Consider Scoping Out These Three Events At Forward Fest Next Week

Since its 2010 launch, attendance at The Forward Festival, an entrepreneurship conference in Madison, WI, has on average increased about 20 percent annually, says Matt Younkle, a festival co-founder. But he also points out that Forward Fest, which mostly attracted professionals from the software industry early on, has broadened its focus over the years.

While industries that are often viewed as pillars of the local economy—such as healthcare, biotech, and, yes, software—are still heavily represented at Forward Fest, this year’s conference, which kicked off Thursday and runs through Aug. 25, seems to offer something for everyone. There are sessions on connections between art and technology, what to know when starting a food-related business, how to help children who are interested in entrepreneurship, and a host of other topics.

You should definitely check out the list of 40-plus events at Forward Fest for yourself, but in the meantime here are three taking place next week that might be of interest to Xconomy Wisconsin readers.

Healthtech HobNob (Monday, Aug. 22): Leaders of Madison-area healthcare software startups will discuss their companies’ origin stories, growth, past and present challenges, and lessons learned along the way. The session will feature members of HealthTech Capitol, a consortium and website launched last month by the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce that’s aimed at helping the city become a world-class hub for healthcare innovation.

StartingBlock Madison: First Impression (Wednesday, Aug. 24): A panel featuring members of Nashville, TN, and Atlanta’s early-stage business communities, who will share their impressions of Madison’s startup ecosystem after touring the area. In 2014, one out-of-town venture capitalist who was visiting Madison said he viewed the city’s healthtech cluster as being about where Nashville’s was a couple decades ago. Part of the backdrop for the discussion is StartingBlock Madison, a still-to-be-built entrepreneurial center that would be located within a $69 million building project just east of the city’s downtown.

Pressure Chamber (Tuesday, Aug. 23): What would a conference “by and for entrepreneurs,” as Younkle describes Forward Fest, be without at least one “Shark Tank”-style pitch competition? During this session—which is also organized by Madison’s chamber of commerce, hence the clever name—five local startups will take the stage to say why they deserve to win the prize: an all-expenses-paid trip to Palo Alto, CA, in October to meet with Silicon Valley investment firms. The companies pitching are AkitaBox, Lynx Biosciences, Manifestly, Polco, and Rigbot (see descriptions here).

Another pitch contest held as part of Forward Fest is 5x5x5. The event, scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 24, is a joint production of Doyenne Group and 1 Million Cups Madison. It will feature five women-led businesses each giving presentations of five minutes or less, with a $5,000 “seed grant” going to the winner. Information about the companies pitching is available on Doyenne’s website.

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