With New Cash, Curate Helps Builders Scrape the Web for New Business
After political and business leaders announced last July that the Taiwanese giant Foxconn planned to construct an enormous display manufacturing facility in Wisconsin, people in the state were eager to learn the exact location where the plant would be built.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which agreed to provide Foxconn with up to $3 billion in tax credits and other economic incentives if the company hits certain job-creation and investment targets, did not indicate a specific building site on July 26, the day WEDC first made key terms of the deal public.
At the time, though, Taralinda Willis believed she had a pretty good idea where Foxconn would construct the facility, based on information her company, Madison, WI-based Curate Solutions, had scraped together from municipal documents posted on the Internet.
The day after the announcement, Willis wrote in a blog post that she and her colleagues at Curate were “fairly certain [the plant] will be in Racine County.” Her prediction turned out to be correct; in October, leaders at Foxconn said the company planned to build its facility in Mount Pleasant, a village in eastern Racine County.
In the weeks leading up to Foxconn’s announcement, Mount Pleasant was among the municipalities that called special meetings to discuss a major future building project, Willis wrote. Before that, in April 2017, Mount Pleasant officials discussed increasing the amount of wastewater that can be pumped out of the village’s business parks each day, she wrote. (Huge volumes of water are needed to manufacture the flat-panel displays Foxconn plans to produce in Wisconsin, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report.)
Curate’s customers are mostly construction and engineering firms, Willis says, and last year her company provided some of them with the information it gathered on Foxconn and Racine County. While any boost Curate’s clients got from having this information is difficult to quantify in financial terms, the experience showed that businesses are willing to pay for data that’s reliable and has not yet reached competitors, she says.
Curate, which announced a new funding round this week (more on that below), is building software that combs through agendas, meeting notes, and other publicly available documents that cities, counties, and school boards post online, says Willis, who co-founded Curate in 2016 and serves as the company’s CEO.
The startup’s tools fit into the category of “Web-scraping” services, which users can configure to notify them when a new Web page mentioning a particular word or phrase is created. (Google Alerts is a popular Web-scraping service among non-techies.)
“We pull up keywords that indicate upcoming project opportunities in the construction and engineering space,” Willis says. “Things like ‘certified survey map,’ ‘rezoning,’ and ‘TIF request’ can all be very early indications of a significant construction project.”
Curate creates custom lists of keywords based on the types of projects on which a customer might consider bidding, Willis says. Some clients focus on home and apartment construction, while others specialize in building manufacturing facilities or hospitals and clinics.
Willis declined to name any of Curate’s clients beyond saying that some are among the largest construction firms in Wisconsin. Because some customers frequently bid on projects in neighboring states, Curate has also set up its software to collect information from municipalities in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota.
Curate’s other co-founder is Dale Willis. The husband-and-wife team previously helped lead another Madison startup, Exis, which was selected to participate in the Gener8tor accelerator program in 2016. However, toward the end of the 12-week program, Exis withdrew from Gener8tor and was replaced by Curate.
Since graduating from Gener8tor nearly two years ago, Curate has worked to develop its technology, identify industries which would benefit most from using the tools, and persuade investors that Curate is a company worth backing.
On Tuesday, the startup announced it had raised a $450,000 seed round. The Idea Fund of La Crosse, a fund created under the public-private Badger Fund of Funds program, led the round, says Dale Willis. Other participants included a few individual investors, including Inventure Capital managing director Michael Thorson, Willis says.
Curate currently has four full-time employees and plans to use some of the proceeds from the funding round to expand its technical team, he says.
Some of the new money will also support further product development. Specifically, Curate plans to build and fine-tune “artificial intelligence components that will help us automate a lot of the process of discovering what’s useful for customers,” Willis says. “It will start to become less about keywords, and the A.I. will actually start driving more of what’s valuable.”
Curate also plans to add features to its software that will allow clients to do more analysis of the data they receive in weekly reports from Curate than is possible today, he says.