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gener8tor is powering Midwest innovation

gener8tor is no longer just a top tier accelerator hidden away in Wisconsin.

gener8tor’s mission is to be the best partner for a community to invest in its best and brightest. gener8tor is proving this mission through its success around the SPN region – growing more multiple programs in communities throughout the Midwest. The company has grown into a multi-dimensional programming engine that provides strong concierge support to entrepreneurs. This personal support has helped gener8tor build a reputation as a leader in innovation.  Gener8tor has built a Midwest-centric network that provides a platform for deep, rich connectivity between and within their nodes (see map).

The company’s core accelerator program is unique in that it provides a concierge program to five companies at a time. This allows program administration to really connect with the companies in the program. It also ensures an ability to connect those companies with gener8tor’s network of mentors, potential customers, corporate partners, and investors.

For example, Troy Vosseller, one of gener8tor’s co-founders, explained that every gener8tor cohort participates in its end of the program “Investor Swarm” where each startup pitches to more than 85 unique investors across its home markets, but with personal visits to Chicago and Silicon Valley. This ability to build a program that meets key needs for their clients has allowed Gener8tor to build a top-tier accelerator program.

Vosseller noted that most of these Gold level programs (according to the Seed Accelerator Rankings Project) are based on the coasts – so to build one in Wisconsin is noteworthy. As Vosseller stated in our conversation “Among the top 15 accelerators in the country, we [gener8tor] are the youngest and only one without a program in one of the top ten largest metro areas.”

Figure 1: Locations of Gener8tor Projects – gBeta (Blue), accelerators (Orange)

Vosseller highlighted gener8tor’s continued to expansion and evolution. Specifically, he discussed the ways that his industry, incubators and accelerators, have often failed to be leaders in innovation and product development while working with entrepreneurs that are transforming their own industries. It is for this reason that gener8tor has dramatically increased its offerings since its inception in Milwaukee and Madison in 2012.

Vosseller described a couple of main innovations that gener8tor has led:

· gBETA

gBETA is (according to gener8tor’s website) a free, seven-week accelerator for early-stage companies with local roots. Each program is capped at five teams, requires no fees, and the companies do not give up any equity. This program is powering efforts around the Midwest including in Beloit, Lincoln (nMotion) Madison, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Northeast Wisconsin, and at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. These programs are usually sponsored by a local organization. For example, in Lincoln, it is the Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development and the University of Nebraska – Lincoln.

· Project North

Project North is a peer-to-peer membership network for corporate venture capital, innovation, corporate finance, and strategy executives with more than 40 corporate members. This program allows gener8tor to build a connected network of practitioners that can share best practices and build stronger associations with other markets, entrepreneurs, and ideas. This organization includes members from Allianz Life, Harley-Davidson, Kohl’s, Mutual of Omaha, and NelNet.

· Innovation events

This week gener8tor will be playing host to On-Ramp Insurance Conference that includes presentations from financial services giants, Allianz Life and Securian Financial; these companies will be talking about their innovation strategies. The conference also includes curated private pitch meetings between 35 participating corporations and selected startups (from an applicant pool of 300) seeking ways to work within the insurance industry. More of these events are scheduled for 2019 – including a healthcare conference in early June.

· Musician and Artist Acceleration (Backline and Fellowship.art )

Vosseller was particularly excited about these programs because they are a bit of a diversion from most accelerators. Backline is an accelerator for musicians and bands, while Fellowship.art is an accelerator for visual artists. Both are focused on developing the entrepreneur – artist and musician – looking to build their business around the individual’s art form.

Vosseller explained that innovation in music is an area where accelerators have not traditionally played, and the space needed a new type of model. The funding model is philanthropic. But the intent is to go beyond just building a business to making a community great. Place and culture are critical elements of this greatness, so building businesses around music, culture, and art seemed like a natural fit for gener8tor.

When SPN talked with Vosseller, he expressed two additional and important messages. First, he said how important it is for locals to help and invest in local people and companies. This means that while gener8tor leverages national assets, Vosseller and his team want localities to own and operate their efforts. This is a key tenet behind gener8tor’s growth.

The company is trying to meld some of the best things that they have learned in their accelerator efforts but allow localities to continue to build their own, unique programs. Thus, connectivity to the broader network and access to customers are key. Moreover, gener8tor offers tools and programming that help structure the learning. However, the people involved are local and highly engaged; they care about their communities – they are not outsiders that are dropping in occasionally.

Second, he talked about ways to scale the Midwest connectivity that is critical for gener8tor’s efforts as well as for many other Midwestern communities. He specifically talked about the exponential effect of adding cities to their network. It is not just that they can facilitate excellent programming in a place like Lincoln or Beloit, but it is that these communities, their entrepreneurs, and their corporations can now add value to the entire network – as well as receive value from the entire network. This extension across a geography makes gener8tor fairly unique within accelerators. Few have multi-city efforts, and virtually none (with the exception of Techstars and a few others) have the depth and network of gener8tor.

gener8tor graduates include a number of excellent companies. For example, Understory, Bright Cellars, Review Tracker, Pretty Litter, and many others have gone on to commercial success. gener8tor is proud of its statistical success – and proclaims these statistics on their website. Some key stats are:

· gener8tor has helped 81 companies across 15 programs.

· These companies have raised more than $200 million in follow-on funding.

· 24% of gener8tor’s companies have a female founder, 39% have an immigrant founder, 3% have a veteran founder, and 34% have a minority founder.

· gener8tor companies have created more than 2,000 jobs in their respective cities.

SPN came away extremely impressed with Vosseller and gener8tor, and we would strongly advise communities thinking about new accelerator models to check out their programming and efforts at www.gener8tor.com.

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