SCN Madison Summit Sponsor Interview with Shayna Hetzel

Back in 2015 Shayna Hetzel and Scott Resnick sat down to talk about an audacious goal of putting Madison on the entrepreneurial map with a collaborative space and national event. Now, just a few years later, the Spark Building has arrived and SCN is coming to town! 

American Family Insurance is a 91-year-old property and casualty insurance company headquartered in Madison, WI. During the past 10 years, it has doubled down in partnering with the entrepreneurship community and continue that support as a major sponsor of the Startup Champions Network Fall Summit in Madison.

Shayna Hetzel, Social Impact Investment Director at American Family Institute for Corporate & Social Impact

Shayna Hetzel, Social Impact Investment Director at American Family Institute for Corporate & Social Impact

Tell us about your work with regards to entrepreneurship and ecosystem building 

“We want to be a Supporter of the Champions. We have a lot to learn from the disruptors, innovators, and startups and believe that learning will help our company continue to evolve. By embracing and curating innovation, American Family will remain relevant and successful.

One of the ways we have done that is by “getting proximate.” The Spark building allows American Family to cohabitate in a building with Madison’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. The building was designed to include public spaces, collision spaces (Cafe), as well as space for StartingBlock to join as a tenant. 

More on the Spark Building:

Within American Family, there are two initiatives that support entrepreneurship directly: The Institute for Social and Corporate Impact (a corporate impact investment team,  "Institute"), and the American Family Ventures team. 

The Institute sees VC as a tool and method to catalyze innovation and close equity gaps. We are specifically looking to engage entrepreneurs that are interested in academics, economic opportunity for all (specifically focused on the formerly incarcerated), resilient communities (clean tech and disaster recovery), and healthy youth development.

The Institute focuses on supporting underestimated communities. American Family understands that as they face complex challenges it leads to innovation. Within these underestimated communities, the Institute is finding partners of choice, advisors, new pipelines, and the ability to co-create resources, programs and services.”

How can ecosystem builders partner with orgs like you?

“Of course they can connect us to deals and venture-back able startups from their local communities.

We are looking for partners to co-create ecosytems for social impact. We have worked with the local school district and community partners to build entrepreneurship skills and programs.

Any company working in the U.S. is welcome, as we are focused on equity gaps all across America. Currently, our offices are in Wisconsin and Madison but we have American Family Insurance corporate offices throughout the U.S. looking to establish local efforts specifically around equity.

From your perspective, what are the strengths/weaknesses of the Madison ecosystem?

“Although this is not unique to Madison, there are lots of gatekeepers in VC world. It really depends on who you know, or knowing how to get access to people.

One opportunity is that diversity and inclusion could be better. We feel like we are doing well in relation to Wisconsin, but not as well compared to the world. There are still pockets of privilege and that growth could easily become another area that does not serve the entire community, so we're working on preventing that in our processes.

One main strength is our cross sector support and collaboration. Between corporate (Madison Gas & Electric, AmFam, and many others), government (city, county and state representatives and policy executives work in Madison), and a large research university (the University of Wisconsin - Madison), the access and convening between these organizations is REAL! The Governor is coming to talk with people about entrepreneurship. And we are all within 2 miles of each other. Once again, this proximity is leading to collaboration. This is one of the advantages of being a small city.”

What are you most excited about with regards to the Summit?

“Magic happens when brilliant and motivated champions collaborate and we know that is what is going to happen. We are excited to be part of that magic as an observer, participant and presenter during the summit.”