Madrona reveals more details about its startup founder factory, taps ex-AWS manager as leader

Scott Jacobson.

Scott Jacobson knows Seattle’s tech ecosystem: its global corporations, top research institutions, and talented entrepreneurs.

But the managing director at Madrona Venture Group sees one piece that’s missing — and now his firm wants to fill the gap.

“What is missing in the region is a center of gravity for all of these distinct groups to network and engage around topics that matter, and frankly, each other,” Jacobson said.

Later this summer, the venture capital firm will open another floor below its existing downtown Seattle office for a new “Innovation Center.” GeekWire previously reported about the expansion, but Jacobson this week provided more details about Madrona’s plans for the new 20,000 square-foot space.

The goal? Provide a place where everyone can “put their oar in the water and row together,” he said.

The initial focus will be on creating and nurturing more founders, both those that are already building startups or those locked inside giants like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook who are “considering leaving the nest to start a company,” Jacobson said.

“We want to be a resource for the best founders in the Pacific Northwest, period,” he added. “There will undoubtedly be some Madrona portfolio company teams that choose to work out of the space but our hope and expectation is to be a resource to the broader ecosystem.”

In that regard, the concept is similar to Pioneer Square Labs — a Seattle-based “startup studio” launched in 2015 by former Madrona managing director Greg Gottesman and others and in April raised an $80 million fund.

The Innovation Center, which doubles Madrona’s footprint with room for more than 100 people, will be a combination of a co-working area, event center, and home base for Madrona Venture Labs, the firm’s own “startup studio” that just hired startup rabbi Ben Elowitz as its new co-CEO.

Micah Baldwin.

Madrona Venture Labs will also run its new accelerator on the floor. Participating companies will receive a $100,000 investment and have access to resources from the organization, from startup coaching to connections to investors.

Details about membership requirements and pricing are still being worked out.

The innovation space will be similar to co-working models like WeWork or Galvanize, but unique given its location inside one of Seattle’s top venture capital firms.

The expansion will benefit Madrona by exposing the firm to potential new investments and entrepreneurs. The goal is to also “really to expand the role we play in the Seattle startup ecosystem,” Jacobson said.

Leading the new center will be Micah Baldwin, who is taking on the role of executive director. Baldwin previously worked at Amazon, where he was a manager for AWS Connections, a program that helps startups grow. He’s also a serial entrepreneur and active angel investor.

“Being a founder isn’t easy, nor is it something you can learn how to do in a traditional school,” Baldwin said. “Most of the time, founders learn from other founders and/or their investors. We are working to optimize the learning curve by bringing founders, investors, and corporations together to share and teach best practices and techniques to building meaningful, world-class businesses.”

Baldwin is bullish about Seattle, particularly given his experience in Silicon Valley. In a post on Medium, Baldwin wrote about a big opportunity for more founders and investors to help launch startups in the Emerald City.

“I have often thought of Seattle as somewhere on the continuum between Boulder and the Bay Area,” he wrote. “Over the next five to ten years, I see us becoming a real mecca of innovation, and I have committed myself to be part of helping realize that in the right way.”

Over the past few decades, there have been attempts by venture capital firms to create similar startup factory-like centers within their own walls. Seattle-based iStartVentures opened a 16,000 square-foot incubator in Pioneer Square in the late 90s, but went out of business after the dot-com boom. CMGI was another well-known incubator but also crumbled in the early 2000s. In this New York Times article from 2000, it noted that “a year ago, CMGI was the model incubator, a new corporate creature somewhere between a conglomerate and a venture capital fund.”

Madrona’s innovation center seems to be its own beast. It’s not purely an incubator or accelerator, nor is it simply a co-working and event space — perhaps somewhere in between, with a focus on Seattle’s startup ecosystem.

“It’s our job to create an environment for founders and founding teams that makes it irresponsible for them not to get involved,” Jacobson explained. “Something we love about the startup ecosystem in Seattle is founders’ desire, not just to learn and to improve, but to help each other get better. Our goal is to create a space and a set of opportunities for founders to learn, to grow, and to build their business. If we do a great job of that, we think this will be an enduring asset for Seattle and the startup ecosystem here. It’s a resource for the community, and will be successful because of the community.”

This is Madrona’s latest initiative that goes beyond its traditional investment model. In addition to Madrona Venture Labs, which launched in 2014, it also runs a “Madrona Pioneers” program, consisting of a small group of angel investors in the region that essentially operate as a feeder system for new deals.

Founded in 1995, Madrona last month raised $300 million for its seventh fund. The firm started with co-founder Tom Alberg’s early investment in, and has extended to companies such as Redfin, Apptio, Impinj and Smartsheet, all of which have completed initial public offerings in the past two years.

There are a bevy of co-working spaces in Seattle, many of which continue to expand. WeWork, which already has five locations in the region, is doubling its Seattle-area footprint this year. Others include Galvanize, The Riveter, Thinkspace, and CoMotion Labs, which has co-working space at the University of Washington’s Fluke Hall, CoMotion HQ, and Startup Hall, where the Founders Co-op venture capital firm is also based.

Editor’s note: Madrona Managing Director Tim Porter and Madrona Venture Labs CTO Jay Bartot will be speaking at next week’s GeekWire Cloud Tech Summit. Get your tickets here.  

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