The New Way to Do Business
By Rachel Werner

Looking for the right space to let your entrepreneurial flag fly? These local mavens are revamping the Madison business scene by operating sleek coworking spaces and top-notch incubator programs.

Matrix Coworking | Tiffanie Mark

The saying “Of those to whom much is given, much is required” is the inscription Tiffanie Mark—known for spearheading TEDx Madison, the local component of the national TED Talks sensation—boldly tattooed onto her arm. It’s also the mantra she embodies while managing Matrix, her property housing an array of independent startups.

“Matrix brings strength in numbers to the ‘little people’—the unsexy small businesses that are the building block of our local economy. We remove the barriers to whatever people want to do. It’s designed to be a space that helps people breathe life into their dreams,” Marks explains.

Located on the West Side, matrix caters to a variety of budding moguls with its informal meeting and co-arting areas, a recording studio, exercise, yoga and wellness rooms and private music booths. Such a mix of enterprise transpiring under one roof could be challenging, but Marks says the space, which users may rent for various rates and time periods, is about bridging gaps—not creating them.

“Above anything else, I value communication and want the member experience to be more than a transactional real estate rental,” she says, explaining that “helping small businesses come together to communicate needs, work in harmony and find the most sustainable and beneficial work solutions for all of the members” is what Matrix is all about.

Synergy Coworking | Eugenia Podesta

As the director of economic empowerment and entrepreneurship for Vital Voices, an international nongovernmental organization based in Washington, D.C., Eugenia Podesta is aware the proverbial glass ceiling is still set far too high for certain demographic groups—in our community and beyond.

Taking a proactive approach to finding a solution, Podesta and her partner Spencer Hudson decided to make a direct impact on shifting the cultural context and prototype of “who” and “what” is an entrepreneur by opening Synergy Coworking, also rentable spaces, on the Near West Side.

“After my experience working remotely in Madison and looking for a place to work that met my needs, I saw an opportunity to create a space for a diversity of sectors [not limited to the tech industry) in an office setting—and offer an appealing option for women and professionals of color, where they will feel comfortable and find the tools they seek to flourish,” she says.

The aura of success hangs in the air of Synergy’s spacious two-floor complex with an abundance of natural light, chrome fixtures and minimalist décor spread throughout private offices, meeting rooms and communal work areas. The same attention to detail is also given to the additional resources available through its doors.

Says Podesta, “We facilitate strategic goal setting and planning, networking and guidance for utilizing Madison’s ecosystem of support for private enterprise and startups.”

DreamBank | Jackie Ford and Amanda Tillman

“Dreams come in all shapes and sizes,” declares DreamBank Manager Amanda Tillman. “Our role is to help people stay energized, learn from the barriers they encounter and to keep moving forward.” Launched in 2012 by American Family Insurance, this pilot “dream” tank is an alternative incubator model located downtown on the Capitol Square.

DreamBank is a community space open daily to the public with free Wi-Fi, rotating interactive exhibits, family programming and two to three social media workshops a month. In addition, it sponsors a “Dream Big” event series focused on positive psychology and life coaching skills to help individuals pursue goals in a holistic manner.

“It’s an inspiration, motivation and wellness series. And we help bring joy, confidence and a spark to people’s lives through empowering them to take hold of their futures,” says dream curator Jackie Ford.

Dream actualization often takes practical advice, thus Dreambank also offers a free online business accelerator program including live-streamed events, marketing tips and sales strategies. Ford says, “Being a part of the DreamBank team is about working for this to be more than a ‘place’ for people to visit, but for it to be an ‘experience’—and providing knowledge-sharing for guests no matter where they’re at on their dream journeys.”

Sustain Dane | Jessie Lerner

Helping businesses and organizations carve out a path based on desired outcomes versus persisting with the status quo is Sustain Dane’s mission. As a “catalyst for big ideas and projects,” says Executive Director Jessie Lerner, “our aim is to arm individuals to take action toward a sustainable future and to redefine sustainability for our community—generating the trifecta of a responsible society, a just economy and a thriving environment.”

As an incubator model, Sustain Dane is currently staffed by a team of six women assisting entrepreneurs and novice organizations define objectives and operate more effectively. The nonprofit offers workshops for the Sustainable Business Network and manages the MPower Business Champion Program, a one-year program to help organizations develop or enhance green teams. The Eco Equity Group, a coalition of environmental organizations committed to promoting equity, grew out of the program, as did the annual Badger Bioneers Conference.

“We also work with schools and neighborhoods through various partnerships. Even in a big organization, starting something new can have a startup mentality as you are bringing a new idea to a group of people that are often resistant to change,” Lerner explains. “We approach sustainability work as a lens and not an add-on.”

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