Damiani, president of NEWaukee. “The excitement that is mounting with the new cities coming aboard and the willingness to work towards a single goal proves that folks are hungry and ready for this type of platform. Wisconsin only stands to gain with this united front.”

View the YP Week 2015 Calendar of Events, including several taking place here in the Madison Region. And congrats to all the companies -- including Shoutlet and Zendesk from Madison -- that won the 2015 Bubbler Awards for being a best place for YPs to work!