StartingBlock Madison Nets Federal Grant, Partners with Bunker Labs

The U.S. Economic Development Administration awarded a $471,875 grant to StartingBlock Madison, a still-to-be-built entrepreneurial center in Wisconsin’s capital city, the agency said on Tuesday.

Scott Resnick, executive director of StartingBlock Madison, said that the grant will be paid out over three years. His organization plans to use the money to fund operations, including hiring and paying staff, he said.

StartingBlock was one of 35 groups to share in $15 million worth of grants the agency awarded as part of its Regional Innovation Strategies program. The program supports “cluster-focused proof-of-concept and commercialization programs” and funds that invest in early-stage companies, according to the agency’s website. Winners were chosen from more than 200 applicants, the agency said.

The grant awarded to StartingBlock is contingent upon the nonprofit meeting several requirements. It must mentor entrepreneurs at a minimum of 75 companies, and help at least 95 technology companies with recruiting and hiring. Additionally, a certain portion of StartingBlock’s programming must be geared toward entrepreneurs age 35 or older.

According to a press release, StartingBlock’s staff will include a director of programming, a talent resource specialist, a mentor-in-residence, and a part-time laboratory coordinator. Resnick said his organization expects to have about five employees when the center is fully constructed and opens for business. That will likely happen in the spring of 2018, he said.

StartingBlock has in recent months cleared some key hurdles ahead of its groundbreaking, which is expected early next year, Resnick said. In September, the organization said it had met its $3 million fundraising goal. More recently, two municipal bodies—Madison’s Board of Estimates and City Council—approved a development agreement “framework” for the building project that includes StartingBlock, as The Capital Times reported.

The nonprofit would occupy 50,000 square feet in a new, eight-story building nicknamed “The Spark” that American Family Insurance is developing in downtown Madison.

One of the key remaining steps before breaking ground is for StartingBlock leaders and others to meet with the city’s Urban Design Commission and Plan Commission to evaluate the “look and feel” of the building project, Resnick said.

“There will be a robust discussion, but we are anticipating a positive result from each of those,” he said. “We’re not seeing any negativity from the city.”

Resnick has experience working with City of Madison officials. He served multiple terms on the city council and last year ran for mayor, but lost. He is currently chief operating officer at Hardin Design and Development, a company in town that builds software applications for mobile devices.

StartingBlock’s likely tenants include the Wisconsin startup accelerator Gener8tor and the Doyenne Group, which supports businesses led by women and people of color.

Another recently announced “core partner” of StartingBlock is Bunker Labs Wisconsin, Resnick said. Bunker Labs is a national organization focused on helping U.S. military veterans start and grow companies. Its operation in Wisconsin launched about a year ago and has been housed in offices on Madison’s west side.

One Madison-based startup that’s part of Bunker Labs is Polco, which makes digital tools allowing cities, counties, and other organizations to solicit input from residents and use their feedback when creating public policy. In August, Polco took first place at one of Madison’s annual pitch competitions and scored an all-expenses-paid trip to Silicon Valley.

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