Generating success stories

Generating success stories
Left: Troy Vosseller is a co-founder of gener8tor. Right: Brian Curliss and Kelda Helen Roys completed gener8tor's accelerator program this summer.

“At the end of the day, entrepreneurship is about execution,” says Troy Vosseller.

He would know. Vosseller’s entrepreneurial days date back to 2004 when he and a friend started Sconnie Nation, an all-things Wisconsin apparel company, as UW freshmen. Now he’s paying it forward as one of the founders of gener8tor, a business accelerator that works with entrepreneurs to fast-track their startups from Hey, that’s a cool idea to a living, breathing profitable biz. Throughout the three-month program, gener8tor connects mentors, investors and technical experts with participating startups, which were chosen after a rigorous application process. Each company receives a $20,000 investment from gener8tor in exchange for six to eight percent common stock, plus a guaranteed additional $50,000 in funding from gener8tor partner Angels on the Water, based in Oshkosh. 

Jon Eckhardt, another gener8tor co-founder and executive director of UW’s Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship, told Forbes.com this summer that gener8tor is helping connect Midwestern techies with national resources, in terms of both mentorship and capital. 

And indeed, the program is starting to cast a wider net. With offices in both Madison and Milwaukee, gener8tor started as a Wisconsin thing, mostly drawing from those two cities. But this summer’s cohort—gener8tor’s third since its 2012 genesis—included companies from Chicago, Minneapolis and Austin.

“Not only do I love importing capital, I love importing talent even more,” says Vosseller.

And we agree—brain gain, not drain. MailLift, this summer’s Austin company, is now relocating its handwritten letter company to Madison. MailLift’s co-founder Brian Curliss sees the local entrepreneurial community as exciting and full of potential. We welcome MailLift, which employs retired teachers to utilize their penchant for penmanship, wholeheartedly.

We love local gener8tor grads, too. Take Kelda Helen Roys. The former state legislator lost an ugly primary battle for Congress in 2012, but instead of licking her wounds she hopped on the startup train and launched OpenHomes, a snappy e-commerce tool for the “for sale by owner” market. As one of the five companies accepted into gener8tor’s program this past summer—out of two hundred sixty-five, by the way—Roys hit the road to land investors. “I have a Prius, but I spent more on gas this summer than I have in a couple years,” Roys said at the program’s culminating launch event in August, which drew a crowd of more than four hundred fellow entrepreneurs and investors from across the country. 

For gener8tor and its grads, it’s full steam ahead.