MWERC awards $20,000 to energy startups

WERCBench graduates pitch their companies

Lane Nelson of Switched Source presents at Demo Day.

Six startups that recently completed the Mid-West Energy Research Consortium’s accelerator, WERCBench Labs, presented their companies to about 70 potential investors and community members Thursday at MWERC’s Energy Innovation Center on Milwaukee’s northwest side.

For the first time, WERCBench Labs held a competition at the end of its accelerator, dubbed “Demo Day.” The grand prize of $10,000 was awarded to Madison-based NovoMoto. East Lansing, Michigan-based Switched Source and Chicago-based ARIS Technology tied for runner-up, and each received a $5,000 prize.

South Bend, Indiana-based Indiana Integrated Circuits, Palos Heights, Illinois-based Global Green Products LLC and Madison-based EW Panel also completed the program and gave pitches. The only Milwaukee-based company that began the accelerator, KW Technologies, did not complete the program.

“They had to drop out because they weren’t able to attend,” said Jacquin Davidson, who administers the program for MWERC.

The 12-week WERCBench program began Aug. 29. Each participating company received a $10,000 grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. at the beginning of the accelerator and if they met expectations and graduated, a $10,000 investment, with investors receiving royalties.

The accelerator provided resources, assistance and office space to entrepreneurs as they tested their ideas or worked to bring their technologies to market. The companies had access to more than 90 mentors via MWERC’s membership.

Alan Perlstein, executive director of MWERC, pointed to the slow but steady growth of sectors such as energy, power and control in Wisconsin and Milwaukee.

“I’m excited. (The accelerator participants) worked very hard. Together, they represent tomorrow,” Perlstein said.

“These six businesses have talked to 418 customer interviews…we’ve had over 450 hours of student instruction and we’ve worked with many of our 90 members as mentors,” Davidson said.

NovoMoto has developed stand-alone solar-powered electricity systems for rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa that don’t have reliable access to electricity. It is already piloting its product in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“Our customers spend $22 per month on average for kerosene (lighting) and charging their phones,” said Mehrdad Arjmand, co-founder. “We basically offer clean and reliable electricity to substitute kerosene and diesel while at the same time saving money for our customers.”

NovoMoto was seeking $500,000, which Arjmand said would help the company power about 2,000 households for 14 months.

Switched Source has created a power electronics solution for electric distribution companies, its tie controller, which can help integrate distributed energy sources.

“For commercial and industrial customers, especially, each prevented outage can save hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Lane Nelson, co-founder.

The company has already raised $3.3 million in seed capital and aims to be acquired by an incumbent competitor.

Mingu Kang of ARIS said the company aims to eliminate human error in 3D scanning quality control measurements in smart factories using robotic automation.

“The market is moving from mass production to mass customization…so manufacturers have to make more designs,” Kang said, which increases the chance for a measurement error.

EWPanel, which began at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, makes nanogenerators that convert movements to electricity. The company has placed its nanogenerator mats under flooring to demonstrate its ability to light a room when people walk on the floor.

The startup has received interest from several larger companies, including major flooring company Mohawk Industries Inc. and Milwaukee floor sensor analytics platform developer Scanalytics Inc., said co-founder Chunhua Yao.

Global Green Products makes eco-friendly polymer products for use in industrial cooling water systems. Managing director Larry Koskan said the company is seeking $600,000 in funding to grow its customer base in its target market: middle market cooling water companies.

Indiana Integrated Circuits has more than two dozen issued and pending international patents, said co-founder Jason Kulick. The company uses quilt packaging to reduce the size and increase the efficiency of electronic components by creating more efficient chips.

Next, MWERC will host an eight-week Advanced Innovation Program beginning in February for advanced startups to focus on investor readiness. It is now accepting applications for that program.

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