Wisconsin Roundup: Johnson Controls, BrightStar, Orbitec, & More

Here are some of the past week’s major headlines from Wisconsin’s tech and innovation community:

—The BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation announced investments in five companies around the state. It invested $250,000 in MCT of Wisconsin, $150,000 apiece in Dock Technologies and Okanjo, and $50,000 apiece in AltusMedical Group and GrocerKey. BrightStar has made investments in 22 Wisconsin companies totaling more than $3 million since 2014.

—Johnson Controls (NYSE: JCI) will construct a $200 million automotive battery factory in China. The plant, which will be located in the city of Shenyang in the northeastern part of the country, will be able to produce 6 million car batteries annually, including the company’s new “start-stop” batteries. Construction is slated to begin in early 2016, and the factory is expected to start operating in 2018.

—Astronauts at the International Space Station dined on greens grown in space using a greenhouse made by Madison-based Orbitec, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. The greenhouse model, known as “Veggie,” was developed over 10-plus years, and grew the extra-terrestrial lettuce plants in 33 days.

—Mequon-based iDAvatars was awarded an $800,000 subcontract to design “intelligent digital avatars” for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans will have round-the-clock access to virtual assistants that help educate them on health topics. Formerly known as Geppetto Avatars, iDAvatars creates “smart puppets that can listen to you, read your emotions, and understand you and reply in real time,” co-founder and chief science officer Mark Meadows says in a video on the company’s website.

—The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC) is funding a new internship program for small and midsize Wisconsin companies. Participating firms, which must have 500 employees or fewer, can hire up to two undergraduates and receive as much as $4,000 per intern. The program is an initiative of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Partnerships for Global Talent Program, with WEDC providing financial backing.

—ZBB Energy (NYSE: ZBB), a Milwaukee-area manufacturer of products to control power and store renewable energy, received an order for its recently introduced Matrix Energy Management and Agile Hybrid Energy Storage systems. The buyer is Bloomington, MN-based Open Access Technology International, which provides power supply management software to utilities and other companies that manage data centers and microgrids. The order continues the recent sales momentum for ZBB, which has struggled financially over the past couple of years.

—Madison-based Forte Research Systems, which develops software to manage clinical research, launched Nimblify, a wholly owned subsidiary that will focus on creating clinical research software that will “allow for multi-stakeholder interactions among sponsors, CROs, research sites, and research study participants,” Forte said in a press release. Nimblify is Forte’s first growth initiative since receiving a substantial investment from Primus Capital in April.

—Online startup accelerator Crowds.io leased permanent office space in downtown Milwaukee, BizTimes reported. Crowds.io, which plans to grow to seven employees from the current three by the end of the year, is renting 2,300 square feet at 1247 N. Water St., above the restaurant AJ Bombers. Formerly known as Inventalator, Crowds.io is a platform that allows users to mock up ideas, advertise tasks they’re willing to pay someone with expertise to perform, and solicit funding.

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