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Building an Innovation Community is Product Management

Joe Kirgues, Co-Founder of gener8tor, a startup accelerator in the Midwest, shares the product management strategies that have helped his 80 portfolio companies grow, how he’s applied those strategies to scale his own company, and his approach to building an innovation community outside of Silicon Valley.

This week’s episode was recorded in front of a live audience at The Fall Experiment in Milwaukee, an event presented by Northwestern Mutual. I interviewed Joe Kirgues, Co-Founder of gener8tor, a startup accelerator with offices in Madison, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Cincinnati.

Joe and his business partner founded gener8tor six years ago with the mission of becoming the best partner and community for innovators in the Midwest.

Gener8tor’s accelerator program has since invested in and mentored over 80 startups! Those companies have raised over $200M in follow on funding and five have been acquired.

I asked him to share what product strategies he recommends to the startups that gener8tor invests in. Joe advises his startups to get to market and validate the core functionality quickly and listen to their customers to continuously improve.

And Joe isn’t just bloviating - he eats his own dog food. When I asked Joe how he launched gener8tor’s community that connects startup founders and corporate executives, he said that it was because executives told him that they wanted to share and learn best practices. Joe created a prototype to validate their initial idea and the community has since grown to 38 member corporations.

Joe is building a vibrant innovation community, but when most people think about innovation communities, they probably think about Silicon Valley before they think about Milwaukee. I asked him to share his approach to growing the ecosystem in the Midwest.

To my surprise, Joe says that his goal it to make the Midwest innovation community the best version of itself, rather than more like other communities.

You’ll learn a lot from this episode about startup product management, community building, and investing.

Here are the highlights:

  • The product strategies that Joe recommends to his portfolio companies (6:35)
  • How Joe identifies new opportunities and launches new offerings (9:54)
  • How Joe built a community to connect startup founders and corporate executives (15:34)
  • Joe’s approach to building an innovation community outside of Silicon Valley (19:26)
  • Joe’s strategy for scaling his investment firm (21:53)

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