Gener8tor Strikes Up the UW Band to Send Off Latest Startup Class

A year ago, Wisconsin startup accelerator Gener8tor kicked off the closing pitch event for its winter session in Madison with a laser light show and smoke machines. This year, attendees were treated to a mini-pep rally by members of the University of Wisconsin-Madison band.

A small group of trumpet players, trombone players, percussionists, and a tuba player got the party started at the Barrymore Theatre last night with rousing renditions of college marching/pep band mainstays, including the university’s fight song, “Hey Baby,” the “Chicken Dance,” and “Rock and Roll Part 2” (or “The Hey Song”). They even played “Beer Barrel Polka.”

“We’re the first accelerator ever to open a premiere night with polka,” Gener8tor co-founder Troy Vosseller joked after the band exited to cheers from the crowd of about 450.

Gener8tor and the five startups that just graduated its latest session gave the audience plenty to cheer about throughout the night. (Disclosure: Gener8tor is a supporter of Xconomy in Wisconsin, but our coverage is determined independently by our editors.)

Here are some of the highlights:

—Gener8tor revealed the previously secret identity of one of its acquired portfolio companies: Driblet Labs. The water tech startup was founded in Mexico, went through Gener8tor’s Madison program last year, and later moved to Cambridge, MA. Co-founders Rodolfo Ruiz and Carlos Mosqueda flew to Madison to be recognized on stage last night with the other Gener8tor grad that got acquired, Chicago-based Optyn.

Driblet is still being secretive, though—Ruiz declined after the event to name its acquirer, telling Xconomy it will be disclosed when Driblet’s water consumption-tracking device hits the market.

Carson Life CEO Sonia Guzman, whose company just completed Gener8tor’s program, announced she has closed a $750,000 funding round led by Milwaukee-based CSA Partners. She was introduced on stage by Chris Abele, CSA’s backer and Milwaukee’s county executive.

GrocerKey, the Madison-based provider of white-label software that lets grocers sell online, has signed up the Woodman’s grocery chain as a customer, a deal that by itself will generate an estimated $6.5 million in annual revenue for GrocerKey, founder Jeremy Neren said. Woodman’s is also investing in GrocerKey, he said.

—Keynote speaker Jack Salzwedel, CEO of Madison-based American Family Insurance, said he thinks the area’s startup ecosystem has gotten stronger over the past few years, with more dollars invested and a growing reputation. But he challenged other big Wisconsin corporations to follow American Family’s lead and invest in startups. American Family has a $50 million venture capital arm and has partnered with Microsoft on a home automation startup accelerator in Seattle, for example. “There’s still a lot of money sitting in large companies that needs to be deployed,” Salzwedel said.

Small companies probably could do a better job selling the benefits of their products to bigger companies, who are potential customers and investors. But Salzwedel thinks large companies “haven’t done a good job looking at entrepreneurs.” “Large companies are worried, perhaps a little bit paranoid, about changes in their business models,” he said.

And without further ado, here’s a recap of the presentations by Gener8tor’s latest program graduates:

AltusCampus: CEO Daniel Guerra, Jr., thinks his Madison-based company can be the Netflix for continuing medical education. Educational companies can upload their content to the AltusCampus website, where healthcare professionals can access the course materials anywhere, anytime, he said. The market is big: Guerra estimates that $20 billion will be spent this year to provide continuing education for 16 million healthcare professionals required to participate.

AltusCampus makes money by charging healthcare organizations an annual licensing fee for each employee that takes online education courses. It pays the content producers based on how much their content gets used by healthcare professionals, Guerra said. AltusCampus customers include GE Healthcare.

Bright Cellars: The business model of sending monthly shipments of goods curated for each customer has become popular with products like shoes, food, clothing, and beauty products. The team at Bright Cellars believes wine is next, CEO Richard Yau said. The company’s members take an online quiz to determine their tastes, and then they subscribe to receive a box of four wine bottles per month. They provide feedback about which wines they liked, and a Bright Cellars algorithm works to suggest better matches over time, Yau said.

The company, founded by MIT graduates, has more than … Next Page »

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

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