#StartupsEverywhere Profile: Scott Resnick, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at StartingBlock, and Sara Woldt, Director of Business Development at gener8tor (Madison, WI)
This profile is part of #StartupsEverywhere, an ongoing series highlighting startup leaders in ecosystems across the country. This interview has been edited for length, content, and clarity.
What are your respective roles in the Madison ecosystem?
Scott Resnick: Ten years ago, I co-founded Hardin Design & Development, an enterprise web application shop, in Madison. The startup now has a nationwide presence with offices in Madison and Dallas and clients such as FedEx, IBM, and Coleman Campers. Over that same period, I’ve also been involved in a number of endeavors to help grow the Madison startup ecosystem. I helped to found Capital Entrepreneurs, a 200 member association of startups, and most recently was named the Resident-in-Entrepreneur for StartingBlock, a soon-to-open entrepreneurial hub in downtown Madison.
Sara Woldt: I currently serve as the Director of Business Development at gener8tor, a “Top 15” U.S. accelerator with offices in Madison, Wisconsin; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Minneapolis, Minnesota. I execute the accelerator’s corporate and industry partnership strategy, as well as manage relationships with our sponsors, investors, key stakeholders and the media. I am also the co-founder of the OnRamp Conference Series, a series that brings together industry leaders, top venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs transforming different verticals. OnRamp benefits startups at all stages of growth, regardless of their connection to gener8tor.
Can you tell us a little more about gener8tor and StartingBlock, specifically?
Sara: gener8tor is a nationally ranked accelerator that invests in high-growth startups. Three times per year, we invest up to $140,000 in each of five startups who participate in our 12-week program. gener8tor supports the growth of these startups through our network of experienced mentors, technologists, corporate partners, angel investors and venture capitalists.
Scott: StartingBlock Madison will be a 50,000 square-foot entrepreneurial hub where entrepreneurs, investors, advisors and community members can connect, share innovative ideas, and create next-generation businesses. Through the leadership of partners like gener8tor, Bunker Labs, and the Doyenne Group, StartingBlock will provide an affordable and flexible workspace, access to professional advisors/mentors, accelerator programs, and education and community programming.
Sara: We’re excited that gener8tor will be one of the core members of StartingBlock once it opens in 2018!
What is the most exciting thing that has happened in Madison over the past year?
Sara: For me, it would actually be StartingBlock breaking ground. I think the hub is going to serve as a catalyst for new startups and investments, as well as help to brand Madison as a vibrant technology hub. One of our local startups, EatStreet, also raised $40M and has grown to more than 1,500 employees. EatStreet has been an anchor startup for Madison with a national footprint and venture capital investors from Silicon Valley and beyond, so seeing them grow here in Madison has been incredibly encouraging.
Scott: Beyond EatStreet, the past year has been record setting in terms of venture capital activity in Madison. Thirty-two startups raised a record $114M in funding, a 70% increase over the previous year. In fact, Madison's venture capital per capita, which holds for our small metro size, ranks in the top 15 worldwide.
What’s the biggest challenge you face in Madison?
Scott: Our small metropolitan population limits our exposure. Madison is the 97th largest metro population, so many times our city isn’t included in relevant lists or rankings. This causes us to be grouped into “flyover country” regardless of our accolades.
Sara: I’d also add that while Madison has had a good run for new startup activity, we need to sustain it and create more organic startup activity.
What are some of the inputs that have helped your ecosystem grow?
Scott: Without a doubt, our startup catalyst is the University of Wisconsin (UW). This world-class research university brings some of the best minds to Madison for undergraduate and graduate studies. The school boasts an impressive alumni including renowned scholars, engineers and CEOs. Our city’s low cost of living and quality of life provides living opportunities unavailable on the coasts or other comparable markets.
Sara: There are a number of other important players in our ecosystem, including Madworks and 100state coworking spaces, Doyenne Group (a non-profit devoted to helping female entrepreneurs), the gBETA Accelerator Program, and the UW Law & Entrepreneurship Clinic.
What are the most unique features of your startup community?
Sara: Madison is home to a number of innovative companies like Epic and ZenDesk, and our corporate community has been very supportive of the local startup ecosystem. Generous corporate leaders from companies like American Family Insurance, CUNA Mutual Group, Northwestern Mutual, and QBE Insurance Group have made significant investments in entrepreneurship and fostered robust corporate venture capital and innovation departments of their own.
Scott: I completely agree. Also, what Madison lacks in population, we compensate for in density. In 2016, eleven companies raised over $4 million within three square miles. On any given day, you can run into startup, finance, and government leaders at a small coffee shop across the street from the Capitol Building. Not many other communities can say that.
Have you had interactions with local or national policymakers?
Scott: Because I am a former member of the City Council, I regularly interact with local, state and federal policymakers. Last year during our ForwardFest, we held a roundtable conversation with Senator Tammy Baldwin on entrepreneurship, and Congressman Mark Pocan is always eager to tour new startup companies.
We’ve had an impressive list of government backers who have provided monetary support for the project. The City of Madison, State of Wisconsin, and Economic Development Administration are all major champions behind the StartingBlock building project.
If you had one wishlist item for something policy leaders could do to help your startup ecosystem, what would it be?
Sara: Immigration is top of mind for me, as 32 percent of gener8tor’s portfolio companies have a founder that is an immigrant or child of an immigrant. We want the world's best and brightest to be able to start and grow their companies here in the U.S., generating wealth and jobs for Americans.
If I could have a second wish list item, I’d also like to move away from noncompete agreements. Currently, too much local talent and labor is stuck behind the real or perceived threats of noncompete agreements. The fact that I can’t think of more than one venture-backed startup in Wisconsin that was founded by a former employee of any of Wisconsin’s Fortune 500 companies represents both a challenge and an opportunity. One day I hope that we can achieve the virtuous cycle of innovation that is so core to Silicon Valley, where talent spins out of corporate employment, starts a company, and ultimately that company is acquired by a corporation, recirculating jobs and wealth back into the ecosystem.
Scott: My wish list item would be expanding the airport. As of today, there are only twelve direct flights from our regional airport and Madison is not a hub for any airline. This creates pricey airfare and an extra step to link our community to the world.
What are some startups to watch coming out of Madison?