The Forward Festival, an annual event centered around connecting entrepreneurs in the Madison area, returns this Thursday with its most expansive agenda yet.

This year’s affair will comprise 44 individual events — mixers, panels, conferences, workshops, art galleries and pitching competitions — over a span of seven days. The ambitious agenda is a stark contrast what the festival looked like in its early days. The inaugural Forward Festival in 2010 featured a mere five events.

Laura Strong, the chief operational officer of Quintessence Biosciences and one of the festival’s organizers, said the festival has grown a staggering amount. She said that each year since the festival’s founding, more groups, from tech startups to local chefs, have expressed interest in pitching in. For example, Strong said that this year will feature art more prominently than ever before, with organizations like the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art hosting a number of events. Read the full story here.