WI Watchlist: Amazon, JCI, Understory, Titan Spine, Eurofins

[Updated 11/28/18, 10:08 am. See below.] Time to catch up on recent headlines from Wisconsin’s innovation community:

—Understory, a Madison-based startup that tracks weather via networks of solar-powered sensors, said it reeled in a $7.5 million investment led by local venture firm 4490 Ventures. Other investors in the deal included the Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, a fund launched by AOL co-founder Steve Case and his Washington, DC-based investment firm Revolution to back startups located outside of the coastal tech hubs. The investment appears to be an expansion of financing that Understory disclosed in an SEC filing last month.

Understory said it will use the new funds to expand its sales to international agriculture customers. The company recently struck a partnership with Monsanto to deploy its weather stations in South America to help guide decisions around irrigation, harvesting, and seed production.

—A federal judge ordered the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), the organization that oversees patents and licensing for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to pay $31.6 million to Washington University in St. Louis for breaching a revenue-sharing agreement tied to a patent that underpins a kidney disease drug sold by AbbVie (NYSE: ABBV), according to court documents. To read more about the case, check out this Bloomberg article from March. [This paragraph added.—Eds.]

Titan Spine, a Mequon-based seller of surgical implants for patients with spinal problems, pulled in $16.7 million in equity funding, according to an SEC filing. The investment was led by earlier backer Southlake Equity Group, a spokesperson said in an e-mail to Xconomy. The filing followed an announcement in early November that Titan Spine had received a “substantial” investment from Southlake. The spokesperson declined to say how much venture capital Titan Spine has raised to date.

—Gener8tor has expanded to Canada, opening an outpost of its gBETA startup training program in Toronto in partnership with the nonprofit Milwaukee Institute, BizTimes Media reported. Wisconsin-based Gener8tor runs a network of programs, mostly located in the Midwest, that mentor and in some cases make equity investments in young ventures. This is its first international program. [This paragraph added.—Eds.]

—Eurofins Scientific, a Europe-based laboratory testing company that serves customers in the life sciences, food, and agriculture sectors, intends to purchase land in Madison and construct a $35 million lab and office facility that could employ almost 500 people, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. Separately, Eurofins bought Covance Food Solutions in August, which employs about 400 people in Madison, according to the report.

—In other real estate news, Amazon’s planned fulfillment center in Oak Creek will be larger than a similar facility the tech giant built in nearby Kenosha in 2015, and the Oak Creek location could employ 1,500 people full time. That’s about 500 more jobs than previously anticipated, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report. Amazon’s Kenosha facility employs 1,100 people, the newspaper reported.

—Meanwhile, Johnson Controls (NYSE: JCI) plans to cut 2,300 additional jobs as part of an ongoing business restructuring initiative slated to be completed in 2020, according to BizTimes Media. Johnson Controls revealed in securities filings that it plans to eliminate 11,500 jobs as part of the restructuring, up from an earlier projection of 9,200 cuts. At the same time, the company’s overall global headcount increased by 1,000 people between fiscal 2017 and fiscal 2018.

Johnson Controls, which is headquartered in Ireland but maintains a key operational office in the Milwaukee area, is going through a lot of changes at the moment. This month, it reached a $13.2 billion deal to sell its power solutions business, which makes a variety of vehicle batteries, to a group of buyers.

Jeff Engel is Deputy Editor, Tech at Xconomy. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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