BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation Inc.
today announced it has made three new investments in Wisconsin startup companies totaling $250,000.
[caption id="attachment_154714" align="alignright" width="374"]
Lumanu founders Tony Tran and Paul Johnson.[/caption]
Milwaukee-based companies Lumanu
and Exit 7C
each received $50,000 investments.
Lumanu created a technology to help companies find and collaborate with social media brand ambassadors.
Exit 7C created a mobile app that allows consumers and corporate fleet managers to compare prices and purchase gas through their smartphones to prevent credit card skimming. The app also aims to give businesses more control of their drivers’ spending habits.
Lumanu was founded in San Francisco, and Exit 7C was started in Washington, D.C. Both companies participated in the fall 2016 gener8tor startup accelerator program and ultimately decided
to move their companies in Milwaukee.
Lumanu received the BrightStar funding as part of a larger $400,000 angel round, which it plans to close soon. It plans to use the funding to expand its technology platform to its partners, digital marketing agencies, so they can use it to create comprehensive marketing campaigns using the “microinfluencers” Lumanu targets, said Tony Tran, co-founder of Lumanu.
This will involve hiring two more developers, bringing Lumanu’s staff to two full-time and two-part time employees, aside from the founders.
“The part that’s hard to automate is the creative strategy behind…an effective campaign,” Tran said. “You can’t just give software to someone and sit back and hope they’ll figure it out.”
Exit 7C received the BrightStar investment as part of a larger $500,000 seed round, said Blessing Egbon, founder of Exit 7C. So far, it has raised about $215,000 – the $50,000 from BrightStar, $90,000 from gener8tor, $50,000 from Arch Grants and another $25,000 from a former Harley-Davidson Inc. executive who is now a private investor.
The funding will be used to hire more salespeople in Wisconsin, who will focus on signing up fleets to Exit 7C, Egbon said. The company, which has 10 employees, also plans to open its second unmanned gas station, ideally in Wisconsin.
Exit 7C began leasing its first unmanned gas station in Houston about a month ago, and is in the process of rebranding it. Fleet managers can use its mobile app to buy gas at the station, which does not have a convenience store and is monitored remotely, Egbon said. The customer gets a discount of up to 10 cents for using the app. It’s Exit 7C’s newest product line.
“My family owns gas stations, so purchasing the gas isn’t rocket science,” he said. “We’re just trying to control more of the supply chain so we can pass along a bigger discount to customers. That eventually will include consumers.”
Exit 7C will continue offering its mobile payment option at partner gas stations, of which there are now 374 nationwide. Gas stations pay to be partners. The gas discounts and convenience drive customers to their stations, and the risk of card skimming on pump payment devices is reduced, Egbon said.
“I equate buying gas to paying your taxes. It’s just one of those things you don’t want to do it. We’re just trying to make it suck a little less,” he said.
Madison-based startup SimpleMachines Inc. received a $200,000 investment from BrightStar. SimpleMachines invented a processing chip that reduces costs and energy usage in data centers, and simultaneously increases processing speed. Karu Sankaralingam developed the technology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. BrightStar’s investment is part of a larger funding round led by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. Madison-based Wisconsin Investment Partners also participated in the round.
"BrightStar has been an amazing partner for us in reaching our fundraising goals,” said Sankaralingam, CEO of SimpleMachines. “They even helped make introductions to VC groups that should be valuable for a future fundraising round. We expect to be piloting our unique processing chip with one or more of the super seven data centers before the end of the year. This infusion of capital will help us build the engineering teams here in Wisconsin we need to be successful."
HATCH winner announced
BrightStar also today announced the first winner of its HATCH statewide startup pitch series
on April 26 was Leak Siphon Flush Valve. The event was hosted in collaboration with NEWaukee and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.
Leak Siphon Flush Valve, which uses a simple flush valve to reduce leaky toilets to zero waste, received $2,000 to advance its business idea.
The HATCH events feature several entrepreneurs who pitch an early-stage business idea before a crowd and a jury of local business representatives. The winner of each event receives $2,000 in cash to support his or her business idea and an invitation to pitch the idea again at a grand finale event on October 11. The winner of the finale pitch event will receive a $10,000 cash prize. A location for the finale has not yet been determined.
HATCH events also will be held in Wisconsin Rapids on May 24, Wausau on June 21 and Marshfield on July 19.