Madworks Seed Accelerator Aims to Polish Startups For Gener8tor

A new mini-accelerator has joined the growing list of resources for entrepreneurs in Madison, WI.

Madworks Coworking at UW Campus, a pilot seed accelerator, launches next week with a $90,000 grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Out of about 70 applicants, a group of 11 startups were accepted into the inaugural class, says Anne Smith, a co-founder of the accelerator. The startups range from data analytics to medical devices, and are headed by a mix of college students, university professors, and entrepreneurs from outside academia.

Each startup will receive a grant of up to $10,000, 10 weeks of mentorship and training, office space, and access to services like graphic design and legal counsel, Smith says.

Smith is also the founder and co-director of the University of Wisconsin Law School’s Law & Entrepreneurship Clinic, which provides free legal services to startups. Since the clinic started in 2009, it’s been clear to Smith that legal services are only one small piece of what entrepreneurs need to launch their businesses. She sees this seed accelerator as a way to boost support for local startups.

The accelerator’s organizers also include Eric Englund of the Law & Entrepreneurship Clinic; Terry Sivesind, a Madison entrepreneur who co-founded Wisconsin Investment Partners and serves as MERLIN Mentors executive director; Greg Hyer, interim director of University Research Park; and Brian Samson of Madworks Coworking, a coworking space at University Research Park. (Although the accelerator is dubbed Madworks Coworking at UW Campus, it will actually be housed in the research park for the time being, while the intended campus building undergoes remodeling, Smith says.)

Smith views the new accelerator as a stepping stone between idea incubators like Discovery to Product, a new UW initiative that helps students and professors develop their ideas to the point of company incorporation or product licensing, and more established startup accelerators like Wisconsin-based Gener8tor, which has offices in Madison and Milwaukee.

Some of the Madworks accelerator companies are pre-revenue, while others have customers, Smith says. The main condition for getting accepted into the program was a product with potential that maybe isn’t “ready for prime time.”

“We’re trying to polish companies up so they’re hopefully ready to get into the Gener8tor program,” Smith says. “People are seeing that this is sort of a missing link in the whole entrepreneurial community, and it could be pretty exciting to have this as an option.”

Gener8tor co-founder Troy Vosseller says his organization is supportive of the Madworks accelerator.

“We have hundreds of applicants a year, most of whom we’re not able to bring into the program, and many of whom are in Wisconsin,” Vosseller says. “We want a soft landing spot for companies so they can continue to develop.”

Some of the applicants that didn’t make the cut for Gener8tor’s summer program were accepted by Madworks, he says, so the vision is already playing out. Vosseller will advise Madworks accelerator organizers and has offered to help mentor the program’s startups, he says.

Although the team behind the Madworks accelerator lacks experience running such programs, Vosseller says they have more than enough experience coaching entrepreneurs. The accelerator model was new for most of Gener8tor’s team when it formed two years ago, he added.

“I think you learn by doing,” Vosseller says.

Unlike Gener8tor and similar accelerators, Madworks will not take equity in the program’s startups, instead offering grants. That’s partly because the companies might be so early stage that it would be tough to value them, Smith says.

“We did explore taking equity and are incorporated in a way that down the road it would be possible if we needed to,” Smith says. “We just think that the grant format works better.”

The plan is to continue the program with a part-time accelerator in the fall, and then the program will be evaluated to see if the 10-week summer accelerator should be held again next year, Smith says.

The accelerator’s metrics have yet to be clearly defined, but job creation, capital raised from investors, and revenue increases will be among the long-term measuring sticks, Smith says.

“Then there will have to be some softer metrics as well because the stage that these companies are at, those things won’t happen immediately,” Smith says.

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