Chandra Miller Fienen: Boosting Madison’s startup scene

By Lisa Schuetz

When you think of technology’s leaders, Chandra Miller Fienen, executive director of StartingBlock Madison, would like YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg or Epic CEO Judith Falkner to be top of mind.

This year, it’s her goal that the new entrepreneurial hub become gender balanced with a third to half of its businesses led or owned by women. She says it would be the first in the country.

“In the end, we want to change the startup ecosystem and encourage all sorts of entrepreneurs with varied backgrounds and talents,” says Miller Fienen, a graduate of Macalester College in Saint Paul and UC Berkeley’s law school.

StartingBlock focuses on tech startups. Currently, there are 30 startups at the nonprofit hub, located in the new Spark building downtown. To date, those startups raised $24 million. Women-led companies raised 53 percent of it, says Miller Fienen. Nationally, 2 percent of investment dollars goes to teams founded or led by women.

Miller Fienen knows a bit about startups. In 2016, she co-founded FoodWorks Madison, which is dedicated to providing kitchen skills training and jobs to people who are underemployed.

At StartingBlock, she says, she’s collaborating with American Family Insurance, the Doyenne Group, UW-Madison and Madison College—and others—to create a robust startup community. The hub will be fully rolled out this year.

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