WERCBench Accelerator Picks Startups in Drones, Virtual Reality, & More

Startups working on underwater drones and virtual reality products were among the companies chosen for the inaugural WERCBench Labs accelerator launching this summer in Milwaukee.

WERCBench, backed by a $350,000 grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., will run from June 10 to Aug. 27 at the Energy Innovation Center, a research and development hub run by the Mid-West Energy Research Consortium (M-WERC) in a former Eaton Corp. R&D facility on Milwaukee’s north side.

Accelerator participants will receive a $20,000 grant, business training, mentorship, and access to high-tech equipment for building and testing prototypes, such as supercomputers, 3D printers, and advanced power infrastructure left behind when Eaton moved out of the facility.

Dozens of startups from as far away as Indonesia and Ukraine applied for WERCBench, organizers said. Still, the 10 selected for the program all hail from Wisconsin.

“The group of startup companies and cutting-edge technologies is precisely what we had hoped to attract, but the number of applications and enthusiasm of the applications exceeded our expectations,” said Greg Meier, M-WERC’s managing director of innovation, in a press release. Meier will lead the accelerator program.

Here are the 10 companies that made the cut:

—Cadens makes small hydropower systems that are “efficient, lightweight, durable, adaptive, and affordable” for customers that include municipalities and homeowners. The Milwaukee-based company has also gone through The Water Council’s startup accelerator at the Global Water Center near downtown Milwaukee.

Comet AI, based in Milwaukee, makes software that incorporates artificial intelligence to help designers, developers, and other customers manage projects.

Digital Iris, also of Milwaukee, develops video games and other products that work with virtual reality equipment like the Oculus Rift.

—Kentriko, of Milwaukee, is an education technology company creating personalized curricula based on massive open online courses (MOOCs), job listings, and a user’s location and desired career.

—Green Bay entrepreneur Lisa Bosman is working on “performance and valuation software for solar energy panels”—basically creating a Kelley Blue Book for the solar panel industry. (The company doesn’t have a name yet.)

—Loreto Innovation, another Milwaukee company, is developing aerial and submersible “hybrid drones” that will be used to study and treat water.

—Phinding Solutions is working to bring the Internet of Things to research laboratories. The Madison company has also participated in The Water Council’s startup accelerator.

—Seiva Technologies is developing a wearable sensor system that can provide real-time muscle monitoring during physical therapy. Milwaukee-based Seiva is on a roll: it was one of two winners at last weekend’s Launch Milwaukee hackathon; it was a winner in Marquette University’s business plan contest in the spring; it participated in The Commons student startup accelerator; and it was also chosen for the Madworks accelerator in Madison this summer.

—Thermodata is developing a system to help customers in the life sciences, healthcare, and food service industries to monitor their goods throughout production, storage, and transportation. The Whitewater company just raised at least $311,000 from investors.

—Tosa Labs, based in Wauwatosa, is working on Web-based data analytics software to help industrial customers reduce machine downtime.

Jeff Engel is a senior editor at Xconomy. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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