Despite a bleak picture for startup culture statewide in Wisconsin, Madison’s community is heating up.
2015 was a big year for the local startup scene, from the developments related to StartingBlock, the startup hub coming to E. Washington Ave. in 2016, to big money financing deals for budding, Madison-born businesses.
Here’s a quick look at some of the biggest startup stories of the year:
Wisconsin drops to last in national rankings for startup activity
In June, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a national non-profit that focuses on education and entrepreneurship, released a report ranking Wisconsin dead last in the country for startup activity. Wisconsin dropped to 50th in 2015 from 45th in 2014.
Scott Resnick named executive director of StartingBlock
In June, Scott Resnick, former Madison alder and mayoral candidate, was named executive director of as-yet-unopened startup hub StartingBlock.
“There are obviously challenges in Wisconsin for creating startups in general,” Resnick told the Cap Times after the announcement. “There is a culture we’re going to be up against, but it’s an exciting opportunity to have that conversation about where we’re going in the 21st century.”
The debut of gBETA
The Wisconsin-centric startup accelerator graduated its first class of startups in August. gBETA is a spin-off of gener8tor, a Madison and Milwaukee-based startup accelerator. gener8tor has been ranked by the Seed Accelerator Rankings Project, a national startup-ranking organization helmed by academics, as one of the country's best accelerators.
GrocerKey lands deal with Woodman’s
GrocerKey, a Madison startup that helps grocery stores build online ordering systems, inked a major deal with Woodman’s Markets, a regional supermarket chain, in June. GrocerKey helped the chain roll out ShopWoodmans.com later that summer.
Export Abroad pitches at the White House
In August, Export Abroad, a Madison startup that helps U.S. companies connect with potential markets abroad, presented at the first-ever White House Demo Day. The Demo Day was a showcase for entrepreneurs across the country and included the opportunity for companies to pitch in front of President Barack Obama.
Forward Fest has largest turnout ever
In August, the Forward Festival, Madison’s annual entrepreneurship-focused conference, boasted its largest event lineup ever. The sixth year of the festival saw the addition of 30 new events to its schedule. Organizers expected attendance to top 2,500.
The festival focused on socially conscious businesses in 2015 and featured the brand-new Social Good Summit.
Redox closes $3.5 million financing round, including first investment by HealthX Ventures
Redox, which helps app developers get access to electronic health records (EHRs) and health systems manage their connections to the cloud, announced a $3.5 million financing round in October. The hefty chunk of change included the first-ever investment by HealthX Ventures, a new Madison-based venture capital firm helmed by Mark Bakken, founder of the nation's largest Epic consulting firm, Nordic Consulting.
New startup hub slated to open on UW-Madison campus
In November, the University Research Park announced plans to open a new startup hub in the heart of the UW-Madison campus.
“We’re basically trying to create a space on campus where the entire community can come together and collaborate and innovate,” said Aaron Olver, managing director of the University Research Park, at the time of the announcement.
The space, which is already hosting some events, is called @1403.
EatStreet closes $15 million financing round
In December, EatStreet, an online food ordering company founded at the UW-Madison in 2010, announced a $15 million financing round. In total, EatStreet has raised $30 million since its launch. The company, which reported triple-digit sales growth in 2015, announced plans to hire an additional 30 employees after the financial deal was signed.
Propeller Health lands contract with GlaxoSmithKline
In December, Madison-based health care technology company Propeller Health signed a major deal with multinational pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline. Under the deal, Propeller will develop a sensor of one of GSK’s inhalers, Ellipta. Ellipta is used for treatment of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
100state launches local business membership program and 100live
In December, 100state marked two years of existence and new programs to reach out to “brick-and-mortar” businesses and stream its events on the internet. The live streaming program, called 100live, is meant to increase visibility of Madison’s startup community across the state and country.
Looking ahead to 2016, expected highlights for the Madison startup community will include the groundbreaking and potential opening of Starting Block, currently slated for the winter 2016, as well as the rollout of a city-backed fund encouraging minority entrepreneurs.