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American Family Insurance's new building on the 800 block of East Washington Avenue, above, will house the new StartingBlock entrepreneurship center.

JOHN HART, STATE JOURNAL

StartingBlock, an entrepreneurship center set to open next month in a new high-rise office structure on Madison’s near east side, has announced the initial roster of companies it plans on hosting in its space.

The mix of companies is diverse, with smartphone app developers poised to work alongside biotechnology firms and video game designers. The startups include:

The companies will operate in a shared space across three floors of the new American Family Insurance building in the 800 block of East Washington Avenue. The space features open-plan work spaces, flexible desks and offices, coding and multimedia labs, phone booths and conference rooms.

The goal is promote startup growth by giving the companies access to staff, resources, workshops, and mentorship and development programs that will also occupy the space. Those include gener8tor, Doyenne, Bunker Labs, and — new to the fold — the Wisconsin Games Alliance.

The idea, said the operations director of StartingBlock, is that the companies will eventually grow out of the space, making room for new tenants.

“We need to have that churn. StartingBlock is not the best place is you’ve sort of already stabilized,” said Chandra Miller Fienen.

StartingBlock, described by Miller Fienen as a “beacon” for entrepreneurship in the region, has been in development since a group of entrepreneurial leaders in Madison initially proposed the idea in 2012. The project has had a long gestation period thanks to an intensive capital-raising campaign, and a prolonged municipal approval process for the new building and an adjacent parking structure.

Miller Fienen said that the organization has been playing a “game of Tetris” in recent months to build the portfolio of companies. The goal was to foster a lineup diverse in structure and business models that would be well-served by StartingBlock’s resources. She said that the companies who made the cut are all startups with potential to rapidly grow, that have demonstrated a capacity to innovate, and that have a commitment to the Madison area.

Nearly 50 percent of the companies in question have a woman in a leadership position. Miller Fienen said she made a point of pursuing gender parity in StartingBlock’s inaugural portfolio.

“I think we can continue to work on different types of diversity,” she said. Gender’s easier (to tackle).”

The startups also range in terms of how developed they are. Markable, for example, already comprises a growing team of developers, and recently opened up offices in New York. Bump Studios, on the other hand, is at a far earlier stage of development, said Miller Fienen.

In addition to the cohort of startups, Monday’s announcement also listed Rock River Capital, a recently established venture capital fund, as another entity joining the space.

"One of the things we really want to build out as access to capital," explained Miller Fienen.

Miller Fienen said the plan is to begin moving in companies in early June, with a soft public opening at the end of the month. She said that the StartingBlock team is still working out the details of how the nonprofit will operate.

“Iterate, learn, test, change, pivot, grow. That’s how we’ll make StartingBlock a community that will flourish,” she said.

The announcement came as StartingBlock’s next-door neighbor also teased its opening day: The music venue The Sylvee, which will occupy the lower floors of the same building, announced a snippet of its opening lineup on Monday.

Erik Lorenzsonn is the Capital Times' tech and culture reporter. He joined the team in 2016, after having served as an online editor for Wisconsin Public Radio and having written for publications like The Progressive Magazine and The Poughkeepsie Journal.