Reposted from CE co-founder Nathan Lustig’s blog.
It’s been two years since I started Capital Entrepreneurs, an organization to help Madison entrepreneurs connect. I’ve been blown away by how fast CE has grown and how quickly time has gone by. On our two year anniversary, here’s the story of how we got to where we are today.
In April 2009, I was a month short of gruduating from UW. I had just started my second company, Entrustet, with my business partner Jesse Davis. Many of our friends were taking jobs outside of Madison and the two of us were going to be staying in Madison to startup Entrustet. We both had been a part of the UW entrepreneur scene and had received support from other students, professors and the university itself, but since we were graduating, we were worried that we would not be able to take advantage of the support system any more.
I realized that most people make new friends after college via their job, but since Jesse and I were the only people in our company, I worried that we’d get isolated. I knew that there were other founders in town who were graduating who likely felt the same and wanted to do something make us more like coworkers, even though we were all working on separate businesses.
I’d been to most of the startup focused meetups and events around town and thought that there was a niche for a group that was specifically for founders that could compliment the existing networking events like High Tech Happy Hour and Madison Magnet. I wanted to create a place where founders could get to know each other, hang out and talk freely about their problems, dreams and goals, without having to worry about getting pitched by attorneys, insurance agents, accounts or the press. I wanted a place where ideas flowed freely and entrepreneurs would feel comfortable both asking for help. I wanted it to be free and without structure. I wanted Madison’s entrepreneurs to be a community of friends, not a disparate group of people who just happened to start companies.
At the end of April, I talked to a few of my entrepreneur friends and asked them what they thought. Everyone loved the idea, so I started to look for a venue that would give us a private space for free, along with some other enticement to get our business. Our friends at Brocach gave us a space in their upstairs bar, along with a nice food special and we set our first meeting. I invited all of my friends who met two simple rules. They were:
- The founder or first employee of a Madison business
- Were not a service provider like an attorney, accountant, insurance agent
Our first meeting was right before graudation in May 2009. Around 10 founders showed up. We introduced ourselves, had beers and talked. It was great. We decided to do a second meeting that next month. I quickly realized that Madison entrepreneurs were doing some amazing things, but that the rest of the community had no idea. So I started a website. It’s a simple blog that gets updates whenever a CE company gets press, sends out a press release or the city itself makes news. It also includes a list of member companies, resources for Madison’s startups, along with info on how to join.
Since May 2009, CE has grown slowly, but surely each month. The second meeting had 12 founders, the 4th 17. It just kept growing. One year later, CE had 34 member companies and 60 registered members. As we grew, service providers wanted to attend to meet the entrepreneurs. We decided service providers could sponsor CE and attend ONE meeting per year. At that meeting, they are not allowed to sell their services, just answer questions and get to know the entrepreneurs. They also have to pay for our bar tab.
We were lucky enough that Neider and Boucher, Michael Best, Boardman Law Firm, Marquette Golden Angels and Venture Investors agreed to be our first sponsors. Sponsorship worked out great for CE and the sponsors. It was a great way for entrepreneurs to get to know service providers and for the service providers to get to know us. It was also a great way to attract new, high growth clients.
CE continued to grow, but I was a little worried when Jesse and I got selected for the Startup Chile program. Forrest Woolworth stepped up and ran CE while I was gone and did an amazing job. Over the last year and especially in the last six months, CE has started to take off. We now have over 75 member companies and 120 people on the email list. We’ve been featured in Techcrunch, Read Write Web, Madison Magazine and tons of other publications.
Member companies have been featured in the NY Times, The Economist, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Techcrunch, Mashabale, Forbes, BBC and hundreds of other influential blogs, newspapers and magazines. CE companies have created over 300 full and part time jobs during one of the worst economies in recent history. We’ve raise over $15m in funding. Spinback, founded by CE alumni Andrew Ferenci and Corey Capasso, was acquired. Spill, founded by CE alum Heidi Allstop was selected for Techstars. My company, Entrustet, was selected for Startup Chile. CE members have been instrumental in helping start the Forward Technology Conference, Build Madison and other entrepreneurship initiatives in Madison.
Madison’s startup scene has grown significantly in the past few years and I’m excited and proud that CE has been a part of it. I can’t wait to see what the Madison startup scene looks like in another year! I’d like to thank everyone who’s helped make Capital Entrepreneurs what it is today. It would never have been a success without all of your help!