Madrona Doubles Down on Venture Labs, Taps Fridgen as CEO

Madrona Venture Group likes the “startup studio” model it inaugurated 18 months ago so much that it not only backed a similar effort outside its walls, but is now doubling the staff of its own Madrona Venture Labs, under the new leadership of serial entrepreneur Mike Fridgen.

Fridgen, who has been heavily involved with three Madrona portfolio companies in the past, takes the helm of Madrona Venture Labs (MVL) as it prepares to unveil its second startup company. The first, Spare5, recently raised $10 million to build out its mobile, micro-task, and machine-learning service.

MVL was launched in 2014 by longtime Madrona managing director Greg Gottesman with the goal of quickly identifying, validating, and building promising technology startup companies based on his and his team’s ideas, and then recruiting experienced leaders to grow and operate them. In October, Gottesman and co-founders Geoff Entress and Mike Galgon revealed Pioneer Square Labs—essentially the same concept, but in a stand-alone business. Madrona was among the who’s who of investors betting $12.5 million on Pioneer Square.

With Fridgen now in charge, Madrona is investing more in its own effort, with plans to double the team and start new companies at a rate of two to three a year.

“This is all validation of the labs model,” Fridgen says.

MVL team, from left: Amy Falcone, Geoffrey Elliott, Brian Fioca, Mike Fridgen, Brendan Ribera, and Matt Terich.

MVL team, from left: Amy Falcone, Geoffrey Elliott, Brian Fioca, Mike Fridgen, Brendan Ribera, and Matt Terich.

Apart from expansion, Fridgen plans few changes to MVL. Four of the original seven people on the MVL team remain in place, plus new additions Fridgen and Geoffrey Elliott. Fridgen is experienced taking over leadership of an underway startup—he did so with Decide.com, a Madrona-backed product pricing prediction service that was acquired by eBay in 2013. Fridgen joined eBay to lead its local office, including a team building software tools for sellers.

“I can relate to the opportunity to come into an early-stage company that has an idea, that has validation and traction, that has funding, in some cases has some team members already in place,” Fridgen says, describing the proposition startup studios make to the executives they recruit to lead their emerging companies. “As an entrepreneur, to come into an opportunity like that is a much different tradeoff versus heading to your garage, burning through your savings, and taking a lot more risk.”

He says the MVL role allows him to indulge his passion for starting new businesses from scratch.

“I’m an optimistic person who believes we can really have an impact with early-stage companies here in Seattle,” Fridgen says.

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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