When former Madison Magazine editor Brennan Nardi started this column in 2016, she called it Startup City. It was a nod to a book with a similar name, as well as feature stories she’d written while tracking local founders who were trying to build a startup ecosystem in Madison. We had Epic spinoffs and the University Research Park and Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation-backed biotech companies born from having a world-class research and development university in our backyard. Yet 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 folks formed Capital Entrepreneurs in 2009 and started Forward Fest in 2010. Then came StartingBlock Madison, Doyenne Group and gener8tor, all of which became tenants (along with AmFam’s Institute for Corporate and Social Impact and DreamBank) inside Spark, the glassy, eight-story building that AmFam built on East Washington Avenue in 2018. This year, gener8tor — an accelerator program founded by Troy Vosseller and Joe Kirgues in 2012 — celebrated 10 years of astounding growth and change.
“When we started, we were working with founders who weren’t in venture hubs, because Madison wasn’t yet a venture hub. So we were dealing with people who were not ‘in the room’ historically, based on place,” says Kirgues, who recalls scribbling ideas on a napkin with Vosseller at Starbucks on Capitol Square before launching gener8tor. Now the Square itself is a venture hub, says Kirgues; in the Hovde building alone, he can point to several venture-backed gener8tor portfolio companies. “gener8tor today is one of the largest accelerators in the world,” adds Vosseller, “and we take a lot of pride being based in Madison.”