Wisconsin Roundup: Johnson Controls, Epic, American Family & More

Xconomy Wisconsin — 

[Corrected 9/9/15, 10:16 am. See below.] Here are some of the past week’s major headlines from Wisconsin’s tech and innovation community:

—Johnson Controls (NYSE: JCI) announced it sold one of its major divisions, Global Workforce Solutions, to the Los Angeles-based CBRE Group (NYSE: CBG) for $1.4 million. As part of the deal, Glendale-based JCI will provide HVAC equipment to CBRE, which has a 5 billion-square-foot real estate portfolio, and JCI will in return receive facilities management services.

JCI also announced, via a notice from the state’s Department of Workforce Development, that it will be suspending work on Project Unity, an IT program run out of its West Allis office. The move will potentially impact 197 employees and all positions will be eliminated from the office by Oct. 14.

—Epic Systems CEO Judy Faulkner spoke before a crowd of 18,000 while thousands more watched simulcasts at the Verona-based healthtech giant’s annual client conference, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. Faulkner announced Epic is creating a Cosmos Research Network and exhorted customers to share non-identifying patient data. She did not mention Epic’s failed bid for a $4.3 billion, 10-year contract to modernize the U.S. Department of Defense’s electronic health records system.

—Madison-based American Family Insurance pledged to give $40 million to the University of Wisconsin-Madison over the next 10 years. The gift will help support newer programs at the school like its Internet of Things (IoT) Lab and research on data analytics and entrepreneurship. The donation will also continue to fund a distinguished chair of risk management and insurance at the university’s business school. The insurer has been a longtime supporter of UW-Madison through projects such as the American Family Children’s Hospital, part of the UW Hospital system.

—UW-Madison announced its Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology, where researchers study how nanoparticles interact with biological systems, signed a five-year, $20 million contract with the National Science Foundation. Scientists from four other Midwestern universities have previously worked on projects at the center, and six more institutions will be represented in the next five years. “The purpose of the center is to explore how we can make sure these nanotechnologies come to fruition with little or no environmental impact,” UW-Madison chemistry professor Robert Hamers said in a press release.

—Madison-based NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes received the go-ahead to begin production of a popular radioisotope at the University of Missouri Research Reactor in Columbia, MO, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. The radioisotope, molybdenum-99, is used to make technetium-99m, the most widely used radioisotope in medical diagnostic imaging, without using weapons-grade highly enriched uranium. NorthStar is building a plant to manufacture molybdenum-99 at its headquarters.

—Internet service provider 5Nines will provide free access to its 4G network to businesses, non-profits, and community centers in parts of Madison, where the company is based, The Capital Times reported. The 5Nines network consists of two antennas that beam Internet signals from buildings and rooftops, rather than cellular towers. Participating organizations must pay $150 for a router—non-profits receive a 50 percent discount—and can immediately provide Wi-Fi to their customers and employees. [An earlier version of this paragraph incorrectly stated the number of antennas in 5Nines’ 4G network. We regret the error.]


—“We’re not here for the weather, obviously, but for the community,” said Andrew Foxwell, who decided to build his social media advisory company in Madison after stints in Washington, DC and Chicago. While Madison—and, in general, Wisconsin—lacks later-stage venture capital and has harsh winters that sometimes make it difficult to attract talent, it has plenty of assets: UW-Madison, Epic, and a relatively low cost of living and of doing business, to name a few. Perhaps just as important as all of those tangible traits is an unquantifiable one: the tight-knit community that Foxwell and others referenced throughout Forward Fest, Madison’s annual conference on entrepreneurship.

—Since the early 2000s, UW-Madison’s entrepreneurial culture and the administration’s attitude toward university spinouts have gotten better, according to Swallow Solutions founder JoAnne Robbins and others who spoke on a panel on campus during last week’s Badger Startup Summit, part of Forward Fest. However, panelists said there’s still room for improvement when it comes to the school’s support of tech transfer.

Cellular Dynamics has made 300 induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell lines available to any company, institution or individual researcher for purchase, and 2,700 more lines will become available by the end of 2016. According to a press release issued Tuesday, the availability of the first 300 iPS cell lines marks “the launch of the world’s largest publicly available stem cell bank.” The unveiling is part of a $32 million initiative funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine that kicked off in 2013.

—Intellivisit, the Milwaukee-area virtual health startup that seeks to be the “digital front door” for sick patients wanting to report their symptoms, has signed three Midwestern customers, all of whom will start using the software in October. Founded in 2013, the company has thus far raised over $2.1 million in seed funding. October is also when the company expects to close on another $2.5 million in a convertible debt financing round.