Forward Fest to bring together small business owners, local athletes, aspiring entrepreneurs

Week-long events from Aug 16 to 23
Forward Fest to bring together small business owners, local athletes, aspiring entrepreneurs
Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce

Where can you find people who write computer code, women who do roller derby, and some of the city’s most successful small business owners in the same building? For the next week, they’ll all be at Wisconsin’s largest technology and innovation conference, Forward Fest, which runs from Aug 16 to 23.

People of all backgrounds will be at the week-long festival, with sessions at the Overture Center and several other locations across the city.

This year there will be 52 sessions, a lot more than the five the fest hosted in its first year in 2010. Organizers build the Forward Fest as “by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs.”

One of those events is the “pressure chamber,” which is a live pitch contest where five companies will compete to join the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce and win a trip to San Francisco to meet with some of the top venture capital firms in Silicon Valley. That event will start at 2:30 p.m. Aug. 16.

While Forward Fest has its roots in the tech field, the other sessions will cover a wide range of topics for aspiring business owners of all ages.

“The founders of the festival really come from the technology industry,” said Laura Strong, Forward Fest director. “What we’ve done over those years is build a greater sense of community and reached out to folks in music and food and biotechnology and really create a much more diverse set of events for the entrepreneurship community.”

There will also be programs offered for older adults, like how to use language effectively, and one called “Be Your Own Hero: Startup Stories from the World of Roller Derby.”

Madison has a large network of 80 roller derby skaters and four local teams, which showcase their physical and emotional strength. Organizers say the skaters will have a lot to offer in their presentation. Festival-goers can network with them and other business owners.

“The downstream effects are really where we see the economic impact so we’ve had people who tell us they’ve been able to find future investors, board members and co-founders for their companies as of a result of the collisions we were able to create during the festival,” said Strong.

Festival organizers say the Madison area is the perfect breeding ground for new businesses of all kinds.

“Anything that you need in terms of finding mentorship or finding people who can help you find your customer base and develop your product these are all things the Madison community really bands together and really helps entrepreneurs do,” said Strong.

All of the events are open to the public and many are free.

Click here for a full schedule of Forward Fest events.