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Jackson: New head of Accelerate Madison sees hot market for programming, IT grads

By Brian E. Clark
For WisBusiness.com

The overall economy may be struggling, but it’s a good time to be graduating with a software or information technology degree.

That’s the word from Tammy Jackson, the new executive director of Accelerate Madison – which bills itself as the “the premier networking organization that promotes and highlights the Madison digital technology community.”

Jackson replaced Jan Moen, who left in October to co-found a new company, Madcelerator, LLC. Moen ran Accelerate Madison for eight years and remains on its board of directors.

Created in 2010, Accelerate has grown to 1,000 members as the region’s high-tech community has blossomed. That number stands to increase as area companies recruit new graduates to their staffs, said Jackson, a former broadcast journalist who spent the past four years working as the public relations director for Sonic Foundry.

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She said her tenure with Sonic showed her “what can happen when an IT company ... gains traction, becomes successful, creates jobs in the community and changes the way that people work and learn. It really sparked my fascination in the technology industry.”

Jackson said many Accelerate members have told her Madison is a “hotbed” in the IT world.

“There are start-ups popping up all the time and they are getting funding and creating jobs in the area,” explained Jackson.

In addition, she noted, established companies that have been around for 20 years or more and are going strong and hiring, although Jackson said members have told her it’s hard to find talent.

“It you graduate and have a degree in programming or IT, there are a lot of companies that want to talk to you,” she said.

Jackson said the IT scene industry has grown and evolved in the area over the past decade.

In 2001, the Verona-based Epic medical software company had just 550 employees. It now has more than 5,200 workers, is expected to hire another 1,000 this year and is adding several new buildings to its 900-acre campus.

She said local companies are hiring grads from UW-Madison and Madison Area Technical College. They are also using recruiting firms to attract candidates.

“They are doing heavy recruitment and sharing surveys that show Madison as one of the top places to live and have a job,” she said. “They are working hard to bring people into the area.”

Ten years ago, when Accelerate was in its infancy she said many companies were just beginning to dabble in information technology.

“Now, I’d say every company has a need for IT,” she explained.

“An insurance company has to keep a database and a flower shop has to have a web site that has an ecommerce engine that works.

“Those things don’t just spring up, they take development and someone on staff who can do the web marketing or make sure things are running correctly. If not on staff, you’re outsourcing that.”

In addition to medical software, she said the Madison area is strong on software in general, cloud computing and mobile applications.

She said she spoke to a venture capitalist several weeks ago who told her mobile apps are the “hottest thing” in the IT world.

She noted that Sonic just introduced a mobile platform so people can watch webcasts via a smartphone.

“They’re not always practical and there isn’t always a business model for them, but everybody is developing something mobile right now,” she said.

Jackson said her advice to entrepreneurs who want to start companies – gleaned from Accelerate members – is that they need do their research and to fine tune their pitches to angel investors and venture capitalists who are looking for specific criteria about what they might back.

Jackson said she hopes to expand programs offered by Accelerate and will continue the events it has traditionally sponsored that bring members together to hear speakers.

“I’m excited to be here,” she said. ‘I’m meeting interesting people with great ideas and I’ve discovered companies that I didn’t know existed. It’s great to see all this talent and see all the intellectual mindshare in this town.”

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