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The Spark

"The Spark," an 8-story building proposed for the 800 block of East Washington Avenue, would house StartingBlock Madison.

StartingBlock Madison, the entrepreneurial hub planned for the 800 block of East Washington Avenue, is getting a three-year, $471,875 federal grant to help start the project.

And, thanks to terms of the grant, the project — which had been viewed as aimed largely at millennials — will be required to devote nearly half of its efforts toward older entrepreneurs, over age 35.

It’s “encouraging,” said StartingBlock executive director Scott Resnick. “There’s an assumption here that there are a number of startups that are on the sidelines. It’s not just millennials” but also those seeking “a second pathway in life.”

The award is from the U.S. Economic Development Agency’s Startup America Initiative i6 Challenge. StartingBlock was one of 35 organizations chosen for funding from more than 215 applicants.

Resnick said the money will pay for staff members for StartingBlock; there will be about half a dozen staffers when the project is in full swing.

But it will have to meet specific federal requirements, such as:

Mentoring at least 75 entrepreneurs with separate companies.

Helping 95 tech companies find and retain employees.

Organizing or sponsoring at least two new showcase events, each of the three years.

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Providing 1,000 hours of new entrepreneurship programming over the three years, including at least 450 hours of programs and/or assistance to “first-time, potential entrepreneurs who are over 35 and/or non-U.S. nationals.”

Resnick said he’s confident there are people beyond their 20s and 30s who have ideas for starting a business.

“When you look at the truly successful startup companies in the Madison area — take a look at Nordic, for example. It was not Mark Bakken’s first company,” Resnick said.

Nordic Consulting is one of the nation’s largest, independent electronic health records consulting firms. It was founded in 2010 as a consultant to clients of Epic Systems Corp., the huge, Verona-based electronic health records systems company.

Nordic now has 750 to 800 employees, more than 100 of them in Madison, and is projecting $180 million in revenue in 2016. Bakken, who co-founded Nordic, left in late 2014 to start HealthX Ventures, a Madison health information technology venture capital fund. He was 50 years old at that time.

Resnick said with Oscar Mayer scheduled to close its nearly 100-year-old Madison operations in early 2017, there may be people with new types of food and manufacturing business ideas. “We see a true opportunity,” he said.

Resnick announced in September that StartingBlock had raised the $3 million it needed to move forward with the project, including $1.5 million from the city of Madison, to build out its space.

StartingBlock will be part of The Spark, an eight-story building planned by American Family Insurance Group. Resnick said groundbreaking is now expected in January, with completion in early 2018.

Asked if he is concerned that the new administration in Washington could kill the grant, Resnick said he thinks the funds are “fairly secure.” But, he added, “Our goal is to do all of our contracting before Jan. 20,” when the new president is sworn in.

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