LearnVest, SmartUQ, gBETA & More: This Week’s Wisconsin Watchlist

Keep up with news from Wisconsin’s innovation community with these recent headlines:

—Northwestern Mutual said it has temporarily shut down LearnVest, a financial advisory service the Milwaukee-based life insurance giant acquired in 2015 for a reported $250 million-plus. Northwestern Mutual said LearnVest will cease providing financial planning services to consumers, and will also discontinue its LearnVest@Work program for businesses. “Learnvest.com will relaunch later this year as a fresh, digital resource focused on educating consumers on how to meet their financial goals,” the insurer said in a news release.

LearnVest had been operating as an independent subsidiary of Northwestern Mutual following the acquisition three years ago. The insurer later gave Alexa von Tobel, LearnVest’s founder and CEO, the title of vice president of client experience at Northwestern Mutual. It also named Mark Batsiyan, head of strategy at LearnVest, as a venture partner in Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures, a $50 million fund for investing in startups. The insurer’s recent news release about LearnVest does not mention Batsiyan or Von Tobel, or say whether it anticipates any members of LearnVest’s team will lose their jobs as a result of the makeover.

—Kevin Conroy, president and CEO of Madison-based Exact Sciences (NASDAQ: EXAS), gave an exclusive interview to Xconomy this week in which he discussed his company’s growth, how to best educate patients and physicians about cancer screening options, supporting biotech entrepreneurs, and other topics.

—SmartUQ, a Madison-based startup developing software that allows users to test the performance of physical products and the parts they’re made of, raised nearly $1 million in equity funding from 27 investors, according to an SEC filing. The company markets its digital tools to organizations in industries such as aerospace, defense, and oil and gas, SmartUQ founder Peter Qian has said. The company, which launched in 2014, has now raised a total of more than $5.4 million from investors, according to documents filed with federal securities regulators.

—SafetyNet, a business unit of Madison-based CUNA Mutual, acquired Shift Savings, a startup based in the Milwaukee area that lets a user round up each payment she makes from her checking account to the nearest dollar and move the extra cents into a Shift savings account. That’s according to Nhi Le of gBETA, a startup accelerator Shift Savings participated in last summer.

Shift Savings is the second graduate of gBETA, which Wisconsin-based Gener8tor launched in 2015, to be acquired, Le says. The first was Madison-based Lactic Solutions, which was sold to Ontario, Canada-based Lallemand Biofuels & Distilled Spirits in October for an undisclosed sum.

—Two Wisconsin-based healthtech software startups announced a partnership aimed at improving the process of reimbursing healthcare providers for care. One of the companies involved is Milwaukee-based Access HealthNet, which develops digital tools designed to help employers save money on their workers’ healthcare. The other is Madison-based Datica, which helps set up connections between computerized patients record systems at hospitals and independent software applications. The startups said they’ll work together to ensure Access HealthNet’s software complies with laws regulating the use, disclosure, and transmission of protected patient health information, among other objectives.

—Ab E Discovery, which is developing an additive for animal feed that’s free of antibiotics and designed to help animals’ immune systems, said it broke ground on a $3.5 million, 25,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Waterloo. The company was spun out of research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which has said previously that the additives Ab E Discovery is developing are made using a protein produced by chickens that’s cultivated in eggs and then sprayed over animal feed.

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

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