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Tammy Baldwin participates in a community forum on entrepreneurship at the former headquarters of the coworking group 100state at the 2016 Forward Festival.

The 2018 Forward Festival, Madison’s annual week-long bonanza of events “by entrepreneurs and for entrepreneurs,” will feature plenty of the old standards: Think networking mixers for tech geeks and pitching competitions between the city’s most promising startups.

But this year’s festival, an eight-day affair that kicks off on Thursday, is also hitting the refresh button on a lot of its programming: Its organizers say that among this year’s 52 different events, 30 are brand new.

“It’s the community’s way of saying, ‘Hey, we want to mix things up, and have different mixes of people or talk about different topics,’” said Laura Strong, the founder and CEO of Propagate Health and one of the festival’s organizers.

Some of the new events will introduce the community to niche tech communities. The coworking group 100state, home to a program for blockchain-related entrepreneurship called 100crypto, will host “Intro to Blockchain,” a talk breaking down the buzzword-y technology that provides a fabric for online transactional networks.

Earthling Interactive, a local online app developer, has organized the inaugural “Wisconsin Ag Innovation Forum,” a showcase of entrepreneurs and researchers working on technology geared toward farmers at the Discovery Building on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

Other panels take on topics that contrast the typical offerings on capital fundraising or business model development. A talk called “Be Your Own Hero” at the new startup center StartingBlock will highlight entrepreneurial stories told by people who play roller derby. A wellness coaching firm called Healthy and Hygge will host “Wine and Wellness in the Digital Age” at the Winestyles tasting room in Sun Prairie, where the focus will be on the relationship between technology and “Hygge” — a Danish philosophy centered on mindfulness and contentedness.

Anchoring those new events will be some of the festival’s mainstays. The fifth annual Social Good Summit will showcase entrepreneurs and startups who strive to use innovation in ways that benefits the public, from microfinancing programs that help people pay for medical costs to a leadership academy for young black girls.

The fest’s Startup Showcase features short presentations from seasoned startup co-founders on how their companies are doing, alongside brand-new companies discussing on their early-stage ventures. Among this year’s new companies are Growthchart, a maker of records software for childcare centers, and UCHardChip, which develops “smart” sensor-laced hard hats and safety harnesses for construction workers.

Plus, there will be the usual pitching competitions between young ventures, such as at the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce’s “Pressure Chamber” and the nonprofit Doyenne Group’s “5x5x5.”

All events, new or old, are premised on the idea of “creating collisions between people that may not otherwise meet,” said Strong. Forward Festival is about helping people have serendipitous meetings with people who can help their business or career.

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“We try to reach out across different industries, across different expertises,” said Strong. “What you see, is getting people together who may not otherwise know one another.”

Strong added that the festival is not entirely geared toward Madison’s tech-savvy or startup-obsessed residents. The events are open for all comers, including casual observers.

“We encourage people to see if something strikes their fancy, or strikes their interest, and explore,” she said.

Strong said that she anticipates about 5,000 people to attend the festival.

A full lineup of festival events can be found on its website at forwardfest.org. Here’s some information on the events mentioned above:

  • Intro to Blockchain takes place at 100state, 316 W. Washington Ave., on Monday at 6:30 p.m. The event is free, although pre-registration is encouraged.

  • The Wisconsin Ag Innovation Forum takes place at the Discovery Building, 330 N. Orchard St., on Monday starting at 12:30 p.m. The event is free.

  • Be Your Own Hero takes place at StartingBlock, 821 E. Washington Ave., on Thursday Aug. 23 at 10 a.m. The event is free.

  • Wine and Wellness in a Digital Age takes place at Winestyles, 2824 Prairie Dr. #105 in Sun Prairie, on Sunday at 2 p.m. The event is free.

  • The Social Good Summit takes place at the Madison Public Library’s Central Branch, 201 W. Mifflin St., on Thursday, Aug. 16 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $25.

  • The Forward Festival Startup Showcase and Reception takes place at the Memorial Union, 800 Langdon St., on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. Tickets are $20.

  • Pressure Chamber takes place at the Overture Center, 201 State St., on Thursday, Aug. 16 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 for chamber members and $30 for non-members.

  • The 5x5x5 Pitch Event takes place at Grainger Hall, 325 N. Brook St., on Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. Tickets start at $20.

Erik Lorenzsonn is the Capital Times' tech and culture reporter. He joined the team in 2016, after having served as an online editor for Wisconsin Public Radio and having written for publications like The Progressive Magazine and The Poughkeepsie Journal.