The former Mautz Paint building on East Washington Avenue could soon become the site of a new, 80,000-square-foot co-working space for tech startups.
Local entrepreneurs have formed StartingBlock Madison and signed a memo of understanding with the owners of the Kleuter building at 925 E. Washington Ave. to develop it into an "entrepreneur center." It would become the permanent home to Sector67 and gener8tor, and offer subsidized co-working space for startups in all stages of development.
Gener8tor, which has offices in Milwaukee and Madison, is an "accelerator" that makes investments in startups and also provides mentoring to companies. Sector67, currently at 2100 Winnebago St., is a collaborative community space that offers members opportunities to learn and work with new technologies.
StartingBlock would also be available to parties involved in entrepreneurial activities, including investors and law firms. StartingBlock Madison is currently soliciting a "development partner" to help analyze the project and get it off the ground.
Scott Resnick, vice-president at Hardin Design & Development and a city alderman, envisions a "very detailed reuse" of the Mautz building but says he's optimistic it could be completed by late 2014.
"This is for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs," says Resnick. "This is an exciting project. We're about to build [a] nucleus by combining resources that were spread across areas of Madison."
Resnick says he and others in the tech community have visited other centers like this throughout the world. "In learning from other communities, we can see what will work in ours."
As envisioned, the Madison incubator would house entities at all stages of the entrepreneurial process. "It's a hackerspace/makerspace, right next to an accelerator, right next to successful businesses who have gone through the steps of getting capital," says Resnick.
Resnick says he does not want to speculate, but is confident that the UW-Madison would be involved in some way. Allen Dines, assistant director of the Office of Corporate Relations at UW-Madison, says he imagines the university would be interested in renting office space there so that he and potentially others could hold office hours to advise students and entrepreneurs.
About a year ago, Brad Grzesiak, cofounder of bendyworks and cofounder of Madisonium, a group that aims to improve the tech and web industries in Madison, pitched the idea of a "web district" to the city's Economic Development Committee. The district would fall roughly between Williamson Street and East Washington Avenue and stretch from downtown to Schenkâ€™s Corners. Grzesiak says the proposed StartingBlock falls "smack dab in the middle" of the proposed web district.
"It's ideal," he says. Grzesiak says the incubator would act as a "nucleation point," sparking the development of other businesses and projects in the area.
The near east side has the kind of industrial office space that is especially attractive to the "prototypical" tech worker, says Grzesiak. "They like riding bikes and eating local organic foods, love alternative energy sources and would prefer not to own a car."
Grzesiak says StartingBlock, and the web district itself, are based on the idea that proximity matters. "If you put smart people together, amazing things will necessarily happen," he says. People might get together for a formal meeting and then go out for beers to continue the discussion.
"You come up with ideas, and every now and then one is a winner. You don't get that if people are not located physically near to each other."
Read the project overview for StartingBlock.