Smart Choice, Foxconn, JCI, Generac & More: This Week’s WI Watchlist
Stay current on news from Wisconsin’s innovation community with these recent headlines:
—Smart Choice MRI, which is based in Chicago but has roots and dozens of employees in the Milwaukee area, raised an undisclosed amount of financing from Aurora, CO-based UCHealth, according to a BizTimes Media report. Smart Choice operates a chain of imaging centers that charge patients a flat rate of $600 or less for scans. The company currently has 17 locations in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota, and reportedly plans to expand to more states, including Colorado, in coming years. UCHealth is one of at least three hospital systems that have invested in Smart Choice; others include Appleton, WI-based ThedaCare and Naperville, IL-based Edward-Elmhurst Health.
Reached by phone, CEO Rick Anderson said Smart Choice moved its corporate headquarters to Chicago from Mequon, WI, in February. Thirty-five of the company’s 189 employees are based in Mequon, he said, making it Smart Choice’s largest office. Anderson said one reason his company decided to relocate to Chicago was that most investors and others around the country who do business with Smart Choice can get to Chicago by taking a single flight. Anderson said he’s still based in the Milwaukee area, but travels to Chicago frequently.
—Earlier this summer, a group that included the director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Carbone Cancer Center and a UW-Madison engineering professor met with executives of Foxconn and discussed the prospect of the Taiwan-based electronics assembler building a healthcare-focused facility in the Madison area, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. The Foxconn facility, if it ends up getting built, could be a research center or device manufacturing plant, the newspaper reported, citing an anonymous source. In July, Foxconn announced plans to invest $10 billion to build a manufacturing facility in Southeastern Wisconsin. There have since been multiple reports that the company is also considering building facilities in other parts of the state.
—Generac Power Systems (NYSE: GNRC), which manufactures propane-powered generators and other engine-powered products, said it plans to expand its workforce by at least 400 employees over the next five years. Generac is based in the Milwaukee area but operates several facilities elsewhere in Wisconsin. The company will receive up to $10 million in tax credits from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. through 2021, provided Generac meets certain corporate and workforce development benchmarks.
—Johnson Controls International (NYSE: JCI) said chairman and CEO Alex Molinaroli will leave the company and its board of directors on Sept. 1. JCI, whose product line includes car seats and heating and cooling equipment for buildings, was founded in Wisconsin over a century ago. The company moved its headquarters to Cork, Ireland, following JCI’s merger with Tyco, which was completed in September. Molinaroli’s successor will be George Oliver, who currently serves as JCI’s president and chief operating officer. Oliver was CEO of Tyco before the merger. The Milwaukee Business Journal reported that Molinaroli will leave JCI six months earlier than previously announced, and is set to receive a $41 million cash severance payment on his way out.
—Wisconsin-based Gener8tor, which runs training programs for startups and invests in them, partnered with UW-Madison’s computer sciences department to begin holding three-week accelerator programs for teams of students with ideas for new businesses. Unlike its core accelerator program, Gener8tor will not invest or take equity stakes in companies that participate in its new gALPHA program. gALPHA will hold its first program in Madison in October, and is being supported by UW-Madison’s CS department, as well as the school’s tech transfer office, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF).
—In other WARF-related news, managing director Erik Iverson laid out a roadmap for the organization he’s led since July 2016. WARF plans to invest $60 million in startups affiliated with UW-Madison over the next four to eight years, Iverson said. The tech transfer organization also recently launched a separate $50 million initiative aimed at commercializing innovations in drugs and biologics by researchers and students at the school, he said.
—A Stoughton-based business called The Virtual Foundry has found a way to print metal using a standard 3D printer, the State Journal reported. That could be a key step forward because most metal 3D printers on the market today cost several thousands—if not millions—of dollars. Standard 3D printers, meanwhile, sell for about $200, according to the report. The metal filaments The Virtual Foundry sells can reportedly be fed into 3D printers to make copper and bronze objects.
—Pathogenomica, a Madison-based startup seeking to launch a product that uses pathogen DNA sequencing to detect microorganisms in a water sample, won The Doyenne Group’s annual “5 x 5 x 5” pitch contest. The Doyenne Group, which is also based in Madison and supports businesses led by women and people of color, awarded Pathogenomica a $5,000 grant for winning the competition.
—Another pitch contest held this week, the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce’s “Pressure Chamber,” was won by DotCom Therapy. The Madison-based company has developed software designed to connect certified speech language pathologists with students who require their services.
—The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel profiled Penrod Software, a company that configures customer relationship management software tools developed by San Francisco-based Salesforce (NASDAQ: CRM) to meet the needs of Penrod’s clients. The Milwaukee-based company’s revenues in 2016 were reportedly more than $5 million, and Penrod expects to double that figure this year.
—Madison-based Propeller Health, which develops hardware and software to help patients with asthma and other respiratory conditions, expanded its collaboration with U.K.-based GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK). Propeller had previously agreed to develop a custom sensor for GSK’s Ellipta inhaler in 2015; the following year, the sensor (and Propeller’s software program for the Ellipta) received FDA clearance. In a press release, the companies said the expanded relationship allows them to work together to bring the inhaler to the market.
—We profiled Gravy Live, a Madison-based startup that’s developing a livestreaming platform for shows about cooking, fashion, fitness, and other topics. Gravy has unveiled a handful of its show hosts, some of whom have more than a million followers on Facebook, YouTube, and other places on the Internet people go to watch videos. Gravy co-founder Mark McGuire said two things that set his company apart from other livestreaming platforms are the production tools it offers hosts and marketing arrangements to help them make money from their content.