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3 Takeaways From Madison Startup Fair: More, Faster, Better

Usually it’s the job candidates who have to fight to stand out in discussions with potential employers at a job fair, not the other way around.

But for tech startups operating with a lean staff and budget, trying to entice young talent when your booth is next to big names like Google and General Electric is no easy feat. Just ask Forrest Woolworth, the chief operating officer of mobile game developer PerBlue, based in Madison, WI.

That challenge is one reason why Capital Entrepreneurs—the Madison startup networking and support organization that Woolworth co-founded in 2009—organized the first Madison Startup Fair last year on University of Wisconsin-Madison’s campus.

The recruiting fair, which held its second annual event on Wednesday, brings together local tech startups and students looking for internships or entry-level jobs with intriguing young companies.

Most computer science majors “don’t know about these companies,” Woolworth said, wearing a PerBlue T-shirt at his company’s designated table at the fair. “The fact [that these startups] are in Madison is cool.”

Woolworth thinks putting on a job fair featuring solely startups helps to “even the playing field” with the big boys and can open students’ and young professionals’ eyes to the startup job opportunities available in Madison. The fair might also inspire them to start their own companies, he said.

This year’s startup fair featured about 25 companies that highlighted the variety of ideas percolating in Madison these days, from a beer company that uses crowdsourcing to come up with its recipes (MobCraft Beer) to a firm using motion-capture technology to help athletes analyze their performance (Sensori Athletics). Woolworth didn’t have hard numbers, but said the student turnout was higher this year than last.

Madison Startup FairI stopped by the fair to check out the companies and ask them about their biggest obstacles to success. The answers are typical of many startups around the country, but they paint a quick picture of the current climate in the Madison area. Here are three key challenges companies told me they’re facing:

1. Finding talented job candidates willing to take a risk. Connecting startups with students was the stated goal of the event, and it appeared to accomplish that. For example, local startup Sensori wants to hire a couple of iOS developers, and CEO Peter Oppermann told me the company generated more leads in a two-hour span at the fair than in the previous several weeks.

But it’s often up to the companies to … Next Page »

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