Wisconsin accelerator laying groundwork for Indy expansion

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A nationally ranked Wisconsin-based accelerator is looking to expand its footprint in Indianapolis.

Madison-based Gener8tor takes a group of startups through 12-week programs aimed at accelerating business growth and provides resources in exchange for equity stakes. It also runs a free, no-equity program called gBETA, which helps early-stage companies prepare for applying to an accelerator.

The organization is eyeing bringing gBETA to Indianapolis, co-founder Maggie Brickerman told IBJ, and a local Gener8tor office could follow. Today, the Indianapolis metropolitan area does not have any application-based accelerators or accelerator-prep programs, several entrepreneurial leaders said.

Brickerman said several factors influenced gBETA's interest in Indianapolis, including its proximity to universities and its promise as a "node" in a larger network.

"As we add nodes to this network, all of the startups we're working with start interacting across that network," she said. "So, in Indianapolis, the 10 or 15 startups that we'd work with in a year would be tied into the folks we know in Minneapolis, Chicago, Wisconsin and San Francisco."

John Wechsler, CEO of Fishers-based co-working space Launch Fishers, said Gener8tor would be "a welcome addition to the ecosystem. Not duplicative at all."

Gener8tor was founded in 2012. Three times a year it takes five high-growth startups (out of 700-plus applications), invests $140,000 in each and connects them to its network of mentors, technologists, venture capitalists and more.

It's 49 alumni companies—including Indianapolis-based Dattus—have cumulatively raised more than $110 million in follow-on financing and employ more than 1,500 people. Gener8tor has locations in Minneapolis as well as Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and accepts tech and non-tech startups from around the world.

In 2015, gBETA came into being to help startups become competitive applicants for equity-based accelerators, including Gener8tor. The program is located in the same cities as Gener8tor plus Beloit, Wisconsin. It serves as a six-week program for early-stage companies in those locales. Each class is capped at five teams and requires no fees and no equity.

"Unlike Gener8tor where companies are coming to us and then generally returning to where they came from, we are bringing the gBETA program to cities and exclusively serving entrepreneurs with roots in those cities."

Brickerman said she had long been aware of Indianapolis as a potential market, but a recommendation helped get the ball rolling. gBETA is funded by sponsors, and Hendricks Commercial Properties is its primary sponsor in Beloit. Officials with that firm, which is redeveloping the former Coca-Cola bottling plant on Mass Ave., encouraged gBETA to consider setting up shop in Indianapolis.

"They said, 'Hey, you guys should look [in Indianapolis]. It's got some really exciting stuff going on,'" Brickerman said.

Brickerman said she's having conversations with potential Indianapolis donors now, and will ultimately scout staff and office locations here. She said the office will be run by "someone with ties to the Indy ecosystem," who will spend "one program with us, and then return to build the program in Indy."

That person will man the ship solo the first year, but staff could grow to three or four people. And ideal locations here would be similar to CoCo Coworking in Minneapolis, Ward 4 in Milwaukee, Irontek in Beloit, and soon-to-be Starting Block in Madison.

She said if things go as planned the local outpost could be open in the next nine months. And Gener8tor may follow, depending on how things go.

"We like to start with gBETA in a market (e.g. Minneapolis) to prove we can walk, talk and chew gum, and make sure there is support within the ecosystem for raising a fund and doing the full accelerator," she said in an email. "Provided that support exists once we get gBETA up and running, we would be very excited about the possibility of bringing the full Gener8tor program to Indy."

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