Gravy Live, Promega, Okanjo, & More: This Week’s Wisconsin Watchlist
Stay current on news from Wisconsin’s innovation community with these headlines from late February and early March:
—A trio of serial entrepreneurs based in the Madison area has launched a new startup, Gravy Live. The company raised more than $450,000 in funding from three investors, according to a regulatory filing that was made public on Feb. 22.
Gravy Live is currently keeping specific details about its technology under wraps, co-founder Mark McGuire said in an e-mail message. “We are in stealth mode right now, so I don’t really have much to share,” he said. According to the LinkedIn profile of Craig Andler, another executive listed on the filing, the startup is “hiring engineers and live streaming experts.”
All three executives listed on the filing—the other is Brian Wiegand, whom my colleague Jeff Engel profiled in 2014—-are veterans of Madison-based Jellyfish, which Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) bought in 2007 for a reported $50 million. Last year, the Wisconsin-based startup accelerator Gener8tor tapped McGuire to run its programs in Minnesota. McGuire remains a venture partner at Gener8tor, but the accelerator recently brought on Eric Martell as managing director of its Minneapolis/St. Paul programming.
—Speaking of Wisconsin-Minnesota ties, Madison-based Exact Sciences shared data from a study of a lung cancer test the company is developing with the Rochester, MN-based Mayo Clinic. Exact Sciences (NASDAQ: EXAS) said in a press release that findings from the 398-patient study “demonstrate that biomarkers in plasma achieved high accuracy for all types and stages of lung cancer.” Using a panel of four DNA markers, the blood-based test was able to identify cancerous patients at a rate of 90 percent or better, Exact Sciences said. However, David Midthun, a pulmonologist at Mayo Clinic, said in the release that “more studies are needed to corroborate accuracy.”
The data were released as part of an abstract the American Association of Cancer Research published on the study. The AACR will unveil full study results on April 2, Exact Sciences said.
—The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Promega in a patent case the Fitchburg-based lab supplies maker had brought against Life Technologies, a business unit of Waltham, MA-based Thermo Fisher Scientific (NYSE: TMO), the Associated Press reported. Promega filed suit claiming that Life Technologies infringed on a U.S. patent when the company supplied a plant in London with an enzyme meant to be combined with other components to make DNA analysis kits. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a majority opinion for the high court that shipping one part of a patented invention to another country for assembly in a multicomponent kit did not violate patent laws. A jury had previously awarded $52 million in damages to Promega in 2012, but a judge later set that verdict aside.
—Okanjo named Charity Huff as its new CEO, according to an e-mail from Bethany Grabher, vice president of sales and marketing at the Milwaukee-based adtech startup. Huff is also a managing partner at Maroon, a Golden, CO-based consultancy she co-founded in 2006. Michael Drescher, a co-founder of Okanjo and the company’s previous CEO, will stay on as chairman, according to a report from BizTimes Media.
Separately, Okanjo recently raised $135,000 in equity funding from two investors, per an SEC filing.
—More financing news: the Idea Fund of LaCrosse raised $8.1 million from 14 investors, according to a regulatory filing. The entity is part of the Badger Fund of Funds, a state initiative aimed at injecting more venture capital into Wisconsin-based startups. Part of the idea is for small chunks of money to trickle down from the central Badger Fund—which said in August that it had raised $10 million from private investors—to smaller “recipient” funds like the Idea Fund. According to a press release, the Idea Fund plans to invest in 10 to 12 startups based in Wisconsin over the next several years.
—The Milwaukee Business Journal published a series of articles on how the Milwaukee-based life insurance giant Northwestern Mutual is adapting to—and is itself working to bring about—technological innovations. In one story, reporter Rich Kirchen explores the company’s “two-year-old effort to go agile” (the effort could be seen as starting in March 2015, when Northwestern Mutual acquired New York-based LearnVest for a reported price tag of more than $250 million). In another story in the Business Journal series, Kirchen describes his visit to the center of Northwestern Mutual’s software development operations, which he describes as a “geek playpen with … numerous white boards filled with calculations and messages.”
—EnSync, which is based in the Milwaukee area and makes energy management systems, said that it acquired Annapolis, MD-based DCfusion, which has expertise in direct current power systems. EnSync (NYSE: ESNC) said in a press release announcing the deal that renewable energy sources, which make up an increasing share of the electrical grid in the United States, are largely direct current systems. “The acquisition of DCfusion brings decades of customer applied [direct current] system design and consulting experience to complement [EnSync’s] application engineering,” the company said in the release. DCfusion will operate as a subsidiary of EnSync, and two DCfusion co-founders were issued stock options “as an inducement to join the [combined] company,” EnSync said.
—The Wisconsin State Journal profiled Oregon-based Arch Virtual. The startup develops virtual reality software with a variety of applications, including giving users “tours” of yet-to-be-constructed buildings, such as “The Spark” in Madison. According to the report, the company was founded in 2014 by Jon and Kandy Brouchoud, a married couple that had previously launched and operated a home design business. But after becoming more familiar with VR technology, they reportedly decided to go the high-tech route and have since created interactive simulations of condominiums and college dormitories. Other industries with potential uses for Arch Virtual’s technology include healthcare, manufacturing, and law enforcement, the newspaper reported.