Building Community, VC Funds, and $1B Businesses at Forward Festival

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he deadpanned: “I want to build a billion-dollar company; I probably need more money.”

—Thanks, but no thanks: At the same pitch competition, Redox co-founder Niko Skievaski told the crowd that his one-year-old healthcare IT startup has already gotten an eight-figure acquisition offer—which the company turned down.

Redox has more than 100 customers, has raised about $400,000 from investors, and is seeking more capital, Skievaski said.

—More exits: It was mentioned a couple of times that the Madison area needs more classic startup success stories. For example, a venture-backed company gets acquired or goes public, and helps to replenish the startup scene because its executives and top employees take their winnings from the exit and go on to invest in and/or start new companies.

One hindrance has been companies that leave Wisconsin and achieve an exit elsewhere, as was the case with SurveyMonkey and Silver Spring Networks, to name two examples.

One possible solution? Lure successful Madison natives back home, said Capital Factory founder and executive director Josh Baer, who flew in from Austin, TX, to speak during the festival.

Some Madison serial entrepreneurs might feel like they can’t pass up opportunities in Silicon Valley. But after they sell a company (or three) elsewhere, perhaps they could be convinced to return to Madison and do the same thing here, Baer suggested.

—Madison vs. Chicago: Chicago has a more active startup community than Madison, in terms of the number of companies being launched, the amount of venture capital invested, and other metrics. But on a relative basis, given how much smaller Madison is, Gener8tor co-founder Troy Vosseller thinks “Madison is punching above its weight class,” he said during a Badger Startup Summit panel discussion held on UW-Madison’s campus during the festival.

Furthermore, there are some things Madison has that Chicago lacks, said Great Oaks Venture Capital partner John Philosophos. For one, he thinks Madison has more “intellectual capital” because of the research juggernaut that is the UW-Madison. But that puts more pressure on the university to help foster a stronger startup community here, he added.

It’s hard to measure the impact of discussions like that one and others at Forward Fest. But if bringing the startup community closer together was one of the festival’s goals, it just might have succeeded.

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