While startup activity in Wisconsin has lagged behind other states, there is an emerging energy around supporting the development of early-stage companies across the state. A critical piece of any startup ecosystem are accelerators and incubators, which help entrepreneurs convert their ideas into successful business ventures and bring them to market.

Accelerator programs are typically fixed-length, structured programs that offer companies access to mentors, business coaching and intensive programming designed to develop different aspects of their businesses. Accelerators often offer financial support in the form of cash grants, debt, equity or other funding.

Incubators, on the other hand, generally do not have a fixed cohort length or program requirements, but instead offer an ongoing support system of coaching and connections as entrepreneurs develop their early-stage ventures. An incubator is more like a coworking space-with-benefits; companies have access to office space (often discounted) and office resources, but additionally to the structured guidance of the incubator’s team and network. Some incubators take equity and make seed investments, while others simply provide the benefit of access to seasoned entrepreneurs and peer startups.

Below is a comprehensive guide to Wisconsin’s accelerator programs, startup incubators, student accelerators and some upcoming ventures that are still in development. We’ve given details where available on location, cohort length, investment, cost or equity taken and target audience.

Accelerators

The BREW

  • Location: Milwaukee, WI
  • Length: 6 months, with an option to receive low-cost space for an additional 6 months
  • More Information: Founded in 2013 by The Water Council, The BREW is a startup accelerator for companies in the water technology space. The accelerator is in the process of launching its fifth cohort, and past companies include the Water Resources Monitoring Group, which measures and monitors agricultural runoff, and Cadens, which designs and manufactures small and micro-scale hydropower systems. The program accepts up to six companies for each 12 month cycle and offers up to $50,000 per startup as a two year convertible note. More on application criteria and benefits here.

Bunker Labs Madison

  • Location: Madison, WI
  • Length: 14 weeks (7 sessions)
  • More Information: The Launch Lab accelerator program is run by national non-profit Bunker Labs, which aims to inspire, educate and connect veteran entrepreneurs in local communities and across the country. The Madison Launch Lab is run every other Saturday for 14 weeks to accommodate schedules of working professionals. Rather than companies, applicants apply as individuals and work through the curriculum to get from idea-stage to ready to launch.

Doyenne

  • Location: Madison, WI
  • Length: 12 months
  • More Information: The Doyenne accelerator and Doyenne Evergreen Fund are aimed at supporting women and minority entrepreneurs. Three types of funding are available to accelerator companies: grants (up to $5,000), loans (between $10,000-$50,000), and equity investments (between $25,000-$50,000). The accelerator program takes place over a 12 month period, with periodic commitments for member companies. Doyenne considers applications on a rolling basis, once per quarter. More on application criteria here.

FaBCAP

  • Location: Milwaukee, WI
  • Length: 12 months
  • More Information: The Food and Beverage Wisconsin industry group operates a “capacity and capitalization” accelerator for growing food and beverage companies. Now in its second cohort, the organization selects ten companies each year to participate in its business coaching curriculum. The accelerator offers periodic meetings with FaB Wisconsin staff and experts at area food companies, and helps each member company develop marketing, sales, operations and business plans. Participating companies receive $10,000 cash awards at the end of the program.

gener8tor

  • Location: Madison, WI and Milwaukee, WI
  • Length: 12 weeks
  • More Information: Gener8tor is Wisconsin’s most established and well-known accelerator program. With offices in Madison and Milwaukee (as well as in Minneapolis), the organization selects just five companies for each 12-week cohort. Gener8tor considers applications from a wide industry range of startups, including software, IT, web, SaaS, life science, medtech, e-commerce and hardware, and it offers access to a broad network of mentors, investors and corporate partners. Each company receives $20,000 in exchange for 6-7% equity, plus a $70,000 guarantee for follow on capital in the form of a convertible note.

gBETA

  • Location: Beloit, WI,  Madison, WI, Milwaukee, WI, Northeast, WI
  • Length: 7 weeks
  • More Information: gBETA is a seven week accelerator run by gener8tor that is aimed at earlier stage companies across Wisconsin and the Midwest. Similar to the gener8tor program, each cohort accepts only 5 companies per city, but gBETA is free, with no fees or equity required to participate. Companies receive office space for the seven week program, as well as mentoring and coaching at twice-weekly meetings. gBETA’s goal is to prepare companies for either participation in a full-scale accelerator program or to raise a seed round of funding.

Launch Box

  • Location: Sturvent, WI
  • Length: 10 weeks
  • More Information: The Launch Box Growth Accelerator is operated by Gateway Technical College and is open to residents of or companies located in Racine, Walworth or Kenosha counties. Designed to bring startups from the idea stage to market, Launch Box accepts five to seven teams per cohort and awards $2,500 in seed grants to each at the conclusion of the program.

Madworks

  • Location: Madison, WI
  • Length: 10 weeks
  • More Information: This Madison-based seed stage accelerator accepts early-stage companies started by UW-Madison faculty, staff, alumni and students, as well as startups from the greater Madison community. The ten week program requires roughly a 20 hour/week commitment from participating companies. Working with Madworks staff, companies develop a set of weekly milestones to complete throughout the accelerator cohort. Companies can receive up to $5,000 in grant funding.

