StartingBlock Madison Gets Key Investment From American Family

The proposed StartingBlock Madison development project got an important boost today, with the announcement of “significant” financial support from American Family Insurance.

The size of American Family’s investment wasn’t disclosed, as the details are still being finalized, according to a press release.

StartingBlock is part of a high-profile development in downtown Madison, WI, that would house startup accelerator Gener8tor, maker space Sector67, networking group Capital Entrepreneurs, a co-working space, a 1,500-seat performing arts venue, and commercial and retail space, among other features. StartingBlock would take up 50,000 square feet in the 113,000 to 140,000-square-foot building, according to preliminary plans.

The intent is to break ground in fall 2015 and open the facility by the end of 2016. But in order to meet that goal, project supporters need to raise untold millions of dollars.

The city of Madison committed $1.5 million toward StartingBlock construction costs in its 2015 budget. The rest will primarily come from private sources, so picking up the commitment from Madison-based American Family is a key step for the project. StartingBlock supporters said they hope that American Family’s investment will help lure other sponsors. StartingBlock could seek another $3 million or so from additional partners.

American Family isn’t a surprising partner for StartingBlock, given the company’s investments in entrepreneurship. It has a venture capital arm that has invested in several Wisconsin startups, and it also sponsors startup accelerators, including Gener8tor and one run by Microsoft. (American Family is also an Xconomy underwriter, but all of our coverage is determined independently by our editors.)

The StartingBlock investment “continues our support of innovation and emerging companies that can benefit our customers and the community,” American Family CEO Jack Salzwedel said in a press release. “The potential of StartingBlock Madison to foster economic growth and job creation in our community is strong and definitely worth pursuing. It will not only help create our region’s next generation of companies, it will develop talented, motivated young people needed by existing employers to innovate in their marketplace.”

StartingBlock intends to host educational programs for young adults and teens interested in engineering, computer sciences, manufacturing, and more, the press release said.

StartingBlock is partly modeled after Chicago co-working space 1871, which says it has helped nurture around 375 digital startups—current and former tenants—that have collectively created more than 1,000 jobs and raised more than $40 million from investors. The center has also become an important place for business education and networking.

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