The 10th annual Forward Festival will be taking place Aug. 22-29 in and around Madison. Billed as a celebration of innovation for “entrepreneurs, nerds, geeks, hackers, foodies and creatives” from around Wisconsin and the Midwest, the festival has something for everyone. Here are just a few of the reasons to block off your calendar:
- It’s big. With more than 50 events and an expected 5,000-plus attendees, it’s Wisconsin’s largest technology and entrepreneurship festival. A range of local businesses, nonprofits and other organizations are presenting and hosting events over the course of the festival’s eight days.
- It’s wide-ranging. This year’s schedule is filled with conferences, workshops and networking events focused on everything from health and technology to art, music and food. Come hear about Wunderfilled’s plans to develop the next generation of role-playing games, learn about innovations in facial recognition technologies from Big Data Madison, find out what Wisconsin hemp entrepreneurs need to know about state regulations—and much more.
- It’s diverse. The Forward Festival is determined to promote diverse entrepreneurs and be inclusive in its design, planning, facilitation and participation. Thanks to its unique open format that allows any group to host an event, it delivers on that promise. Madison Women in Tech will be hosting a session on attracting and retaining a diverse workforce, and the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired is running a workshop on making social media content accessible to all.
- It’s fun. Networking-focused happy hours, afterparties, hackathons and entertainment abound. There are even family-friendly events like Parentpreneur Night at the Madison Children’s Museum, presented by Matrix Coworking and SupraNet.
- It’s for startups (and investors). The festival opens on Thursday with the day-long Badger Startup Summit; the festival’s Startup Showcase is on Monday night; Tuesday the Madison Chamber of Commerce hosts its sixth annual Pressure Chamber competition; and Doyenne Group’s 5x5x5 pitch event for women entrepreneurs is on Wednesday. For those not ready to seek investors, workshops and training sessions also abound.
- It’s for established companies. The entrepreneurial mindset isn’t just for startups. Several sessions on bringing startup values to enterprise give established businesses the chance to learn from companies like Widen, which started as a plate engraver 71 years ago and is now a successful marketing software company.
- It’s about tech. The festival’s headline event is the Forward Technology Conference, happening all day Monday and featuring speakers specializing in leadership, marketing, design and technology. Put on by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs, the conference focuses on providing new companies with best practices and concrete actions they can implement on the ground.
- It’s about social good. Several events at the festival are aimed at social entrepreneurs looking to make an impact, including two day-long conferences hosted by Collaboration for Good. Thursday’s Social Good Summit features networking, hands-on brainstorming sessions and pitches from the group’s Social Good Accelerator, and Monday’s Data for Impact will bring nonprofits, businesses, government organizations and philanthropy together with data scientists and social entrepreneurs.
There’s a lot more happening at the Forward Festival, and there’s a lot more happening for tech startups and entrepreneurs throughout Wisconsin. Madison joins Milwaukee, Green Bay, Eau Claire, La Crosse and Racine among the top startup ecosystems in the Midwest.