Scalerator

  • Location: Milwaukee, WI
  • Length: 6 months
  • More Information: Scalerator is a program run by Scale Up Milwaukee, an initiative of the Greater Milwaukee Council that hopes to generate support and interest in startups and high-growth companies in the region. The Scalerator accelerator is based off the business growth model and best practices developed by Babson University professor Daniel Isenberg and focuses on helping growing companies develop sales and marketing, organizational development and entrepreneurial finance. Scalerator is free for companies who are selected to participate but does not offer grants or funding.

WERCBench Labs

  • Location: Milwaukee, WI
  • Length: 12 weeks
  • More Information: WERCBench Labs is an accelerator operated by the Mid-West Energy Research Consortium. The program looks to select startups in sectors related to energy and power, including ar/vr, drones, internet of things and 3D printing. Companies are housed in Milwaukee’s Energy Innovation Center for the three month program duration and have access to lab and product testing space. WERCBench Labs gives $10,000 in upfront funding and $10,000 upon completion of the accelerator. Rather than take equity in cohort companies, M-WERC uses a royalty-based financing model where companies repay an agreed-upon set amount if they achieve revenue. The exact terms of this model are not available publicly.

Student Accelerators

The Commons Skills Accelerator

  • Location: Milwaukee, WI
  • Length: 9 weeks
  • More Information: The Skills Accelerator is an educational student accelerator run by The Commons, and initiative of the non-profit Greater Milwaukee Committee. For each cohort, 75 accepted university students are divided into groups and challenged to create a company or new product from scratch. The program runs on a semester cycle and each semester, five student startup ideas are chosen to run through the program. Students commit roughly 8-10 hours/week to The Skills Accelerator and can often receive internship credit from their universities. The program is free.

UW-Whitewater Launch Pad

  • Location: Whitewater, WI
  • Length: Semester-length
  • More Information: The UW-Whitewater Launch Pad accelerator is open to undergraduate and graduate students at UW-Whitewater. The accelerator does not take any equity in student startups, and while it doesn’t offer funding, participating companies will have access to the Launch Pad network including to potential investors. Startups are given space at the Whitewater Tech Park Innovation center and participate in weekly meetings and workshops to develop different aspects of their businesses.

UW-Oshkosh Alta Resources CEI

  • Location: Oshkosh, WI
  • Length: 12 weeks
  • More Information: The Alta Resources Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at UW-Oshkosh offers a 12 week accelerator program for student startups. Up to ten student companies are selected each semester and receive $5,000 to put towards their ventures. The top three companies from each cohort are eligible for the Summer Incubator Program, which gives teams an additional $5,000, a weekly stipend and space to work through the summer.

Incubators

Janesville Innovation Center

  • Location: Janesville, WI
  • More Information: The Janesville Innovation Center is owned by the City of Janesville and operated by a non-profit entity, Janesville Innovation Inc. The space is meant to serve young enterprises in Southeast Wisconsin, ideally companies established in the last three years. The JIC provides affordable turnkey office space, business coaching and mentoring, and access to the JIC Tenant Loan Fund, which provides startups with working capital to scale their ventures.

Madison Enterprise Center

  • Location: Madison, WI
  • More Information: The Madison Enterprise Center is a joint venture between Madison Gas and Electric and the non-profit Common Wealth. Young businesses, if accepted, can remain a part of the incubator for three to five years, accessing affordable rent, business assistance and resource-matching. Current member companies range from a recruiting firm to a hot sauce company.

Whitewater Tech Park Innovation Center

  • Location: Whitewater, WI
  • More Information: The Whitewater Tech Park Innovation Center is a startup incubator offering office and lab space, mentorship and business consultation and workshops for member companies. Membership rates start at $150/month for startups.

Coming Soon…

StartingBlocks

  • Location: Madison, WI
  • More Information: StartingBlocks has been in the works for several years and is finally nearing an official opening. The non-profit community group is in the process of building out 40,000 square feet of space in a new development and has received financial backing from both the city of Madison and state of Wisconsin. StartingBlocks’ operating model is also still in the works, but it will likely function as a cross between a startup incubator, community space and coworking space.

T2

  • Location: Green Bay, WI
  • More Information: Details are sparse, but T2 is preparing to open its doors later this year. Housed in the Railyard complex right by The Cannery, T2 will reportedly operate an accelerator and coworking space.

TitletownTech Accelerator

  • Location: Green Bay, WI
  • More Information: Big year for Green Bay. In late 2017, the Green Bay Packers and Microsoft announced that each organization would be committing $5 million to support entrepreneurship and innovation in the city. The funds will reportedly be used to create an accelerator, an early-stage VC fund, and a business development lab in the Titletown District. According to a Microsoft press release, “the Accelerator will work with startups and young companies to incubate or accelerate and bring to market new digital technology products and services. The employees of participating companies will spend 18 weeks working at TitletownTech and with its advisors and mentors on technology and business development projects.