American Family Insurance has agreed to put its financial backing behind the StartingBlock Madison project slated for the 800 block of East Washington Ave.

Coupled with $1.5 million in the city of Madison budget, StartingBlock organizers say they still need to find more donors.

Madison-based American Family is not saying publicly yet how much money it will commit toward the proposed central city base for entrepreneurs but project facilitator George Austin called it “major support.”

“We have a champion that believes that the objectives embodied by this entrepreneurial hub ... are worthy of investment,” Austin said. “We’re able now to move to the next stage with a good sense that this project will be able to become a reality.”

Local entrepreneurs and mentors have been talking about creating StartingBlock for two


It is intended to bring together many of the elements needed by those who want to start a business: the Sector67 maker space, gener8tor tech accelerator, Capital Entrepreneurs mentor group, as well as prototyping space and support services.

The location was set this fall when Gebhardt Development submitted a proposal in September for a 10- to 12-story building with up to 140,000 square feet of space and four floors of parking.

The development would include StartingBlock and a performing arts venue with room for 1,500 people.

Gebhardt’s proposal was the only one turned in for using the city-owned property on the south, or Lake Monona, side of the block.

A city committee selected the plan in November, and asked for preliminary designs and cost estimates by April 2015, Austin


StartingBlock will occupy 50,000 square feet and will be “a separate parcel” within the development, he said.

There is no cost estimate yet for the entire project, or for the StartingBlock component, and American Family’s contribution “has not been finalized,” company spokeswoman Sandra Spann said.

“American Family Insurance believes in the power of dreams, combined with the entrepreneurial spirit, commitment and collaboration needed to achieve those dreams,” Jack Salzwedel, president and CEO, said in a written statement.

American Family and Madison Gas & Electric hosted a brunch Friday for about 75 people — potential contributors — “who may have an interest in the StartingBlock project,” Austin said.

He said the goal is to raise $1.5 million for construction, to match the city’s allocation, by July 1, 2015, and another $1.5 million for operating costs later.

“If we can do that, then the project is a reality,” said Terry Sivesind, president of StartingBlock’s board of directors.

If all goes well, construction will start in the second half of 2015 and the building will be ready in late 2016, Austin said.


Judy Newman is a business reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.