OnKöl, VC Ranking, & Stem Cells: This Week’s Wisconsin Watchlist

Xconomy Wisconsin — 

A Silicon Valley tie-up, a new, nine-figure fund, and some flattering venture capital news are among these recent headlines from Wisconsin’s innovation community:

—OnKöl, a Milwaukee-based startup whose flagship product is aimed at older adults, and ties together myriad home and health-monitoring devices, said it has been selected as a finalist for a 2016 Edison Award. The awards, which are conducted by Chicago-based Edison Universe, honor “excellence in new product and service development, marketing, human-centered design, and innovation,” according to the organization’s website. Winners will be announced on April 21 at a gala in New York, according to a press release.

—Madison came in 14th place in a ranking of cities by venture capital investment per capita. The list is part of a report compiled by Roger Martin, Richard Florida, and other researchers with the Martin Prosperity Institute. It was published on The Atlantic’s CityLab website. According to the report, $100 of venture funds are invested for every Madison resident; the cities atop the ranking are San Jose, CA, and San Francisco, with $2,146 and $1,415 invested per capita, respectively.

—Leaders of organizations in Madison’s innovation community said the city has made progress in building an entrepreneurial ecosystem that can attract talent and investment, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. However, leaders said a $250 million budget cut to the University of Wisconsin system—part of the state’s latest biennial budget—could do harm to the UW-Madison, where many ideas that have become successful startups were originated and incubated.

—Mequon-based Smart Choice MRI raised $3 million in equity financing from ThedaCare, an Appleton-based health system that provides competing imaging services, among other things. ThedaCare now owns a 10 percent stake in Smart Choice, meaning its pre-money valuation was $30 million. On Monday, Smart Choice opened an imaging center in Schaumburg, IL, its first outside of Wisconsin. The company plans to open eight additional Illinois locations this year, plus four more in Minnesota.

—Researchers at the UW-Madison Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine Center have generated primitive master heart cells, which could eventually aid in drug discovery as well as modeling and treating diseases, the university said in a post on its website. The cells were made from mouse fibroblasts, cells in connective tissue that produce fibers and proteins. The post includes an accompanying video that shows heart muscle cells “beating” in unison, similar to what I observed last year at a lab run by Cellular Dynamics International, which is also in Madison.

—A majority stake in Manitowoc-based Forefront Dermatology was sold to Toronto-based Omers, one of Canada’s largest pension plans, for an undisclosed amount. According to a press release, the seller was the Los Angeles-based private equity firm Varsity Healthcare Partners, which in 2014 acquired a majority stake in Forefront. Since then, the dermatology chain has grown to 82 clinics from 37, VHP said.

—In other private equity news, the Milwaukee-based firm Mason Wells raised a fourth fund worth $615 million and named Tom Smith CEO and president, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Smith had for years served under John Byrnes, who led Mason Wells since 1998, when it was spun out of Milwaukee-based Marshall & Isley. Byrnes is now chairman of Mason Wells, which is Wisconsin’s largest private equity firm. According to the latter report, the group invests in companies across four sectors: packaging, packaged goods, engineered products, and corporate services.

—Another fund update: the Milwaukee-based BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation announced the sale of $500,000 in “early-stage seed” tax credits to several individual investors. The foundation’s nonprofit status means it is not allowed to use certain types of tax credits; however, outside parties can buy credits from an entity like BrightStar, and use them when they file their state taxes. BrightStar also announced its first investment of 2016, in the Madison-based startup Phoenix Nuclear Labs.

—Mequon-based iDAvatars, which develops online patient engagement software, announced a partnership with Swaive, a Santa Clara, CA-based maker of a smart ear thermometer. According to a press release, the agreement marks iDAvatars’s first foray into biometric devices. IDAvatars said it will demonstrate the integration between its software and Swaive’s hardware at an industry conference that kicks off later this month.

—Verona-based Epic Systems, which develops electronic medical records software for … Next Page »

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