Madison: Thinking Big with Small Town Hearts


This week we’re traveling with Steve Case on the Rise of the Rest road trip to celebrate entrepreneurship, in all its forms, across America. Every day we’ll post dispatches from the cities we’ve seen. Stay tuned for updates from Minneapolis, Des Moines, and Kansas City.

Madison, Wisconsin is home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the state capital, and a growing and proud community of startups. We kicked off the second phase of the Rise of the Rest tour in Madison and found a tight-knit, collaborative, and supportive community of emerging businesses. Startups in Madison are creating new products in healthcare and education, taking advantage of local expertise in some of city’s top industries. They’re launching online marketplaces to revolutionize local rental markets and building platforms that crowdsource knowledge and passion for hobbies like craft beer and fishing.


On Monday, we visited many of these companies on a whirlwind tour of Madison. In addition to the innovative ideas coming out of each business we came across, we also experienced a real sense of pride and community here. One of the entrepreneurs explained the Madison ethos: “Thinking big with small town hearts.” “Madison is a perfect playground for validation because everyone’s on a first-name basis,” said a partner at 100state, a co-working space and organization supporting startup community.

Madisonians are energized about their city’s possibilities, thanks to established and engaged institutions like the Chamber of Commerce, the 43,000-student university, large anchor companies like American Family Insurance and Epic, and newer incubators and accelerators (including the local gener8tor). In fact, according to Capital Entrepreneurs, a local organization fostering the entrepreneurial environment, Madison startups raised over $44 million in 2013. Coupled with an affordable cost of living, that money is poised to go a long way here.

Our visit to Madison wrapped up with a pitch competition, where nine local companies vied for a $100,000 investment. We were encouraged to see that nearly half of pitching companies (including the winner, Solomo) were led by women—a more diverse group than we’ve seen yet.

We loved the friendly spirit and vitality of Madison, and we can't wait to see what great things they come up with.

Watch this space for more updates this week: we’re off to Minneapolis, Des Moines, Kansas City, and St. Louis!