Astronautics, WARF, & The Commons: This Week’s Wisconsin Watchlist

Stay current on happenings in Wisconsin’s innovation community with these recent headlines:

—A group that includes the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC) and aviation and aerospace businesses, including Milwaukee-based Astronautics Corporation of America, announced it’s considering building “an aviation/aerospace center of excellence” in southeastern Wisconsin. The new establishment would house research on new aerospace and cybersecurity systems, and bring together engineers, software developers, and other professionals, according to a news release. While a construction timeline is still to come, members of the group expect the center will be located at Astronautics’ headquarters.

—Promega, a Fitchburg-based manufacturer of reagents and other life sciences research tools, is being sued by a group of shareholders who are concerned about when they’ll see a return on their investments. Bill Linton, who founded Promega in 1978 and continues to lead the private company as chairman and CEO, is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit. Plaintiffs say in the lawsuit that Linton “bullied, lied, threatened, and manipulated his way into a controlling interest in the company.”

—Project Foundry, a Milwaukee-based startup that has developed project-based education software, has hired John Miller as interim CEO. He will be taking over for Bill Mortimore, who will stay on as the company’s chairman and lead investor. Miller, who holds a law degree, is the founder of Arenberg Holdings, a venture capital firm based in the Milwaukee area, Project Foundry said. One of his previous career stops was at Miller-St. Nazianz, a Manitowoc-based farm manufacturing business, where he was president and CEO.

—The University of Wisconsin-Madison said that faculty members have selected 14 research projects that will receive funding as part of the school’s UW2020 initiative. The projects, chosen from nearly 120 proposals, come from fields such as robotics, cancer treatment, and data science, the university said. Awards will average about $360,000 over two years for successful proposals, UW-Madison said. Another group of 14 projects was chosen to receive funding in April in connection with the UW2020 initiative, which is supported by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

—Markable, a Madison-based startup that has developed a mobile app allowing users to find and purchase garments and fashion accessories similar to ones they’ve seen in pictures or in person, raised more than $1.9 million from five investors. Similar to how the Shazam app can listen to and identify songs, Markable’s technology can visually recognize attributes of clothing, such as color, fabric, and sleeve length. The app then searches for items sold online that meet the criteria, and displays them to users.

—Scale Up Milwaukee, an entrepreneurship program that helps existing businesses accelerate their growth, said it will offer its Scalerator training program for the fourth year. The six-month program connects entrepreneurs with investment groups, banks, and professional services firms, according to Scale Up Milwaukee, which is overseen by the Greater Milwaukee Committee and supported by WEDC. Scale Up Milwaukee uses a model for promoting entrepreneurship developed by Daniel Isenberg, a professor at Babson College in Massachusetts.

—Another program connected to the Greater Milwaukee Committee, The Commons, announced it received a $250,000 donation from Church Mutual, a Merrill-based insurer. Since launching in 2014, The Commons has helped college students in southeastern Wisconsin start businesses and form industry partnerships. Now, leaders from Church Mutual and The Commons will work together to introduce the latter organization’s formula in other parts of the state.

—Madison-based FluGen said that a Phase 1a clinical trial is underway for the experimental universal influenza vaccine the startup is developing. FluGen said that its objectives for the trial are to evaluate the vaccine’s safety and the antibody and T-cell responses of participants in the study. Paul Radspinner, FluGen’s co-founder, president, and CEO, said his company aims to have safety and immune response data on the 96 participants by the end of the year.

—Investigators at the UW-Madison’s Morgridge Institute for Research and other departments at the school received a $4.4 million grant to develop a camera that can snap pictures around corners, the university said. The funding comes from the U.S. Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, which played a key role in the development of the Internet and other innovations. A team led by Morgridge imaging specialist Andreas Velten developed the technology for the camera, which involves bouncing photons through the atmosphere and using finely tuned sensors to recapture them and rebuild a 3D environment.

—Exact Sciences (NASDAQ: EXAS) reported financial results from the second quarter that handily beat analyst expectations, sending shares up more than 30 percent on the day. Madison-based Exact, whose flagship product is an at-home, stool-based test for colorectal cancer, also completed more tests during the three-month period ending June 30 (54,000) than the 48,000 tests CEO Kevin Conroy had projected his company would complete. Exact reiterated its projections for completed tests (240,000) and revenue (between $90 million and $100 million) in 2016.

—Milwaukee-based Looking Glass Investments raised $5 million for a new fund, BizTimes Media reported. The startup has developed underwriting technology and data management tools that can be used to find and evaluate loan seekers on peer-to-peer lending websites like Lending Club (NYSE: LC). According to an SEC filing, the latest financing came from a single investor. In December, Houston-based Main Street Capital Corporation purchased a minority stake in Looking Glass.

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