Creating an entrepreneurial community focus

August 26, 2013

I was invited by Zach Brandon and the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce to join a group of Madison business and government leaders to visit Chicago and learn more about their entrepreneurial technology startup ecosystem. During the bus ride down to Chicago we heard from a variety of Madison entrepreneurs on their efforts to promote and grow the Madison startup and technology community.

Matt Younkle and Preston Austin relayed their experiences starting Murfie.com along with an effort to create co-working space to support the Madison entrepreneurial community. Niko Skievaski talked about his efforts at 100State and a desire to gather passionate individuals from the community and focus them on community problems.

Chris Meyers of sector 67 shared what it’s like to be a serial entrepreneur, and we heard presentations from Brad Grzesiak of Bendyworks and Mark Bugher, director of University Research Park. It’s apparent that the Madison startup community is growing, thriving and developing linkages, connections and resources that are going to increase the ability to leverage Madison’s unique culture for growing businesses.

In Chicago we met with J.B. Pritzker, the visionary behind 1871 — a Chicago based co-working center for digital start-ups.

J.B. shared his basic rules for building a successful startup ecosystem. These include:

  1. Make provisions for securing capital at every stage — starting with early funding and running through development and scaling.
  2. Build a community with mentorship and access to serial entrepreneurs
  3. Create a shared space where entrepreneurs can talk and come together.
  4. Engage with technology offices at nearby universities.
  5. Leverage large corporations who need new technology and are both customers and acquirers of startups.

The tour of 1871 was impressive and inspiring. There was a distinct energy and "buzz" within the space that felt infectious.

It’s apparent that the Madison startup community is growing, thriving and developing linkages, connections and resources ...

The tour of 1871 was impressive and inspiring. There was a distinct energy and "buzz" within the space that felt infectious.

We also saw a presentation by Chris Cain of Foley and Lardner, which also helped sponsor the trip. Foley has helped to establish Catapult Chicago, another tech startup incubation space “where startups come to scale.” Catapult focuses on companies that have “graduated” from 1871 and are seeking support for growth and scaling. One unique aspect of Catapult is that the current “residents” get to vote on which companies can join to help promote collaboration and synergy.

Chicago’s efforts mirror a growing trend of increasingly sophisticated efforts to support and nurture entrepreneurs and startups. While Chicago’s approach isn’t perfect for Madison, there were many things to take in and consider. The entire day left me even more encouraged, excited and optimistic for the future of startups and growth within the unique culture of Madison.