Wisconsin Roundup: Uber, New Seed Fund, ‘Aladdin’ Closing

2/18/14Follow @XconomyWI

Last week was a busy one for Wisconsin’s tech and innovation community. Here are some notable news items, in case you missed them:

—Uber, the popular and (in some circles) notorious ride-sharing app, launched in Milwaukee. It’s the first Badger State location in which Uber has planted itself. It attempted to make a splash with its first rider, Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Knight. A Milwaukee presence has apparently been on Uber’s radar for close to a year, if the company’s @Uber_MKE Twitter account is any indication. The next question, of course, is whether or not local government and/or taxi drivers will sue the company. Uber is no stranger to lawsuits over its business model. And could Uber face in-state competition? I recently chatted with co-founders of a ride-sharing app being developed by University of Wisconsin-Madison students, Osoride, who aim to build their business in a way that avoids lawsuits—but who also were crossing their fingers for a lack of competition by bigger names like Uber.

—A $2 million seed fund was announced for commercializing ideas at University of Wisconsin campuses around the state. The “Ideadvance Seed Fund” will invest up to $75,000 in each project and is meant to help “evaluate product or service ideas, explore key markets, validate demand, and develop strategies for investment sources.” The UW System and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. each contributed $1 million to the fund.

—Officials shared more details about how the state-backed venture “fund of funds” program will work once it’s up and running. One interesting tidbit: one of the expected managers of the fund, Brian Birk of New Mexico-based Sun Mountain Capital, said that he first had conversations with Madison investors four years ago about getting involved in a project here, according to a report by WisBusiness.com.

—BizStarts Milwaukee, the nonprofit that supports startups, announced more details about its new BizForge program to be housed in a Schlitz Park office near downtown Milwaukee. The resource center for entrepreneurs and business leaders will open in April, the Milwaukee Business Journal reported.

—UW-Madison is shutting down its advanced physics machine located near Stoughton on March 7, citing a federal funding crunch. The Synchrotron Radiation Center is a baseball diamond-sized loop that carries speeding electrons that give off streams of energetic light particles, with a core storage device that holds the electrons, named “Aladdin.” Since 1986, scientists worldwide have used Aladdin in experiments to make discoveries in magnetism, high-temperature superconductivity, and biology, among other disciplines.

—Madison-area startups itching to pitch to Silicon Valley VCs could get their wish: The Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce is leading a delegation of local startups this summer to meet with California investors. The chamber is hosting a local pitch contest, and the winning startup will earn a spot on the California trip. For more information and to apply, click here. Applications are being accepted through March 7.

Jeff Engel is the editor of Xconomy Wisconsin. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @XconomyWI

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