- Associated Press - Monday, January 16, 2017

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The co-working group 100state christened its new headquarters in the former AT&T; building on West Washington Avenue on Wednesday night in trademark 100state fashion - by throwing a “problem-solving soiree.”

As attendees sipped beer and munched donuts in the facility’s spacious main room, furnished with sleek new office furniture, colorful light displays and original artwork, a string of entrepreneurs, attorneys, artists and others took turns hopping onto a soapbox and outlining problems they saw in the Madison community, the Capital Times (http://bit.ly/2jN0b3U ) reports.

Each posed a question. How can lawyers be more approachable for entrepreneurs? How can small restaurants get better access to capital? How can more female leaders get involved in the Madison tech scene? How can freelancers stop getting stiffed by clients? How can Wisconsin solve the racial achievement gap in its schools? How can the city help food carts thrive?

The goal, as 100state co-founder Michael Fenchel described, was to then come up with a possible solution for those problems, “and actually do something about it.”

“We are literally going to take problems that Madison is facing, and turn them into ideas,” he told the crowd, before they broke up into teams to brainstorm solutions.

It was a fitting way for 100state to introduce its new home, tucked into a downtown Madison tower that’s become a thriving hive of tech activity in Madison. Such problem-solving events have been in the organization’s DNA ever since it opened at the top of State Street in 2013.

“It began when we needed to figure out what to do with our opening night - not this night, I mean, but three and a half years ago,” Fenchel said. “We wanted it to be something where people came and actually learned something tangible and did something tangible and left with something tangible.”

Fenchel and some other ex-Epic Systems employees formed the group devoted to co-working, a growing trend in which people working on different projects or for different companies share a space and collaborate, back in 2013. Since then, 100state has grown into the largest organization of its kind in the city, and, it claims, Wisconsin.

“I think it’s once again an exciting chance for us to reinvent ourselves, you know?” Fenchel said. “One of the things that has made 100state something that I love is that we’re always open to new ideas, and that we’re always ready to adapt to fit what the city of Madison needs. And we heard input that the city of Madison needs a larger space and more class-A office space.”

In many ways, the space is a far cry from the old office on West Mifflin. It’s bigger, with more individual office spaces and co-working zones, along with more amenities like conference rooms and private booths for making private calls.

Almost all the chairs and tables are new, with slick modular designs that are easy to move and manipulate. The space also offers things that the old office lacked, like an art room, a classroom, and access to a small gym and showers.

Derek Gebler, CEO of the live-streaming and video service Field59, said that the building itself is an upgrade. In the old 100state headquarters, the personal office he shared with his group of coworkers could get sweltering. The climate control is much more sophisticated in the new space.

Little features like that give the space a different feel from the other office, which was one large open room with a mishmash of couches, tables and workstations.

“I feel like it’s not going to be the same thing as before,” said Gebler. “It’s less scrappy. Before, we were just trying to make everything work.”

Ilana Natasha, a freelance photographer who frequently works out of 100state, agreed.

“I feel more comfortable bringing people into this space,” she said. “It’s cleaner. We’re not such a hodgepodge.”

Still, many members felt attached to the older office and the sense of community it evoked. 100state’s operations manager Claudia Seidenberg said that they intentionally retained elements of the old office, such as furniture and plants, in the new headquarters to “lessen that emotional turmoil.”

Toward the end of the soiree, attendees broke out of their teams and reconvened to share some of the ideas they came up with.

Meghan Blake-Horst, the city’s new street vending coordinator, said that by bringing food carts to places where hungry people are, vendors could help people in need. The graphic designer Ibrahim Harun suggested that to help address achievement gaps, there could be a new program that focuses on investing in communities around schools.

Fenchel said that the exercise was a great networking activity.

“So often we meet people, and we get to know about people, we talk about ourselves or we talk about them,” said Fenchel. “But there’s something really different when you begin working with someone.”

And some of the ideas from 100state’s brainstorms really do get enacted. Fenchel’s own startup, Prism (formerly Solstice) is an Airbnb-esque platform for connecting musicians with venues. He got the idea, he said, from a 100state problem-solving event.

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Information from: The Capital Times, http://www.madison.com/tct

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