Bitcoin, Johnson Controls, WARF & More: This Week’s WI Watchlist

This week’s 70-degree temperatures have brought many Wisconsin residents out of hibernation, and they’re now flocking to bicycle trails, restaurant patios, and other favorite springtime spots. With 2018 now one-third complete, take a few minutes to catch up on news from Wisconsin’s innovation community with these recent headlines:

—Politicians in Wisconsin might soon be able to accept campaign donations paid in Bitcoin and other digital currencies, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. The Wisconsin Ethics Commission held a hearing last week on the topic, following a request from the state’s Libertarian Party in February that the commission give guidance on handling contributions donors make using so-called cryptocurrencies. Phil Anderson, who chairs the Libertarian Party of Wisconsin, reportedly told the commission that the party and some of its members have been offered donations in Bitcoin. The currency is a type of blockchain technology—a way to create a public record of transactional data so that those transactions later can be authenticated, but which also allows the parties involved to keep certain information private by encrypting it.

The federal government, as well as Montana and the District of Columbia, reportedly already allow transfers of digital currency to political campaigns; however, Montana, for one, requires campaigns to immediately convert such payments to U.S. dollars. In addition to concerns over the ability to verify a donor’s identity, the volatility of digital currency values against the dollar and other fiat currencies could make it hard to enforce campaign contribution limits.

—Paul Radspinner, co-founder and CEO of Madison-based FluGen, said his company will consider applying for some of the funding the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation plans to award to influenza researchers as part of a new initiative. The foundation will provide scientists and companies with up to $12 million in coming years to support the development of a universal flu vaccine. FluGen’s lead vaccine candidate RedeeFlu, which is currently in early human trials, is designed to protect against multiple flu strains, putting it into the category of universal vaccines.

—Radspinner is one of the biotech executives headlining a two-day “exchange” event next week that’s intended to help members of Madison and Milwaukee’s startup communities size each other up. On May 8, Radspinner will discuss his company’s mission and path to commercialization at the law firm Foley & Lardner’s Milwaukee headquarters. The following day, Dan Lawton, president of Milwaukee-based Promentis Pharmaceuticals, will travel to Madison and give a talk at the offices of The QTI Group, a human resources firm based in the city.

—Johnson Controls International (NYSE: JCI) announced a partnership with, China’s largest online retailer, as measured by yearly sales. The tie-up is focused on selling high-tech vehicle batteries to consumers and auto dealerships in China. Johnson Controls was founded in Wisconsin over a century ago, but is now headquartered in Cork, Ireland.

—Fifteen organizations—a mix of tech startups, venture capital firms, consultancies, and more—are getting set to move into the new entrepreneurial hub StartingBlock Madison, which opens next month. StartingBlock, a project more than five years in the making, will occupy 50,000 square feet in a building nicknamed “The Spark” that Madison-based American Family Insurance is developing in the city’s downtown.

—The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which manages patents and the licensing of intellectual property for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, struck a licensing agreement with Revive Therapeutics (OTCMKTS: RVVTF), the Toronto, Canada-based company said. Revive said its agreement with the foundation involves cannabinoid delivery technology Revive is developing. The deal marks a key step toward its goal of successfully brining cannabinoid-based therapies to market, potentially through partnerships with medical marijuana vendors or pharma companies, Revive said.

—New company alert: Madison-based Cubismi is developing software that compares medical images of a patient’s body to a library of imaging and other clinical data to determine, for example, whether a cancerous tumor has been responding or would be likely to respond to treatment. Cubismi was founded by Moira Schieke, a radiologist and an adjunct assistant professor at UW-Madison, according to a news release announcing the startup’s launch. The company says its digital tools can make radiologists more productive, and help reduce healthcare costs. Cubismi is a member of StartUp Health, a New York-based organization that helps connect its members—mostly small but growing healthcare technology companies—with larger, more established players in the industry.

—Another launch announcement this week came from Milwaukee-based Bold Coast Capital, the newest “recipient” fund for investing in Wisconsin-based startups created under the state’s Badger Fund of Funds program. Launched in 2014, the program calls for a combination of public and private dollars to flow into a central Badger Fund, which then provides capital to recipient funds like Bold Coast for investing in early stage companies. The Badger Fund said it will provide up to $6 million to Bold Coast, which is led by veteran trader and investor Ross Leinweber.

—UW-Madison’s news service profiled NovoMoto, a startup based in the city that sells packages of solar panels, lamps, batteries, and other equipment to villages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The company is nearing its 100th successful installation of its lighting systems in the country, the university said.

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