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WI Watchlist: Foxconn Fund, UW Accelerator, MSOE A.I. Hall & More

Xconomy Wisconsin — 

It’s time to catch up on Wisconsin innovation news:

—Jason Franklin will manage the Wisconn Valley Venture Fund, a $100 million fund formed last August by Foxconn Technology Group and three leading Wisconsin businesses and organizations: Advocate Aurora Health, Northwestern Mutual, and Johnson Controls (NYSE: JCI). Foxconn, a Taiwanese manufacturing giant, has said it’s building a massive (and controversial) electronics factory in southeastern Wisconsin.

Franklin is a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate and an entrepreneur and investor who served as a deal term partner at the Silicon Valley venture firm Andreessen Horowitz. In his new role, he will split his time between Milwaukee and San Francisco, according to a press release. The fund will invest in early-stage startups located worldwide and developing products in healthcare, tech, manufacturing, and financial services, the sectors in which the fund’s backers compete.

—There’s a new startup accelerator on UW-Madison’s campus. The Isthmus Project aims to nurture and help commercialize innovations hatched at the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics (UW Health) and the university’s School of Medicine and Public Health. Rock Mackie, a serial entrepreneur and UW Health’s chief innovation officer, is leading the business incubator, which plans to help entrepreneurs—including faculty physicians, pharmacists, nurses, medical residents, and more—write business plans, access funding, and connect with industry experts.

The program’s name refers to Madison’s geography: the city’s core is an isthmus, or a narrow piece of land running between two bodies of water—in this case, lakes Monona and Mendota.

—EnSync (NYSE: ESNC) is shutting down. The Milwaukee-area maker of energy storage and power control products laid off “substantially all” of its employees and plans to file for receivership, according to a document filed with federal securities regulators on Tuesday. The move isn’t a big surprise, as EnSync’s business has struggled and the company said in February that if it couldn’t secure short-term financing, it would likely cease operations and file for bankruptcy. EnSync did secure funding—a $500,000 loan set to mature on Wednesday—but it seems the cash infusion wasn’t sufficient for EnSync to stay afloat.

—Gov. Tony Evers’s proposed state budget includes $15 million to support building a $100 million cancer research facility at the Medical College of Wisconsin, located near Milwaukee. The private college had requested $25 million in state funds, according to multiple local media reports.

—The Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) said it has received more than $2.5 million from donors, including corporations such as Northwestern Mutual and Dedicated Computing, to name spaces and support programs at its planned computational science hall. The facility is expected to open in the fall and focus on artificial intelligence education and other emerging technologies. The center will be named after Dwight Diercks, an MSOE graduate and Nvidia executive, and his wife, Dian, who previously announced a $34 million donation to fund the project’s construction.

—The Badger Fund of Funds, a state-supported program that doles out money to seed new venture capital funds in Wisconsin, said it has selected the sixth and seventh funds it will back, and it doesn’t plan to invest in additional venture funds, according to a quarterly report recently sent to state officials. The organization didn’t name the sixth and seventh recipient venture funds, which are in the process of completing legal agreements.

The first five funds the Badger initiative has backed are the Idea Fund of La Crosse, the Winnebago Seed Fund, Rock River Capital Partners, the Bold Coast Capital Fund, and the Winnow Fund. Funds backed by the Badger group must also raise private capital. Idea Fund, Winnebago, and Rock River have closed their first funds, while Bold Coast and Winnow are still out raising private dollars, according to the report.