Techstars Chicago’s Troy Henikoff Intrigued by Wisconsin Startups

1/22/14Follow @XconomyWI

Wisconsin has proven a fertile recruiting area for Techstars programs nationwide, but so far no Badger State startups have gotten into the nearest Techstars startup accelerator in Chicago. Troy Henikoff wants to change that.

Henikoff, the managing director of Techstars Chicago, plans to visit Milwaukee next month to meet with area startups and recruit candidates for the Windy City branch of the national startup accelerator.

Henikoff is an experienced entrepreneur—his career includes founding SurePayroll, a Chicago-based payroll software provider that was acquired in 2011 by Paychex for $115 million—who in 2010 founded an accelerator program called Excelerate Labs. Last year, Excelerate became the Chicago branch of Techstars. On the upcoming Milwaukee trip, Henikoff will be accompanied by Match.com CEO Sam Yagan, who was a co-founder of Excelerate.

Henikoff is intrigued by the tech startup scene here, but admits he doesn’t know as much about it as he would like. Techstars Chicago officials pitched their program to Madison entrepreneurs in March, and Henikoff spoke at the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium in Madison last November. And he says local entrepreneurs can expect to see more of Techstars Chicago.

Xconomy spoke with Henikoff recently about his take on Wisconsin startups, how smoothly it went integrating Excelerate into Techstars, and how he envisions accelerators evolving. The following is an edited transcript.

Xconomy: Why are you interested in visiting with Milwaukee tech startups? Should we take this as a signal that Milwaukee’s tech scene is growing and gaining traction?

Troy Henikoff: We as Techstars Chicago are looking to find the 10 best companies we can, frankly anywhere we can on the globe, for our program this summer. … We’re trying to extend our reach beyond just Chicago. Milwaukee is a natural extension. We hope to attract people from Madison as well for the Milwaukee event.

X: What’s your assessment of the tech startup environment in Wisconsin?

TH: There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on up there. Honestly, I haven’t been exposed to enough of it. Part of this is an attempt at getting up there and seeing what’s going on. … We’re pretty tightly involved with the Golden Angels [Investors, an angel investment group based near Milwaukee that has invested in Techstars Chicago’s fund]. They’ve encouraged us to come up as well. I think it’s going to be great. You’re going to see us more.

X: Excelerate Labs became Techstars Chicago last year. Was it a difficult transition?

TH: The transition went very well. When Techstars approached us … Next Page »

Jeff Engel is the editor of Xconomy Wisconsin. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @XconomyWI

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  • Clint326

    Techstars Chicago coming to Milwaukee is a very good sign regarding the startup activity in Southeast Wisconsin. A lot of activity has taken place in the past 18 months, and it’s getting national attention!