Stoughton High School Fab Lab (copy)

Fab Lab instructors Brad Seehafer left, and Chris Wiemer create a drawing machine in the lab at Stoughton High School in this 2013 photo.

M.P. KING — State Journal archives

If it’s spring, it must be cause for celebration in Madison ... and the local tech community will do just that, next week.

Madison’s fourth-annual Spring Tech Kickoff will be held from 5-7 p.m. Wednesday at the Galaxie building, 834 E. Washington Ave., with food, drinks and live music. Admission is free but space is limited, so the organizers want attendees to register online.

“The event is a really good mix of entrepreneurs of all types, business and civic leaders, entrepreneurial resource providers, and those in the tech community in general,” said Forrest Woolworth, Capital Entrepreneurs co-founder.

It is one of the largest gatherings of the Madison area tech and entrepreneurial community all year, he said. About 300 people are expected to attend.

Woolworth said the Spring Tech Kickoff always showcases new developments in the tech scene, and this year, some of the area’s food and beverage newcomers will be among the startups featured, including The Robin Room and the planned Middlewest restaurant.

It’s also a “precursor to the Forward Festival,” set for Aug. 18-25, fest co-founder Matt Younkle said.

Capital Entrepreneurs, Forward Festival and Horizon Coworking are hosting the Spring Tech Kickoff.

Madison is Forbes fave

This year’s rankings fall into a couple of categories, Forbes says: The big cities, where the pay is large and so is the cost of living, and the “underrated mid-tier markets” where salaries are decent, rather than sky-high, and the cost of living is “a relative bargain.” Madison, no doubt, falls under the latter group.

Forbes says Madison could be “a great pick. It has the third-best unemployment rate in the nation at 3.24 percent, a cost of living that is only about 1.4 pecent above the national average, and median pay for early career professionals that ranks the 7th-best in the nation at $50,200. Though not used for our ranking, the city’s thriving arts and foodie culture are also nice perks,” the article says.

Also among the burgs getting notice as best for young professionals are: San Francisco, No. 1; the Silicon Valley area, No. 2; Raleigh, North Carolina, No. 3; Minneapolis/St. Paul, No. 10; and Omaha, No. 12.

Forbes says it crunched data about job growth, unemployment, cost of living and pay for the nation’s 100 biggest metro areas to come up with its favored places for college grads with up to five years of work experience.

Fab Lab fever

The Waunakee School District is taking a page from Stoughton and starting to create a Fab Lab. The school district has approved the program for Waunakee Community High School.

Stoughton High School opened its Fab Lab, or fabrication laboratory, in 2013 with an array of computer-operated machines that can perform such functions as 3-D printing, laser cutting and milling.

Waunakee’s Fab Lab will be only the second in the Madison region and sixth in Wisconsin that MadREP, the Madison Region Economic Partnership, knows about, said Craig Kettleson, MadREP enterprise development director.

“I do hope that others materialize. It is a really cool concept that the kids seem to really embrace,” Kettleson said in an email exchange.

And it’s likely there will be more.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. created a grant program to help schools statewide set up Fab Labs. Up to $25,000 per district is available, but schools must compete for the awards. Applications were due Jan. 22 for the first round of funding — matching grants that would cover no more than 75 percent of the project cost in the first year.

“We received an enthusiastic response to our Fabrication Laboratories program from school districts throughout the state, demonstrating a strong interest in matching high school students with existing and future job opportunities,” said WEDC vice president of marketing and communications Kelly Lietz.

WEDC will take applications each year until the lifetime program cap of $500,000 has been awarded.

YES applications due

More than 120 science and technology business concepts already have been entered in the 2016 Wisconsin Youth Entrepreneurs in Science (YES!) business plan contest and the deadline is coming up at 5 p.m., April 4.

Open to students statewide, a 250-word summary of the business idea starts the entry. Winners of the contest, produced by the Wisconsin Technology Council, are generally announced at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in June.

Contact Judy Newman at jdnewman@madison.com with tips and story suggestions.

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