Never short on innovative ideas, the pioneers behind early-stage companies benefit greatly from the support of a structured environment to focus, cultivate and grow their businesses, a need that Madworks Seed Accelerator seeks to fulfill for Wisconsin entrepreneurs.
Based in Madison, Madworks Seed Accelerator runs three 10-week programs a year. During each, six early-stage companies get the opportunity to meet with staff individually each week, learn from guest speakers, prepare presentations, sit in on simulated board meetings and give a business pitch at the end of the program.
What makes Madworks Seed Accelerator unique is that it is absolutely free for participants. Unlike for-profit investment entities whose money and services are tied to equity in the companies, Madworks is able to provide their services free of charge, as well as grant $5,000 to each of their six teams during the 10-week program, thanks to funding support from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).
“We are completely free thanks to WEDC funding,” said Louis Condon, Madworks’ operations manager. “We don’t take any equity; we don’t charge any fees.”
The idea for the accelerator arose from a gap that its co-founders – Eric Englund, Anne Smith and Terry Sivesind – were seeing when it came to assistance for early-stage companies. Drawing on their involvement in the local entrepreneurial scene and work with the UW-Madison Law & Entrepreneurship Clinic and MERLIN Mentors, they started Madworks to help companies that may not have raised any money yet and are not quite ready for a for-profit accelerator.
Madworks primarily serves businesses from the Madison area, and typically works with one or two student or faculty teams during each cycle, but it is open to applicants from all across the state. Although the basic requirement for applicants is that they are in the initial stages of their business, Condon said ideal applicants are those who have developed an initial version of their product and can provide a bit of validation, such as data from beta users.
“We pick from all industries, all ranges, but usually siding on the earlier side of the development spectrum – either haven’t raised money or have raised just a little bit of money from family and friends,” Condon said. “We’ve had food trucks and we’ve had medical devices, so we take any early-stage company that’s based out of Wisconsin.”
A highly competitive accelerator, Madworks regularly receives 30 to 50 applications per program. Condon said he has seen firsthand the benefits reaped by companies, including opportunities to network with other entrepreneurs, remain focused and be held accountable for progress.
“It’s really, really, really tough work to create a successful business, and having a community that you can rely on, but that’s also going to push and challenge you to keep progressing — I think that piece of it is invaluable,” Condon said.