From startup city to exit city

When former Madison Magazine editor Brennan Nardi started the column in 2016, he called it Startup City. It was a reference to a book of the same name, as well as feature stories he wrote while tracking down local founders trying to build a startup ecosystem in Madison. We had spin-offs from Epic and the University Research Park and biotech companies supported by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation that grew out of having a world-class R&D university in our backyard. However, we still thought that big-thinking, bootstrapping startup founders only lived in tech hub cities like Boston and San Francisco. To change that, a handful of people formed Capital Entrepreneurs in 2009 and started the Forward Festival in 2010. Then came StartingBlock Madison, Doyenne Group, and gener8tor, all of which became tenants (along with the AmFam Institute for Corporate and Social Impact and DreamBank) at Spark. , the eight-story glass building that AmFam built on East Washington Street in 2018. This year, gener8tor—an accelerator program founded by Troy Vossler and Joe Kirges in 2012—celebrated 10 years of incredible growth and change.

When we started, we were working with founders who weren’t in venture hubs because Madison wasn’t an investment hub yet. So we were dealing with people who historically, by location, were not “in the room.” Kirgues says that the square itself is now an investment hub. In Hovde’s building alone, he can point to several venture-backed gener8tor stock companies. “gener8tor is one of the largest accelerators in the world today, and we are very proud to be based in Madison,” adds Vosseller.

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In 10 short years, gener8tor has grown from two flagship groups totaling 13 startups in Madison and Milwaukee to a 140-employee venture capital firm with 104 startup accelerator programs in 41 communities. So far, 938 startups have graduated and 34 companies have been acquired, raising more than $1.2 billion in funding across 22 states. Successful exits in Madison include Cultured Decadence and most recently Curate, an information technology company that was acquired by FiscalNote in 2021.

“I never really wanted to,” says Curate co-founder Taralinda Willis, who quit her full-time job as an events planner at Overture Center after she and her computer scientist husband, Dale, were accepted into the gener8tor group in 2016. I did not think of entrepreneurship. Five years after building the company, Willis won the gold gener8tor T-shirt given to those who quit — but thanks to the pandemic and then a printing snafu, he had to wait until the 10th anniversary celebration in August 2022 for his big moment. . “When I got up and got that T-shirt, I was so proud to announce to everybody, we conceptualized this business in Madison, we developed this business in Madison, and we sold this business in Madison,” Willis said. “I think there’s more to it. I’m certainly not the first. I know I won’t be the last.”

Especially as a woman who never envisioned herself as a startup founder and “fought for her revenue, fought for her business model,” Willis exemplifies “an amazing version of what gener8tor can be,” Kirges says. Ironically, it was because of his and Vossler’s outsider status as founders who were not in coastal technology centers that they began to connect with others who had been historically overlooked or otherwise excluded from the table. Investing in “race, place, and gender” became a guiding mission as gener8tor’s programming expanded to include musicians, artists, and founders focused on social impact. Today, 40% of gener8tor companies have at least one female founder and 43% have at least one founder of color. As a company, more than half of gener8tor’s 140 full-time employees are women, and 32 percent are people of color.

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So, as the year comes to an end and we look back on 10 years of Gener8tor, it seems fitting to examine the ways in which Madison’s entrepreneurial ecosystem continues to evolve. The Startup City column is no more, in large part because our idea of ​​who constitutes a startup founder has expanded, with success stories all over our pages, from food to art coverage. has penetrated Not every entrepreneur is a startup founder (and not every company defines success as the business it spins off), but they all contribute to the city’s appeal to residents and investors. Efforts like gener8tor play just one role in a larger community, helping to transition Madison from startup city to exit city — but that doesn’t mean we’re there yet.

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“I think as a society we can’t take our eye off the ball. We can’t rest on our laurels and the successes that have happened.” We still have a long way to go to get people off the sidelines—institutions, companies, and investors—because if we’re not excited about investing ourselves, it’s foolish to believe that others will be more excited than we are,” Vossler says. .. We need to be passionate about what we call ‘locals investing in local people’.”


A decade off to a remarkable start

2013 UpStart is WARF’s free entrepreneurship program for women and people of color.

2013 100State is a non-profit co-working space for innovators and entrepreneurs

The 2013 Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce Golden Suitcase Contest will be held in the Forward Fest Press Room.

The 2014 Madworks Seed Accelerator program provides funding and support to early-stage companies

The 2014 product of UW–Madison’s Discovery 2 brings campus entrepreneurship to the broader market.

2017 Partnership for Good’s Social Good Madison is an accelerator program

Rock County Jumpstart 2020 is an entrepreneurial resource for Black and Latino businesses.

Kiva Madison 2020 is a microlender for minority- and women-owned small businesses.

2022 Center for the Advancement of Black Women Launches Incubator Program

The Black League of Greater Madison’s League Urban Accelerator and Business Center is under construction soon

Maggie Ginsberg is the senior editor of Madison Magazine.

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