Gener8tor to Make Startups From Scratch in Revamped Milwaukee Program

[Updated 6/14/19, 10:25 am CT. See below.] Gener8tor, a Wisconsin-based organization with a growing network of startup accelerators across the Midwest, is shaking up the format of its flagship Milwaukee program in a bid to catalyze entrepreneurship among locals.

Instead of seeking applications from existing startups located around the world, this fall’s Gener8tor program in Milwaukee will invest $100,000 each in five teams of primarily local technologists that will build ventures from scratch. Gener8tor emphasized this point in a press release announcing the new structure: Applicants will not be considered if they have a clearly formed startup idea or an existing product.

Selected teams will work closely with Gener8tor’s staff to “identify and build a mutually agreed upon product with high growth potential,” the organization says. It didn’t specify which types of products or sectors might be targeted. Gener8tor also did not say in the release whether it will give preference to teams with people who have started and led companies in the past, but says its “ideal teams” will be growth-minded; have deep expertise in a particular field or technology; and be comfortable in “situations of extreme uncertainty.”

The program will run for four months—a month longer than Gener8tor’s typical equity-based accelerators. (The group also operates shorter, free programs that provide a variety of services but don’t make equity investments.) During the last month of the overhauled Milwaukee program, Gener8tor says it will connect the five new startups with its network of angel investors and venture capital firms to seek additional funding to grow their fledgling businesses.

This new model is only being planned for Gener8tor’s upcoming Milwaukee program, the organization says. Its other equity-based accelerators located around the Midwest will continue investing primarily in existing startups and supporting them with 12-week mentorship sessions.

The move follows Gener8tor’s announcement in February that it would this year invest in building one startup from scratch in each of its equity-based accelerators, alongside the five existing startups accepted into each cohort. Ideas for these brand-new startups, part of an initiative called “Accelerator Studio,” are being sourced from Gener8tor and its corporate partners.

Gener8tor’s Accelerator Studio program and the expanded version it will try in Milwaukee are a departure from the typical short-term, equity-based accelerator approach. This model has proliferated across the globe since the mid-2000s, popularized by outfits such as Techstars and Y Combinator, which has churned out well-known tech companies like Airbnb, Reddit, and Dropbox (NASDAQ: DBX).

But the studio format certainly isn’t new. There are lots of venture studios that help spawn and nurture new startups, and often invest in them. Such organizations include High Alpha in Indianapolis, Betaworks in New York, and Pioneer Square Labs in Seattle. Some of these groups have an explicit focus on spurring entrepreneurship and economic development in their backyards—TitletownTech in Green Bay, WI, is one of example. And Gener8tor isn’t the only startup accelerator adding venture studio programs to its offerings; Techstars launched one in January. [Techstars info added.—Eds.]

Milwaukee is an intriguing choice for Gener8tor’s latest experiment with venture creation. Wisconsin’s largest city has many of the ingredients that make up successful tech hubs, but it has struggled to turn its assets into a thriving startup scene—often getting overshadowed by Madison, its smaller neighbor 80 miles to the west. We’ll see whether Gener8tor’s new effort can have a meaningful impact.

Gener8tor planned to announce the changes to its Milwaukee program Thursday evening at an event in Madison showcasing the latest cohort of startups to graduate from its equity-based accelerator program in that city. In a prepared statement shared before the event, Ben Stanley, managing director of Gener8tor’s Madison and Milwaukee accelerators, explained some of the thinking behind the Milwaukee initiative:

“Our mission has always been to build infrastructure that enables communities to reinvest [in] themselves and in their best and brightest. Gener8tor’s products work best when we are able to effectively motivate locals to invest in locals, and we feel strongly this change speaks very directly to our mission.”

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