The Idea Fund of La Crosse has made its first investment, as the lead in a $450,000 seed round for Madison-based startup Curate Solutions Inc.
[caption id="attachment_320543" align="alignright" width="300"] Horne[/caption]
Curate is a Software-as-a-Service company that uses artificial intelligence to identify and flag early information about construction projects. It is marketed to business development professionals working at general contractor firms, said Taralinda Willis, chief executive officer of Curate.
The Idea Fund made the investment in November, and has now named a board of directors at Curate. The directors are: Mark Platt, executive sales leader at Trane; Nick Amundsen, vice president at JAMF; and chair Anne Smith, University of Wisconsin-Madison professor and director of the Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic.
One of the funds created by the Badger Fund of Funds initiative, the Idea Fund was founded in 2016 and had raised $13 million by July 2017 to invest in 10 to 12 startups statewide.
Jonathon Horne, managing director of the Idea Fund, said its investment committee had reviewed about 150 quality companies so far, and is close to making investments in two others. Most investments will be between $300,000 and $500,000, he said, with another $1 million in potential follow-on investment for each portfolio company. The Idea Fund is industry agnostic.
Horne said the Idea Fund was impressed with the team at Curate, which was co-founded in May 2016 by Taralinda and Dale Willis, while Dale was a Ph.D. student in computer science at UW-Madison. Taralinda has an MBA from University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
“The idea with Curate is they’re solving a real problem in the industry that hasn’t been solved yet,” Horne said. “We liked that (Taralinda) had this on-the-ground experience. I think a lot of what we’ll see is people who have been working in industry, like Taralinda, who see some problem that’s not being solved and then leverage technology to address it.”
Willis worked as a project manager for construction of Union South at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which opened in 2011. During that process, she received calls from contractors hoping to bid on the project, but they were too late.
“We’re solving that problem of getting early information,” Taralinda said. “We focus on the very first piece of a construction project, which is often a rezoning project or a certified survey map, a TIF request.”
Curate is working with some of the largest construction firms in Wisconsin, and now has four employees. Its software scans more than 7,000 unique Wisconsin public municipality agendas and minutes, uses AI to pull out relevant keywords, flags upcoming opportunities, and delivers relevant information in a weekly report.
With the funding round, which also included angel and small venture capital fund participants, Curate plans to refine its product, as well as ramp up its marketing to expand its geographic reach, Taralinda said.
The Badger Fund of Funds is working to bring together trained venture capitalists and early-stage companies seeking funding across the state. The state of Wisconsin awarded $25 million in 2013 to establish the Badger Fund of Funds, which raised another $10 million from the private sector. Santa Fe, New Mexico-based Sun Mountain Capital, which specializes in regional investment programs, and Fitchburg-based Kegonsa Capital Partners are partnering to manage the Badger Fund of Funds. The fund of funds was launched in June 2016, and had two years to create six to eight venture capital funds across the state. So far, it has established the Idea Fund of La Crosse, the Winnebago Seed Fund in Neenah, Rock River Capital Partners Fund I in Madison, and a Milwaukee fund being raised by Ross Leinweber.