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Tech and Biotech: Madworks graduates third accelerator class

Tech and Biotech: Madworks graduates third accelerator class

Their products ranged from baby wraps to shower tools for older people, from yoga music to event promotion.

Eight teams of entrepreneurs — including one trio from as far as Brazil — wrapped up a 10-week program with the Madworks accelerator Monday, presenting their companies and celebrating afterward with beer, wine and munchies at the (unrelated) Madworks co-working space at University Research Park.

“Focus, focus focus” on what a business can do for its clients, Patrick Cunningham said the program taught him.

Cunningham and his new wife, Corrina Crade, of Chicago, started MogaMind a year ago with voiceover-guided music for stress reduction and motivation. Yoga studios are one of the first markets they’re aiming to attract.

Madworks also “hammered home” a sense of community among entrepreneurs, so strong and welcoming that the couple plan to move to Madison — Crade’s hometown — and grow their business here, Cunningham said.

“It has allowed an amazing way to become more integrated into the Madison entrepreneurial community as well as a great way to make fantastic contacts,” he said.

Madworks has been a relatively low-profile accelerator dealing mainly with very young companies and teaching them lean startup techniques — keeping costs down as they sharpen their plan and find potential customers.

The teams work with mentors and hear from speakers twice a week; the rest of the time, they handle challenges designed for their specific companies.

“We take them to water, and they drink themselves,” said operations manager Louis Condon.

While the gener8tor accelerator in Madison and Milwaukee is an intense, 12-week program with the promise of up to $140,000 in investment for graduates to move to the next level, Madworks is for companies not as far along, and gives grants up to $3,000, funded by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

Kristin Rehberg and Christina Ruhaak, both of Madison, are just starting their company, CHo CHo, named for the Japanese word for butterfly.

They plan to sell cashmere baby wraps they designed. Ruhaak owned a textile design studio that made custom carpets in Nepal, and Rehberg is a former Lands’ End apparel designer.

The wraps fit around a baby’s feet and legs, then its wings fold around a baby’s torso. Rehberg and Ruhaak plan to start a Kickstarter campaign by mid-June, and then sell the garments online and at high-end children’s stores.

“We’ve met so many amazing people who want to help and mentor us,” Rehberg said. “I really feel we couldn’t do this anywhere else.”

Madworks was founded by Anne Smith and Eric Englund, also co-founders of the UW Law & Entrepreneurship Clinic, and Terry Sivesind, a serial entrepreneur.

“This is so much fun,” Smith said. “It feels like we really are having an impact on them.

“What we do is hold them accountable,” she said. “They’re here because they really want to grow their business, and they want to work hard doing it.”

Two more in the latest Madworks class are from Madison: Field59, with online video for live events; and Footsy, with a device to help with foot care for older people and those with limited mobility.

Another startup is from St. Paul, Minnesota, and two are from Milwaukee, including Snapifeye. “Our experience here has been great. My network is bigger for it ... and my pitch is much better,” said Snapifeye co-founder Steve Anderson, whose company manages social media for events.

Brazilians Thiago Veloso, Pedro Santiago and Joao Drummond changed the entire concept of their company, Yoozon, and its name by the time the class ended. Their original plan was to host company websites using Dropbox, but they realized — after seven months of work — that “no one was willing to pay us,” Santiago said.

“People at Madworks are going to be in my mind forever. They said, ‘Fail fast, fail now,’ ” he said — meaning, that way, you can quickly put it behind you and try something else.

In Brazil, if a startup doesn’t work out, “you’ll always be remembered as the guy who failed,” Veloso said.

The trio pivoted and decided to create time-tracking software for lawyers, and call the company Matter Dots. They set up a limited liability company in Wisconsin and said after a quick trip home, they plan to come back to Madison and build the business here.

Since the Madworks accelerator started in 2014, 30 startups have gone through the program. Applications for the next class, which starts May 26, are due on May 15.

Contact Judy Newman at with tips and story suggestions.

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