Rev Up: RokkinCat helping manufacturers embrace machine learning

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RokkinCat is a Milwaukee-based software developer and consultant with a penchant for adapting its business model in response to unsolved issues in Milwaukee’s tech community.

The company develops custom software, apps and web products, but over the years, it has tweaked its business model to include consulting and building software engineering teams for other companies that are looking to innovate.

When RokkinCat was founded in 2011, Milwaukee’s startup scene was much less established, with little access to venture capital and few agencies willing to build a company’s very first app, said company partner Nick Gartmann. At the time, RokkinCat was focused on making a single app, which the company was developing through former Milwaukee-based business incubator 94 Labs.

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But when RokkinCat staff looked around their cohort, they realized that peers developing tech products were struggling to create apps of their own, so RokkinCat abandoned its app and switched gears.

“We were like, ‘it would be really cool if we could see a lot of these products get made,’” Gartmann said. “That was our focus. Expand the Milwaukee startup ecosystem by helping more products make it to market.”

Now in its eighth year in business, RokkinCat has transitioned its client base from startup companies to mid-sized manufacturers. Instead of educating first-time entrepreneurs on how to build shopware products, RokkinCat is teaching CEOs of manufacturing companies the benefits of machine learning as well as data collection and analysis, Gartmann said.

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When the team began pursuing the local mid-sized manufacturing market, they discovered many of these companies were experts at making their product, but some were either curious about or unsure of how machine learning or an app could improve business.

“Starting to get an idea of what that market is doing allowed us to hone in on that idea of helping companies digitize these previously very analog products,” Gartmann said.

Since its inception, RokkinCat has had a vested interest in creating and highlighting local jobs in the software engineering field. When RokkinCat builds products for clients, the company also helps those clients create an in-house software engineering team, Gartmann said.

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While software maintenance is still a service RokkinCat provides, a client retains more value and less cost if RokkinCat helps the client implement its own software maintenance team, Gartmann said.

“It’s a way that we can create these really awesome jobs inside of an existing company that have a budding brand-new baby software engineering department,” Gartmann said. “Because otherwise, you bleed them dry before that full transition into a mature product takes place.”

Leadership: Nick Gartmann, partner; Jason Stiebs, partner; Josh Holtz, partner
Headquarters: 229 E. Wisconsin Ave., #1200, Milwaukee
What it Does: Software product consulting and development
Founded: 2011
Employees: 11
Next goal: Retain more manufacturing clients, keep software engineer talent in Milwaukee

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