Three Milwaukee companies selected for new gener8tor class

Ideawake, SteamChain and GenoPalate picked from large national pool

gener8tor co-founders Joe Kirgues and Troy Vosseller.

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:05 pm

The seventh try was the charm for Milwaukee idea management software company Ideawake.

gener8tor co-founders Joe Kirgues and Troy Vosseller.

Founded in 2013, and having pivoted its focus a couple of times, Ideawake was recently able to gain traction among some large clients and begin generating revenue, said co-founder Coby Skonord. That’s why this time around, the company was accepted to Milwaukee startup accelerator gener8tor.

Ideawake is one of three Milwaukee-area startups accepted to the class of six, a rarity for the program, which has a sizable applicant pool—about 600 in this round. It is notoriously difficult to gain entry to the nationally-renowned accelerator, which invests up to $140,000 in each participant in return for a 6 percent equity stake. The class gains access to its vast network of investors, experts and mentors during an intensive 12-week program.

Milwaukee-based SteamChain and Brookfield-based GenoPalate Inc. are also participating in the latest gener8tor class.

Trae Tessmann, Coby Skonord and Tim Elfelt of Ideawake.

Ideawake’s software, targeted to large companies with 250 employees or more, helps employers collect, evaluate and implement the best ideas from its employees and customers. The company was originally called Inventalator and was an open innovation platform for building new products, but now is sold to employers as a Software-as-a-Service product on a monthly subscription basis. It now has seven global clients, and expects to add another five this year, Skonord said.

“We helped a client save $1.4 million over six months,” he said. “We’re bringing to the table the tool itself and the process about how we onboard everybody and get the tool used correctly.”

The company has raised a $550,000 seed round, and plans to launch a new $750,000 round in the next two months to scale its business. By participating in gener8tor, Ideawake hopes to meet both potential customers and potential investors, he said.

“For us, what we were looking for more than anything was client introductions because we have a product that works and we have case studies on it,” Skonord said.

SteamChain helps automate manufacturing revenue

SteamChain is a much newer company than Ideawake, founded just this month by former Rockwell Automation Inc. employees Michael Cromheecke and Tom Tichy.

Cromheecke

“We worked together for many years at Rockwell on some major software developments where he acted as the technology lead for and I acted as the business lead,” Cromheecke said. The pair are continuing that arrangement at SteamChain.

The fact that SteamChain is a manufacturing technology business may have set it apart, he said.

“The Gener8tor program is going great,” Cromheecke said. “This kind of support for the startup community in Milwaukee is enormously valuable to the community. I think this community could be the Silicon Valley of manufacturing.”

The company’s blockchain-based software allows machinery manufacturers to offer their customers usage-based financing. Instead of selling the customer a limited warranty and deciding subjectively over whether repairs would be covered under the warranty, the software gathers objective data from the machine itself about usage patterns and then pays the manufacturer based on those numbers.

Tichy

“What we’re doing is we’re allowing the performance of the machine to actually drive the terms of the relationship between different stakeholders on the equipment,” Cromheecke said. “We remotely monitor the machine and use the performance from the machine and use that data as input to smart contracts that allow for fairly sophisticated distribution of the rewards based on the performance of the machine directly.”

This allows the machine-builder to offer its hardware as a commodity on a leased basis, and could help the machine makers set themselves apart in a highly competitive, fragmented market.

“The nice thing about SteamChain is it’s automated,” he said. “It doesn’t require a team of auditors to go out there and determine whether the machine ran.”

SteamChain now has three employees and is actively recruiting to take advantage of early-stage customer opportunities, including a large Milwaukee corporation. The founders are currently bootstrapping its costs.

SteamChain took 150 meetings with investors and entrepreneurs in its first week-and-a-half at gener8tor, which has been helpful as it gets started, Cromheecke said.

“I’ve got 17 years in the industry, but I don’t know anything about how to start a business,” he said. “That kind of involvement and investment of people’s time in our business is extraordinary.”

GenoPalate creates custom diet recommendations

Brookfield-based GenoPalate offers personalized nutrition recommendations to individuals via genomic sequencing.

Founder Yi “Sherry” Zhang has a doctorate in molecular biology and is an assistant professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin. She has published research based on the data from Milwaukee-based weight loss program TOPS Club Inc. for 10 years, and had also seen the challenges the U.S. faces with malnutrition-induced metabolic disorders.

Customers can buy the GenoPalate testing kit for $299 online, and the company ships the materials to provide a saliva sample and demographic and lifestyle survey. GenoPalate’s four employees then analyze the genetic profile of the individual and profile 38 biomarkers to provide actionable data, such as lactose intolerance.

“Based on our reading, we’ll give you the dietary framework,” she said. “Recently, we developed a new actionable piece and we call it a personal grocery list. I’m busy, you’re busy, we want to know what to buy.

“By knowing the technology and all these mechanisms behind how the nutritional environment and other environmental cues have shaped our genome, it doesn’t quite make sense to me that we are being offered with one-size-fits-all solutions. Every day, we’re facing so many new choices.”

Zhang founded GenoPalate in November 2016, and it has about 60 early adopter users. She previously completed an earlier stage gener8tor program, gBeta, which prepared her to apply for gener8tor.

“It’s quite an honor and exciting moment, and I know from watching their alumni what happened in the past and I think this will be a great boost to the future of GenoPalate,” she said. “We’re not making a profit yet, but we want to return all the value back to the use of bettering users’ life. The information people get is really full of value.”

All six of the participants in this latest gener8tor class will pitch their companies to investors, entrepreneurs and community members upon their completion of the program at a Premiere Night in November.

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Molly Dill
Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.