Awards, Water Council, TechSpark, & More: This Week’s WI Watchlist

Keep up with the latest news from Wisconsin’s innovation community with these recent headlines:

—The fourth annual Wisconsin Innovation Awards, a program that seeks to recognize bright ideas from companies based in the Badger State, were held earlier this week. According to a press release, the ten category winners were chosen from more than 230 nominees. Three of the companies that took first place in their fields were: DotCom Therapy (healthcare category), which develops software that connects students with speech language pathologists; Sheboygan-based VibeTech (biotech), which has built a leg press machine that exercises a user’s leg muscles by delivering vibrations to the skin; and Madison-based Midwestern BioAg (agriculture), which manufactures fertilizers and other products designed to improve soil health.

—The Water Council, a Milwaukee-based organization that works to help grow the area’s water tech industry, announced a partnership with NASA aimed at accelerating the development of new products that could improve space travel and exploration. NASA runs a series of programs called TechConnect in which the agency works to improve and implement technologies developed by U.S. companies. This is the first ever NASA TechConnect event that specifically concentrates on water technologies, according to a press release. NASA will pick up to four businesses working on new water-related products, with the chosen companies receiving technical assistance from the agency and the chance to meet with leaders at the Ohio Aerospace Institute in Cleveland next spring.

—Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) selected Northeast Wisconsin as one of six parts of the country where the software giant will seek to foster innovation as part of its TechSpark program. As part of the program, Microsoft partners with local organizations to try to accelerate economic growth through improved Internet connectivity, classes that teach people digital skills, and other initiatives. Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president, is a native of Appleton, WI, and he spoke at an event there on Thursday to provide details on the TechSpark program.

—Following the August death of BomBoard founder and CEO John West, the Whitewater-based startup is looking for a buyer to come in and bring its flagship product to market. That product is a jet ski designed to appeal to millennial consumers because it’s less expensive and easier to store and transport than traditional jet skis. Anders Stubkjaer, BomBoard’s chief financial officer and now also its interim CEO, said the ideal acquirer would be an experienced watercraft manufacturer.

—Milwaukee-based Bright Cellars, a monthly service that helps subscribers try new wines, now has 17,000 active subscribers and 35 employees, according to a Milwaukee Business Journal profile of Richard Yau, the startup’s co-founder and CEO. Yau and co-founder Joe Laurendi originally launched Bright Cellars in Boston (both are graduates of MIT) but moved the company to Wisconsin in 2015 after participating in the Gener8tor startup accelerator.

—A.O. Smith (NYSE: AOS), a Milwaukee-based manufacturer of water heaters and other products, said it broke ground on a new technology center. The company said the 42,700-square-foot facility will support research and product development in areas such as water treatment and air purification. A.O. Smith said it will likely to complete construction on the new building by the end of next year.

—Invenra, a Madison-based biotech that develops therapeutic antibodies for large pharma companies and other clients, raised $2.9 million in equity funding from investors. Roland Green, founder and CEO of Invenra, said his company plans to use some of the proceeds from the round to continue developing its internal pipeline of antibodies. Invenra is juggling those internal projects while it works to meet its commitments to Merck (NYSE: MRK) and other pharma partners.

—More funding news: Kiio said it received a $1 million investment from WEA Trust, a Madison-based nonprofit insurance company. Kiio, also based in Madison, develops software and hardware to help patients understand and adhere to exercise programs to rehabilitate (or prevent) injuries. Kiio said it will use the money to support its program for patients with lower back pain.

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