Noncompetes, Wine Clubs, Broadband, & More: This Week’s WI Watchlist

Gyms are swarming with people, temperatures are dropping below zero, and the Green Bay Packers are alive in the NFL playoffs—it must be January in Wisconsin. Make it a resolution to stay plugged into the state’s innovation community, starting with these recent headlines:

—Wisconsin could be hurting itself in its effort to spur more entrepreneurship by “embracing employer-imposed noncompete contracts,” wrote Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in an op-ed on UrbanMilwaukee.com. Barrett cites findings that nearly 30 million workers in America are currently bound by noncompete agreements, and says that Wisconsin allows companies to place tougher restrictions on past and present employees than other states, such as California.

Joe Kirgues, a co-founder of the Wisconsin-based startup accelerator Gener8tor, made some of the same points Barrett makes in his op-ed when Kirgues was asked how the Badger State might improve its dismal performance in state rankings by entrepreneurship levels. Kirgues said in August that he believes existing laws in Wisconsin are too friendly to corporations, and harsh on workers. And some state lawmakers wanted to change the rules to be even more pro-business, but those efforts failed, Kirgues said.

—Niko Skievaski, one of the co-founders of Madison-based Redox, was one of 600 people selected to the annual Forbes “30 under 30” list, in the healthcare category. Redox is a healthtech startup that focuses on brokering connections to the electronic health records systems used at many hospitals and clinics. Skievaski reflected on his selection in a post on his company’s website.

Another person named to the “30 for 30” list was Anurag Garg, co-founder and CEO of Indianapolis-based Dattus. That company, which equips machines with sensors that can share data with Web-connected servers—and with each other—went through Gener8tor last spring.

—Several early-stage companies in Wisconsin—some headquartered here, and some participating in programs such as Gener8tor—have found success delivering goods to customers’ homes each month under a subscription model. The companies source and ship a variety of items, including makeup, clothing, wine, and even cat litter. Leaders at the companies seem to relish, and see benefit in, playing the role of underdog as they compete with brick-and-mortar stores, as well as large e-commerce companies like Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN).

—One company mentioned in Xconomy’s story on subscription services, Milwaukee-based Bright Cellars, was also featured in an item published by the Capital Times on Wednesday. The article’s author, Lindsay Christians, discussed her experience signing up for and receiving wines from Bright Cellars and another monthly club, New York-based Vinfluence. Christians estimated that the four bottles Bright Cellars shipped to her were worth “perhaps a little less” than what she paid. She also griped that she was not able to tell from the startup’s website what grapes were in the wines she received.

—Quintessence Biosciences, a life sciences company based in Madison, faces an uncertain future following the departure of CEO Ralph Kauten in early 2016. Ronald Raines, one of Quintessence’s two co-founders, said that his company is looking for a new CEO, but declined to comment further. Kauten, one of Wisconsin’s more successful biotech entrepreneurs and currently CEO of Lucigen, another company based in the Madison area, is still on Quintessence’s board of directors. He said he believes there’s a chance that the company won’t end up hiring another CEO, but that he didn’t want to make any predictions.

—Internet service providers such as Charter Communications (NASDAQ: CHTR) are helping to bring faster connection speeds to rural communities across the state, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. One potential benefit of ISPs making these types of … Next Page »

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Jeff Buchanan is the editor of Xconomy Wisconsin. Email: jbuchanan@xconomy.com Follow @_jeffbuchanan

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