Madison's economy doesn't really have a brand, said Zach Brandon — certainly not in the same way other cities do.
"If you close your eyes, and I say 'Seattle,' you'll probably be able to come up with a few words to describe the business community there, and the quality of life there," said Brandon, the president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce.
Do the same for Madison, says Brandon, and most people around the country — even in the immediate area — may not have as much to say. It's a big reason why Brandon says the chamber has helped launch Health Tech Capitol — a new branding effort to "make Madison identifiable as the best place to build a health technology company."
It's maybe not too huge of a stretch for some Madisonians to understand what Brandon and the chamber are getting at when they tout the local environment for health technology. For one thing, the rise of the health care IT company Epic Systems has been nigh impossible to ignore. The firm, a leader in the realm of electronic health records software, has swiftly become a top employer in the Dane County area, with thousands working at its Verona-based campus.
But Epic is far from the only company making strides in health technology. Many smaller companies have sprouted up in Madison over the past decade — some founded by Epic ex-employees — including biotechnology companies like Ensodata, software companies like Redox, and consulting firms like Nordic Health.
"The truth is, Epic is not an anomaly. It's part of a trend line," said Brandon. "Epic was a great entrepreneur, with a great idea, in a great city, at the right place and the right time. We believe that the future will be the same formula."
The Health Tech Capitol brand is currently showcased on a website that launched in mid-July, featuring 17 companies and institutions that are active in Madison's health tech sector, from software publishers like Epic to care providers like UW Health. Brandon said the idea is that once more companies have signed on as partners in the Health Tech Capitol project, the chamber will be able to use the website and other materials to demonstrate to investors and entrepreneurs that Madison is the place to be in that domain.
The idea for the project first began with Dan Wilson, the founder and CEO of the health care records interfacing company Moxe Health. Wilson founded a Meetup group named "Madison Health Tech" in 2012 that aimed to create a community surrounding the Madison health tech scene, and to encourage company recruitment and investment. Wilson said he and the other organizers eventually took the idea to the chamber when he saw the potential for the effort to scale the group into a larger project.
To him, Health Tech Capitol represents a chance for Madison's health technology companies to recruit more talent, attract more investors, build companies' client bases, and to simply "raise awareness" of what's happening in Madison. He also said that it's a great opportunity to grow an important sector of the local economy.
"What are some of the industries that Madison can really grow around? Certainly there a number of them, but historically, health care and health technology has certainly been a good one," he said.
Brandon said making the case for Madison will be no small task. For one thing, there are other metropolitan areas like Atlanta and Austin asserting their dominance in the health technology field, and many of them have a lot of resources to make their mark.
Wilson said that Madison has an advantage in that regard because of its history of leadership in the realm of health care.
"The way health care is practiced here is a model that the rest of the country is trying to figure out how to move to," said Wilson. "We have this very interesting perspective, given what has happened here locally."
But on top of that, said Brandon, there are many people in the immediate area who won't be convinced of Health Tech Capitol's message.
"Ironically, self-belief is going to be one of those hurdles," said Brandon. "People in Wisconsin won't believe it."
Brandon chalked that up in part to the business culture of the area. Wisconsinites, he said, "just don't brag about ourselves."
Said Brandon, this project is a step toward changing that.