Wisconsin’s state-backed venture capital program the Badger Fund of Funds experienced its first exit after one of its portfolio companies, Curate Solutions, was purchased in an “eight-figure” deal, Badger Fund partner Ken Johnson told BizTimes Milwaukee.
Curate, a Madison-based provider of municipal civil intelligence and monitoring services was acquired by FiscalNote, a firm specializing in global policy and market intelligence based in Washington, D.C. Like Curate, FiscalNote helps its customers monitor, manage and act on legal and regulatory changes, but at the state and federal level.
Negotiations for the deal began just months ago when FiscalNote reached out to the Madison-based startup, said Taralinda Willis, Curate CEO and co-founder.
“It’s a really good home for Curate and seems to be a perfect fit,” Willis said. “They do state and federal so well and we do local incredibly well. Putting those pieces together made a lot of sense.”
Curate developed artificial intelligence software capable of mining meeting minutes and agendas from municipalities across the country. That data, organized and presented on a dashboard, supplies companies with insights into how decisions and policy changes in local government impact businesses.
What started with data from 72 counties across Wisconsin has since grown into a database to include information from more than 12,000 municipalities across the country, Willis said. This dataset is what made Curate attractive, she said, adding that FiscalNote is a much larger company with more than 5,000 customers and 500 employees.
Curate’s team of 25 employees will join FiscalNote and its office will remain in Madison. Willis will join FiscalNote as managing director of municipal data strategy and operations while her husband and Curate co-founder Dale Willis will become vice president of data analytics.
Curate has raised $2.2 million in equity financing since it was founded in 2016 – its key investors include gener8tor, Idea Fund of LaCrosse and Allos Ventures. In fact, Idea Fund of LaCrosse was the first fund established by the Badger Fund and Curate is the first startup that Idea Fund invested in, said Jon Horne, Idea Fund managing director.
Horne says the deal is significant because exits are what drive startup ecosystems, adding that Curate’s team has also gained valuable experience from the acquisition.
“To go through this and (receive) pretty significant vetting and scrutiny from a really sophisticated acquirer is really valuable for people going through that process,” Horne said.
Curate's exit came about six years after the state Department of Administration selected Sun Mountain Kegonsa to manage the fund-of-funds and about 5 years since the firm raised the $8 million it needed to match the state's $25 million commitment in the Badger Fund.
For Johnson, the exit serves as validation that Badger Fund's "money for minnows" investment strategy is working, he said.
“From the Badger Fund's viewpoint, it completes the story and what we were trying to do,” Johnson said. “Build human capital with a public-private mix and invest in companies that are so darn good they would get purchased by others."
The Badger Fund started with a $25 million commitment from the state and has since grown to approximately $66.7 million. As of March 2021, BFOF deployed about $20 million to five funds to invest in Wisconsin companies.
Of the $20 million, about $7.6 million of the Badger Fund has been matched by $26.1 million in private funding to support 25 businesses. Of the 25 businesses, two have ceased operations, according to a Department of Administration quarterly report.