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STARTING BLOCK

Lockers by mural artist Mike Lroy are one of the pops of color in the new startup center StartingBlock on Madison's Near East Side.

Madison’s innovation and startup community is on a roll. In 2016, the Atlantic Council found that Madison “may be at a turning point” to become nationally recognized “as a hub for technological innovation and entrepreneurship.” As AOL founder, Steve Case puts it: “Madison punches above its weight class.”

While the profiles include companies such as ETC, which show Madison’s long innovation history, it is important to note that twelve of the profiled companies are less than 5 years old. Nurturing young startups is important because startups in this less-than-5-year growth window drive nearly all net new job growth nationally.

Here is where it gets really interesting. In the past five years, Madison also added 12,000 new innovation jobs. This 16 percent increase places us second between No. 1 Boulder and No. 3 Austin. Again, we are punching above our weight class.

Madison is what A New Geography of Jobs author, Dr. Enrico Moretti, refers to as one of the “handful of cities with the ‘right’ industries and a solid base of human capital” that attract good employers with high wages.

Innovation jobs matter because they are high-wage jobs and they have the highest job creation multiplier. Moretti estimates that each new high-tech job ultimately creates five non-tech jobs in both skilled and unskilled occupations. If he’s right, then the 12,000 innovation jobs Madison added since 2012 will ultimately create 60,000 non-tech jobs.

The goal is to continue to nurture young innovation startups and support the innovation talent pipeline. How best to do so? Experts studying startup clusters indicated that connections drive innovation and startup formation in strange, sometimes magical, ways. Specifically, it is not the biggest enterprises that spin out technologies and companies, rather startup clusters form where existing enterprises both create new opportunities and churn talent, and where an ecosystem connects key players.

Given Madison’s potential, the dedicated group of entrepreneurs and civic and business leaders behind the StartingBlock project are thrilled that StartingBlock’s entrepreneurial hub is now open and hope it will become a beacon of entrepreneurship for the Madison startup and innovation community. Currently, we have over 20 early-stage innovation companies, including Polco and GrocerKey (profiled here), that have collectively raised nearly $24 million in investment.

Here’s something else that should be on the national radar.

Wisconsin has a long and rich tradition of amazing women entrepreneurs. Self-made entrepreneurs Diane Hendricks, co-founder of ABC Supply Co., and Judy Faulkner, founder of Epic, are 122 and 219 respectively on the Fortune 400 list; and Pleasant Rowland founded American Girl.

If you want to know who is following in those giant footsteps, consider that while women-led companies account for only 2 percent of total venture capital dollars nationally, three women-led companies at StartingBlock – Markable, bluDiagnostics, and ImageMoverMD – have raised 53 percent of the $24 million venture capital raised by the companies at StartingBlock.

Creating the intersections that cultivate entrepreneurs, accelerate startup growth and drive new ideas into reality is the driving mission of StartingBlock Madison. I invite you all to stop by StartingBlock and see the intersections in action.

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