Venture capitalists are optimistic about Madison’s future as a startup hub, according to a panel of experts speaking at the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium on Wednesday.
“I think there’s a high number of scrappy, quality companies based here,” said Ablorde Ashigbi, of Pritzker Group Venture Capital, a Chicago-based venture capital company. “We think there’s a significant amount of opportunity here that isn’t being covered like Silicon Valley.”
Ashigbi said he’s spent quite a bit of time scouting Madison-based startups over the past couple months — about five visits in the last 60 days.
“We think we should be spending a lot more time here,” said Walker Fuller of River Cities Capital Funds, a North Carolina venture fund.
“For us not to be in communities like Madison … I wouldn’t be doing my job if we weren’t doing that,” said Jake Colognesi of Volition Capital, which is based in Boston.
The presence of Epic Systems, Verona’s health IT giant, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison are standout assets to the Madison entrepreneurial community, panelists said.
“The story that we really liked was of the burgeoning, dynamic ecosystem that revolves around Epic here in town,” said Peter Christman of Chicago Ventures. “The embedded flywheel and feedback loop of both seasoned and young entrepreneurs coming out of Epic to start new, exciting companies, as well as experienced operators providing them feedback is a really unique combination. That unique dynamism is something we get really excited about.”
Chicago Ventures recently invested in three Madison-area startups, including MdotLabs, which helps companies identify fake advertising activity.
“What really excited us about that business is that it has a really unique way of accessing premiere, blue chip talent,” Christman said, acknowledging the UW-Madison’s bevy of young computer scientists.
Chicago Ventures has also invested in Madison startups healthfinch and Catalyze, both healthcare IT companies.
"The computer science program here at UW-Madison is excellent and large," said Colognesi. "The number of folks coming out of this school creates a certain ecosystem in which companies and entrepreneurs will be born."
Panelists also nodded to the positive effect of “community support” for entrepreneurs in Madison, calling out gener8tor, a Madison and Milwaukee-based incubator, in particular. They also said Midwestern startups have been, in their experience, less likely to push higher valuations for their companies than startups on the coasts.
Panelists also outlined a challenge for the Madison startup community: a perceived lack of seasoned, “been there done that” business talent to serve on startup leadership teams.
Recruiting those mentors is key to success for Madison startups, Colognesi said.