Take advantage of regional resources to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem

In the world of start ups, casting a wide net to develop business contacts is never a bad thing for any entrepreneur. Many times that net will cover different cities, states, and in some cases, different parts of the world.

That spirit prevailed recently when Accelerate Madison hosted an event at Monona Terrace that showcased TechStars Chicago, a business accelerator that recently opened a Windy City office and is interested in backing and helping tech start ups throughout the Midwest.

In a nutshell, TechStars is a boot camp for entrepreneurs that invests in select new business ideas, providing financial capital – more than $100,000 – as well as mentoring from highly successful entrepreneurs, angel investors, venture capitalists, legal experts, and business executives. It also provides select access to funding opportunities with investors upon completion of the three-month program that requires the entrepreneur to move to TechStars’ home city. In addition to Chicago, TechStars has locations in Boston; New York; Seattle; Boulder, Colo.; and London.

So what does this mean for Madison and Wisconsin in general? Simply put, it means we now have one more resource in the region where entrepreneurs can be mentored and find access to investment opportunities. It also demonstrates the strong regional interest in developing a robust start-up culture.

Most will agree that our economy here and throughout the region has the best chance of maintaining sustained growth by fostering an entrepreneurial ecosystem that encourages risk-taking, fosters business start ups, and provides adequate resources to support the growth of new businesses. It’s not a proprietary idea, though, owned by one city or one state.

Good business ideas and the investment capital needed to fuel those ideas know no boundaries. As a community, if we are serious about wanting to build and support a start-up culture, it means taking advantage of resources in Madison, Chicago, Milwaukee, the Twin Cities, and beyond.

TechStars’ visit to Madison is recognition of the robust start-up culture and high-level ideas that exist here and in the surrounding area.

 

The founders of one Madison-area start up, Murfie, an online music marketplace, have participated in the TechStars Boston program. They note that there have been four Madison-area companies accepted into a TechStars program – the most from one city without its own TechStars office – meaning the respective founders of each company had to leave the Madison area for a period of time. All four have returned to Madison to move forward with their businesses upon completion of the TechStars program.

The point is that along with embracing a regional approach to developing a start-up culture, there needs to be confidence within a community that it is a good place to do business and that people want to establish their businesses there.

While there is always a risk of having talented individuals with good ideas leave our area to chase growth opportunities elsewhere, the odds are that we will retain home-grown talent and even attract new start ups from outside the region if we embrace a strong start-up culture, building on the positive attributes we do have.

As a community we need to embrace the opportunities that TechStars Chicago presents local entrepreneurs and seek out additional opportunities that elevate the Madison area and the state of Wisconsin as vital contributors to a regional start-up culture.

Christopher C. Cain is a partner in Foley & Lardner LLP’s Madison and Chicago offices. He is member of the firm’s Information Technology and Outsourcing practice. He is also a cofounder of Catapult Chicago, a peer-sourced technology accelerator.

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