Stemina, Connecture, & Epic: This Week’s Wisconsin Watchlist
The weather is heating up, and so is activity within Wisconsin’s innovation community. Stay in the know with these recent headlines:
—Stemina Biomarker Discovery, a Madison-based startup that’s developing a blood-based test for diagnostic autism spectrum disorder, raised another $2.4 million from investors, co-founder and CEO Elizabeth Donley said in an e-mail. The new money is a combination of debt and equity financing, according to documents filed with securities regulators. Stemina, which last month announced changes to its business structure and provided updates on a study of its test, has to date raised $10.8 million from investors and $7.5 million in grants, Donley said.
—Brookfield-based Connecture (NASDAQ: CNXR) acquired ConnectedHealth, a Chicago-based company whose technology helps users shop online for health insurance and other benefits. Connecture did not disclose the purchase price in a news release announcing the deal. The company, whose Web-based software is itself designed to aid consumers shopping for health plans, is “very enthusiastic about the synergies” between the two organizations, CEO Jeff Surges said in a prepared statement. In March, Connecture raised $52 million from investors in an effort to bolster its financial position.
—Verona-based health records software giant Epic Systems was dealt a legal setback after a Chicago appeals court ruled in favor of a former Epic employee who says the company denied overtime pay to him and some of his colleagues, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. The lawsuit was originally filed in February 2015 by Jacob Lewis, who used to work at Epic as a technical writer. Lewis is alleging that the company violated labor laws when it required some employees to agree, as a condition of continued employment, that “any wage-and-hour claims” would be arbitrated individually, the newspaper reported. The appeals court ruled that employers do not have the right to require such agreements from their workers.
—Staying in the digital health records industry, Madison-based Redox has been selected to join Cisco’s Entrepreneurs in Residence program. Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO) runs the six-month corporate venture program, which will take place near the company’s headquarters in Silicon Valley. The program is aimed at helping startups like Redox, whose software helps broker connections to healthcare organization’s health records systems, accelerate their growth and connect with investors and leaders in technology.
—Wisconsin and the Milwaukee area both fared poorly in comparisons of states and metropolitan areas ranked by their ability to drive entrepreneurial business growth. The 2016 Kauffman Index of Growth Entrepreneurship placed Wisconsin third-to-last among the 25 most populous U.S. states in terms of growth entrepreneurship; that’s down three spots from last year, when the Badger State ranked 20th-best. The “Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis” region fell 10 spots, to 31st-best, among the country’s 40 largest metropolitan areas, from its 21st-place finish in 2015.
—Madison-based Blackriver Systems, which according to an SEC filing raised $550,000 from investors in January, is on the verge of raising another $300,000, founder and CEO Eric Lynn said in a message to Xconomy. According to its website, Blackriver is developing tools that allow users to “find and share cycling experiences.” For now, additional details are scant—it’s not clear whether Blackriver is working on a mobile app, cloud-based software, or another type of technology. Lynn, who recently spent five months in Bulgaria working alongside a team of nine developers, said his company will use the money for product development as it prepares to exit stealth mode. Before striking out on his own, Lynn worked at Trek, a bicycle manufacturer headquartered about 25 miles northeast of Madison in Waterloo.
—Ring CEO James Siminoff stopped by the Madison offices of Gener8tor, an accelerator for high-growth startups, where he discussed his Santa Monica, CA-based company’s origins, mission, and growth. Ring’s flagship product is a Wi-Fi enabled doorbell equipped with a video camera and sensors, allowing homeowners to see who or what is at their front doors. The history of Ring has some elements of the classic startup success tale; the company started in a garage and came close to bankruptcy multiple times before eventually hitting it big.
—Milwaukee Startup Week, a new yearly series of programming for entrepreneurs, investors, and others who work in and around the city, will hold its inaugural sessions in November, according to a report from BizTimes Media. Startup Milwaukee is organizing the conference. Matt Cordio, who co-founded that organization, said the plan is to release a tentative schedule in August. It could include “speed mentoring” and hackathon-type events, he said.
—Ethoplex, an Internet service provider based in Germantown, is now helping residential users connect to the Web. Up to this point, the company has mostly focused on business users, said founder and CEO Keefe John. Ethoplex and some of its competitors are providing Internet access by beaming signals between a network of antennas attached to buildings and towers. This approach, known as “fixed wireless,” essentially upends the traditional model, in which service comes in through underground copper or fiber cables.
—The Wisconsin State Journal published a Q&A with John Biondi, director of Discovery to Product. That’s a program associated with the University of Wisconsin-Madison that helps students, faculty, and staff at the institution turn ideas into companies. Discovery to Product is one of several tenants at @1403, a building located in the middle of UW-Madison’s campus that has been repurposed as a center of gravity for startups.
—Last week, TierPoint publicly unveiled a 17,000-square-foot, $4.5 million addition to the Milwaukee data center it operates. St. Louis-based TierPoint acquired the facility in March as part of the company’s purchase of Cosentry, based in Omaha, NE. (Cosentry itself inherited the facility in 2014 when it bought Milwaukee-based Red Anvil.) Christopher Gigot, a regional vice president at TierPoint, provided details on the renovation, trends around the construction and use of data centers, and where TierPoint might go from here.