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You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet – The Madison Start-up Scene is Just Emerging

Written by Wade Hanna, Vice President - Treasury Management

Recently I was thinking about perspective. As I’ve slowly aged — or as my wife would say, slowly matured — developing perspective has helped me take an optimistic long view. I know my mother likes to talk about the perspective (and the gray hair) she developed from certain stunts I pulled in my youth. Peeing into the pool from the deck as a toddler, hiding in my locker in second grade, detentions in junior high, and things I can’t mention after that. You can see how she became a stellar model for the “this, too, shall pass” outlook.

Wade Hanna - Emerging Technology Banking ExpertI admit putting this into practice quite often the past few years whenever I see Wisconsin at the very bottom of another list ranking states’ entrepreneurship activity. At work, I’m immersed on a daily basis with Madison high-tech and biotech companies all in different stages, from start-ups to mature businesses. And our physical proximity to the industry buzz is intoxicating. The First Business Bank building is an anchor in the University Research Park in Madison, home of many successful tech businesses. Since our company’s founding in 1990, we’ve embraced local high-tech and biotech companies, developing banking solutions specific to their needs and connecting entrepreneurs to potential investors.

My tenure here at First Business Bank dates back to before the Great Recession, and my opinion is that startup activity has increased the past few years. I’m also fond of pointing out that Wisconsin ranks among the top states in startup longevity, which is a point of pride. Starting a business is a leap of faith that requires impeccable planning and leaves little room for error. Running a business that grows and lasts beyond the throes of toddlerhood is a feat of extraordinary proportions.

That’s why, in honor of World Entrepreneurs Day, I’m eager to point out another ranking that recently highlighted the growing tech skills of our Madison workforce. The CBRE Tech Talent report ranked Madison:

#3 among Fastest-Growing Tech Talent Markets, gaining 10.6% from 2016-2017 than from 2014-2015

#2 by educational degree; almost 60% of the city’s population holds at least a bachelor’s degree

In fact, the report says that Madison’s tech labor pool has grown more than 39% since 2012. This isn’t a surprise to me, as anyone immersed in our business environment knows the attractions that motivate companies to start here: lower rent than coastal counterparts, better quality of living, and availability of highly educated employees are among the top three.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the growing support backing the Madison tech and startup communities. Top of my mind since it’s happening this week, The Forward Festival is an 8-day event packed with more than 40 events for entrepreneurs. Now in its 8th year as “Madison’s flagship technology and entrepreneurship festival,” The Forward Festival celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit in a state that boasts the invention of the electric guitar in 1936, the first successful bone marrow transplant in 1968, and the invention of MRI screening in 1976.

I’m optimistic that we have a lot left to invent — a lot more to start. This recent report is evidence that our tech talent pool is simmering, waiting for opportunity. In my perspective, Madison’s high-tech startup scene is just emerging from puberty, hitting its stride, and exiting those awkward teenage years. What lies ahead is a fertile startup community fueled by some really smart people. I’m honored to help them run their businesses efficiently.

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