From Fitness to Fashion, Gener8tor’s Summer Program a Diverse Mix

7/18/14Follow @XconomyWI

The latest class of startups accepted into Wisconsin-based Gener8tor’s accelerator features a strong Badger State flavor and a diverse mix of sectors—from fitness to fashion, big data to education.

On Friday, Gener8tor announced the five companies participating in its three-month program in Milwaukee, which begins today and culminates with an October pitch event to investors and community members. From a pool of more than 450 applicants, the companies that made the cut are Beekeeper, from Madison, WI; Hitlist of Provo, UT; Modern Movement, Madison; Project Foundry, Milwaukee; and Stock Manufacturing Co., Chicago. (More details on the companies are provided below.)

Each company accepted into the program receives an initial $20,000 cash investment from Gener8tor, plus a guaranteed $50,000 in follow-on investment from Gener8tor and its investment partners, Oshkosh, WI-based Angels on the Water and Madison-based Wisconsin Investment Partners. In exchange, Gener8tor takes a 6 to 9 percent equity stake in each portfolio company.

Gener8tor runs two programs annually, alternating between Milwaukee and Madison. Since it launched in 2012, the 23 companies in its previous four classes have gone on to raise nearly $25 million in funding and create more than 150 jobs, Gener8tor says.

Here’s a breakdown of this year’s summer class, followed by some takeaways from Gener8tor’s selection of companies:

Beekeeper has created software to help customers that use Hadoop structure their vast amounts of data and make decisions to lower their business costs. The company says it aims to democratize data analytics “in the same way that Github has democratized software engineering.”

Hitlist is a software-as-a-service application developed by Collegiate Advertising Company that incorporates gamification to provide online publishers with an embedded display advertising widget to boost engagement with users and better target customers. The adtech software has gone through beta testing over an 18-month period by unnamed American brands.

Modern Movement develops balance training products for athletes that incorporate sensor-based performance measurement and tracking. The company says it has already sold more than 2,000 units—its customers include the U.S. ski and snowboarding teams—and will start selling its products this fall in the stores of an undisclosed national outdoor recreational retailer.

Project Foundry is a Web-based workflow management system that helps teachers and students complete personalized learning projects, integrating Google Drive, self-assessment by students, collaborative communication tools, and other features. The company says it currently manages more than 250,000 educational projects for 30,000 students and teachers in more than 160 schools.

Stock Manufacturing Co. sells high-end, American-made clothing directly to consumers online, enabling it to provide clothes at a lower price by cutting out traditional retailers. The company says it has sold more than 9,000 garments in 40 states and nearly a dozen countries. Its corporate clients include Goose Island Beer Co., Soho House Chicago, and Alinea Restaurant Group.

A few themes are worth pointing out:

1. Maturity: This class includes a few companies that have already established market traction, with hundreds, if not thousands, of customers. It’s tough to gauge if it’s Gener8tor’s most seasoned program to date, however. Co-founder Joe Kirgues characterized the class as Gener8tor continuing its “track record of bringing in companies that have pure napkin ideas and companies that have thousands of customers.”

2. Diversity: Gener8tor has made a point of investing across sectors, and the latest group of startups is no different. Past investments include a handwritten letter company (MailLift), software startups like EatStreet and Abodo, cloud-enabled devices like Understory and Driblet, and a Nespresso for smoothies (LivBlends). This summer’s class features hardware, software, and e-commerce. It crisscrosses industries like fashion, fitness, advertising, and education.

“This is the most diverse program we’ve had to date in terms of domains,” Kirgues says. “We see it as the variety and the breadth of experiences adds a richness to the program that we wouldn’t have if we were just to focus on one vertical.”

3. Geography: The last two Gener8tor programs have attracted companies from around the country and outside of it, and this class features one firm from outside the Midwest (Hitlist). In addition, Stock Manufacturing marks Gener8tor’s third Chicago-based startup, Kirgues says, joining program graduates Optyn and Review Trackers.

But advocates for Wisconsin’s startup community will be encouraged that three of the five companies hail from the Badger State. That seems to be a testament to the growing quality of Wisconsin startups, considering that Gener8tor receives more applications with every class (265, 380, and 450 in the last three, respectively) and it scours the nation for quality companies.

“We’re thrilled that when we looked at the top five, three Wisconsin companies were there,” Kirgues says. “We think that bodes well for what’s going on in the Wisconsin startup scene.”

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

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