Madison, Wisconsin: How a city becomes an innovation hub

Madison, Wisconsin: How a city becomes an innovation hub

By Alex Paul & Peter Engelke, Atlantic Council

Skyline_of_Madison_WisconsinP_webIn early June, Strategic Foresight Initiative (SFI) staff conducted a research trip to Madison, Wisconsin, as part of The Future of American Technological Leadership, a new project with Qualcomm to investigate American innovation in the technology sector. The Madison visit was the first leg of SFI’s ‘innovation roadtrip’ to technology and innovation hubs around the United States, which will also include Boulder, Colorado, Austin, Texas, and Silicon Valley in California.

SFI staff and Qualcomm representatives visited Madison, the capital of Wisconsin, because the city is building a national reputation as a hub for technological innovation and entrepreneurship. They hosted two roundtables, each attended by individuals prominent in the local tech sector, and held several private meetings, all designed to understand Madison’s success as a tech hub and to identify the potential challenges which could undermine the city’s continued growth in the future.

On the positive side, Madison’s unique physical and cultural assets make it a very livable city, from its beautiful location on the shores of several natural lakes to its vibrant culture and low cost of living. Interviewees were unanimous about Madison’s virtues: they all expressed a deep love for the city, stating that its livability was why they wanted to put down roots there and contribute to the success of its local tech scene.

In several respects, Madison’s small size is an asset for its tech ecosystem. A high “density” of individuals means that it is easy to interact with people from across the local tech community on a constant, daily basis. One participant claimed, half-jokingly, that simply standing outside a popular downtown coffee shop for a day would enable one to meet most of the key people in the tech/innovation space. Madison’s close-knit nature also results in a high degree of trust, wherein reputation plays an important role in fostering cooperation and support across the local tech ecosystem. Read more …