Forged at Irontek: Building Businesses in Beloit
Collaboration comes alive inside the Irontek space, helping launch innovative companies in the Greater Madison Region.
An open and free exchange of ideas has helped the Madison Region become a technological powerhouse and a beacon for some of the nation’s top talent.
Fueling that innovation is organizations such as Irontek, a coworking space and incubator in Beloit founded in 2016 by Ken and Diane Hendricks. The nearly 20,000-square-foot campus serves more than 100 members. The space offers a range of resources, from conference rooms and floating desk space for remote workers to networking events, an accelerator program and even a podcast studio.
Growing Great Ideas
“We started out as a coworking space, everything from private offices to open desks to conference rooms. That was the initial concept of Irontek, and that went really, really well,” says Rob Gerbitz, president and CEO of Hendricks Commercial Properties, a subsidiary of Hendricks Holding, the parent company of Irontek. “But then we set about being the second phase of our plan, which was to actually grow entrepreneurs and help their businesses grow.”
The organization partnered with gener8tor — a longstanding developer of accelerator programs that is headquartered in Madison — to launch gALPHA, a free, four-week workshop designed to help entrepreneurs, professionals and students in the tech industry create startups.
“It’s fun because you have groups of young entrepreneurs coming together and brainstorming ideas. Many times, they are ideas that come from local businesses here in Beloit or problems they may be having in a particular area of their business, so gALPHA is about ideas and early stages,” Gerbitz says.
The gBETA accelerator is a more extended, seven-week program that helps take young companies to the next level.
“At the end of the day, many of these entrepreneurial ideas become true businesses in that program and through that process,” he says. “We walk them through things like applying for patents and trademarks. They come to us with this wonderful idea, and our goal is to help them see beyond the great idea – to see the bigger picture of a business.”
A Sense of Place
Even after entrepreneurs complete the accelerator programs and outgrow the space at Irontek, the organization continues offering resources. Resources are available to help those new businesses go from the business planning stage to the actual production stage. For example, Hendricks Commercial Properties leases lab and production space to companies that have graduated from the coworking space.
Gerbitz says a number of startups have moved into permanent spaces. One example is Blue Line Battery. The company has grown into 15,000 square feet of office and manufacturing space where it produces its custom batteries.
For the current members of Irontek, including RealityBLU, developer of the WorldViewAR augmented reality creation platform, one of the greatest resources offered is the connection to the other members.
As a startup, having a place to go every day that offered the framework for company infrastructure was a huge help, says M.J. Anderson, cofounder and chief experience officer of RealityBLU.
“All of the location’s amenities and access to others in our same shoes was very crucial to our out-of-the-gate success,” Anderson says. “The creative atmosphere that is baked into the Irontek model has helped us in many ways — namely office visits and relationships with other members. When we bring investors, partners and even clients to our offices, they all walk away with the same comments, ‘Wow! I would love to work in a place like this!'”
“This is a place where you can come in and you will find resources all across the board to help you grow.”
Rob Gerbitz, Hendricks Commercial Properties
Anderson says the company has made many great friends and business contacts that it would not have made cloistered away in a freestanding office.
“We have made lifelong 4 o’clock in the morning friends at Irontek, some who have also participated in our initial funding round,” he says.
Gerbitz says one reason for Irontek’s success is that it mirrors the close-knit community of Beloit.
“Beloit’s not a big city — and we don’t really want to be — but it’s a great place to live full of great, innovative people. And that’s what we try to emulate with Irontek – to provide a great sense of place,” he says. “Irontek offers that space, that community, where it doesn’t matter what business you’re in or idea for a business that you have, this is a place where you can come in, and you will find resources all across the board to help you grow.”
If you’d like to learn more about the Madison Region, check out the latest edition of Livability: Madison Region.