Gener8tor Demos Latest Startups, Growth of Local Scene

4/4/14Follow @XconomyWI

Thursday night’s closing event for gener8tor’s winter startup accelerator program in Madison, WI, was an indication of the progress made since January by its five new graduates. It was also a microcosm of how Wisconsin’s overall startup community has grown in the past two years.

More than 400 people packed Madison’s Barrymore Theatre to listen to pitches from the latest class of early-stage companies: Driblet Labs, Edison DC Systems, LivBlends, Men’s Style Lab, and Review Trackers. That’s the highest turnout so far for a gener8tor event, co-founder Troy Vosseller told Xconomy, and the fact that the program attracted a “who’s who” of Wisconsin investors, entrepreneurs, and government officials speaks to the cachet that gener8tor has built since its 2012 founding. On hand were Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. chief operating officer and deputy secretary Ryan Murray, and prominent Milwaukee investors Jeff Rusinow and Don Layden, to name a few.

Layden, an operating partner with Baird Capital’s venture capital group, has personally invested in gener8tor portfolio companies EatStreet and Catalyze, a startup that also received money from Baird. Layden met with gener8tor’s latest group of companies earlier in the three-month program, and their evolution was evident to him last night.

“The quality of the companies coming in continues to get better,” said Layden, an Xconomist.

Some Madison startups have looked to accelerators outside the state over the past few years, including Murfie, Drifty, and Snowshoe, which all participated in Techstars programs around the country. As gener8tor continues to improve, more Wisconsin companies will try to get in, but some won’t make the cut because the program will be more selective, Layden said.

“That’s a positive,” Layden said.

The accelerator took five companies out of 380 applicants, a 43 percent spike from the 265 applicants in the previous class in Milwaukee last summer.

In total, gener8tor says it has invested in more than 20 startups that have attracted almost $20 million in outside funding and created nearly 100 full-time jobs. The program is still in the early stages when compared with more well-established accelerators like Techstars and Y Combinator, and gener8tor still needs to prove itself with exits by portfolio companies.

But for now, supporters of Wisconsin’s startup community say they are glad that gener8tor is here—one of the ingredients contributing to the growth of the Badger State’s still-nascent tech scene.

“I think there’s still a scarcity of pre-revenue…early-stage startups” in Wisconsin, Rusinow told the crowd before introducing LivBlends on stage. “But it’s good to see the emergence of angel funds, incubators, and accelerators.”

Without further ado, here’s a recap of the startups’ pitches from last night:

—Driblet Labs, whose co-founders are relocating the company from Mexico to Wisconsin, has developed a patent-pending smart water meter that aims to be the Nest of the water industry. Driblet’s self-powered, Wi-Fi-enabled device measures the temperature and volume of water pumping through a pipe, then sends the data to the cloud in order to help homeowners and businesses better monitor and conserve their water supply, said co-founder and CEO Rodolfo Ruiz. But the Driblet device isn’t exclusively for water tracking. Beer-making behemoth Anheuser-Busch InBev has shown interest in using Driblet to “measure how much beer is being consumed right at the tap” in bars, Ruiz told the crowd. The device will retail for $129, and Driblet is aiming to sell 10,000 units worldwide this year.

—Grafton, WI-based Edison DC Systems is trying to help solve a problem that dates back to … Next Page »

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

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