Ideadvance Seed Fund awards $275,000 to 9 innovative small businesses in Wisconsin

MADISON – Up to $275,000 in grants will be awarded to nine small businesses in the latest round of awards by the Ideadvance Seed Fund fostering the entrepreneurship ecosystem across Wisconsin.

Ideadvance is a rigorous two-stage process of seed funding and mentoring to move innovative ideas forward into feasible businesses. It is open to UW System staff, faculty, students and alumni at all campuses except UW-Madison. Ideadvance awardees must demonstrate significant progress toward a scalable, profitable business model in order to receive increments of Ideadvance seed funds.

Stage 1 teams are eligible for up to $25,000 in matching funds within a six-month period; mentorship focuses on helping reduce risk in their ideas by determining what features will solve real customer needs.

The 2019 awardees are:

  • Aquantics of Delavan, a hardware and software company designed for lake management operations;
  • Efoxen LLC of Kenosha, which provides all-natural solutions to aggression and anxiety in cats and dogs;
  • Hive Central of Oshkosh, whose bee shield provides a better way for beekeepers to winterize their hives;
  • Public Data Block of Milwaukee, which creates an Uber-like marketplace for remote notarization;
  • RCI Engineering of Mayville, which designs and manufactures specialty equipment for the agricultural and off-road equipment industry;
  • RoddyMedical of Wauwatosa, which improves the safety and mobility of loved ones in the hospital with products that organize and secure their medical lines, tubes and cords; and
  • Still Studios of Stevens Point, which focuses on The Scape, a new product that uses lighting technologies to calm humans.

Stage 2 companies are eligible for up to $50,000 in matching funds within a 12-month period by focusing on a business model that effectively delivers solutions to customers and prepares the idea for investment.

This year’s awardees are:

  • ERbin of Kronenwetter, an app-based communication platform that empowers consumers to recycle right, solves critical recycling industry problems and offers retailers a new opportunity to be socially responsible corporate players;and
  • Grouve of Milwaukee, a photo, video and fundraising software for chambers of commerce and other associations.

“Each year, I am more impressed with the diversity of ideas and participants. Ideadvance reflects the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem developing new ideas and businesses around the state,” said Dr. Idella Yamben, Program Manager. “With the Ideadvance Seed Fund, we build on those efforts helping teams to identify growth opportunities that enrich their local communities and beyond.”

Since 2014, Ideadvance — a partnership between the UW System’s Center for Technology Commercialization (CTC) and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) — has awarded $2.13 million in grantsto 64 Stage 1 teams and 19 Stage 2 teams. As of February 2019, the impact of these grants has resulted in $4.9 million in additional funding allocated to the awardees. Ideadvance is part of the WEDC’s S3 program, which is working to further incorporate startups by providing operational and financial assistance to aid in navigating commercialization barriers.

“In order for Wisconsin to succeed, we need to foster a climate of innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Chris Schiffner, WEDC Senior Technology Investment Manager. “Ideadvance creates a foundation of support for university entrepreneurs by providing seed capital and business support so they can take their ideas and technology to commercialization and a successful company launch – right here in Wisconsin.”

ERbin co-founders Michelle Goetsch and Charles Kijek are past and present recipients of Ideadvance funding. The sister-brother duo founded ERbin after seeing a need for improvement in the recycling industry. ERbin was merely an idea in May 2018, when they began the Ideadvance program. Today, ERbin is a legal entity and they are preparing to test the beta version of their app.

“Ideadvance really forced us to get out of our office and go talk to the customers and industry professionals in order to really grow our idea,” Goetsch said. “We learned to trust in the Lean Startup methodology. It takes a lot of time and effort, and it’s a lot of work, but inevitably it’s very rewarding.”

See their “Why Ideadvance” video along with other past awardees.