Bright Cellars raises $2.8 million

Wine subscription startup gets Northwestern Mutual investment

Bravo! Entrepreneur & I.Q. Awards panelists Richard Yau of Bright Cellars, Joe Scanlin of Scanalytics, Joe Kirgues of gener8tor and Dominic Anzalone of

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:22 pm

Milwaukee startup Bright Cellars has raised a new $2.8 million funding round, led by Chicago-based venture fund Cleveland Avenue, Milwaukee corporate venture fund Cream City Venture Capital and Milwaukee venture fund CSA Partners.

Bright Cellars co-founder and chief executive officer Richard Yau.

The company, founded in 2014, offers a monthly wine subscription service. It is based out of the Ward4 startup community in the Historic Pritzlaff Building at 333 N. Plankinton Ave. CSA Partners established Ward4.

Bright Cellars most recently completed a funding round in 2015, which was about $2 million, led by CSA Partners and with participation from Milwaukee venture philanthropy organization BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation Inc. Before that, the startup raised about $400,000 in two smaller rounds, according to SEC filings.

Bright Cellars has grown to more than 40 employees and 22,000 subscribers. Bright Cellars completed the gene8rtor startup accelerator in 2015 and has since increased its revenue “tenfold.” After it completed gener8tor and received the CSA investment, Bright Cellars decided to relocate from Boston to Milwaukee.

“Bright Cellars has grown to be an anchor in Milwaukee’s growing startup community and we believe the business model will continue to transform the wine industry,” said Ward4 and CSA Partners founder and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele.

“We’re excited to continue to build Bright Cellars and thankful for validation from our growing customer base and the support from our existing and new investors,” said Bright Cellars co-founder and chief executive officer Richard Yau. “Led by restaurant industry veteran Don Thompson, Cleveland Avenue’s deep operational experience in food and beverage makes them a great strategic partner. We also look forward to the mentorship and the breadth of resources that working with a company of Northwestern Mutual’s scale will bring to Bright Cellars.”

“Bright Cellars is the exact type of investment Cream City Venture Capital looks for and brings together an excellent team leveraging technology to address a large market,” said Craig Schedler, venture partner at Northwestern Mutual. “Their data-driven approach to the wine industry is a differentiator and positions Bright Cellars with tremendous growth opportunities. This investment will allow Bright Cellars to continue growing in Milwaukee.”

Milwaukee-based Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. established the $5 million Cream City Venture Capital fund in 2017 to invest in Milwaukee startups. So far, it has invested in Socialeads, Lumanu, Wantable and now Bright Cellars. Northwestern Mutual also confirmed this week it is building out a new space on its headquarters campus to house some of its portfolio companies called Cream City Labs. Wantable will not move in to the space, but Socialeads and Lumanu will do so this fall, a Northwestern Mutual spokeswoman said.

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Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.

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