Six local startups were recognized Monday night for $10,000 grants they each recently were awarded from the MKE Tech Hub Coalition.
All of the companies are alumni of FOR-M, a free incubator program sponsored by the coalition. This is the first time FOR-M participants received any funding related to the program, said MKE Tech Hub Coalition CEO Kathy Henrich.
The grant money came from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC) Seed Accelerator program, which supports entrepreneurship training programs throughout the state. The coalition received a total of $120,000 in grant funding and administered half of that to the six companies announced Monday, according to a press release from the coalition.
Although the coalition administered the grants, it recruited a committee of local investors to select the recipients, Henrich said. The goal of this approach was to introduce the early-stage startup applicants to investors who could potentially provide follow-on funding in the future, she said.
The investors also provided feedback and guidance to the applicants — including those who weren't selected for funding, Henrich said. The committee selected the following companies from a group of 23 applicants.
Otto Sciences: Led by co-founder and CEO Harsimran Kalsi, theplatform aims to accelerate scientific discovery by connecting scientists and early-stage biotechnology companies with equipment and research institutions.
Secure Bridges: Led by CEO and founder Shayvon McCullum, this web and mobile app connects sex trafficked and homeless youth with city-to-city resources. McCullum previously participated in the Blueprint program, a Milwaukee accelerator run by the Young Enterprising Society (Y.E.S.).
STEAM Milwaukee: Led by Katherine Schober, STEAM Milwaukee provides local students and teachers with access to resources that promote strong skills in science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) fields.
Talimer: Led by co-founder and CEO Erica Conway and co-founder and chief operating officer Ken Ostermann, Talimer is an online platform that provides jobs, benefits and other resources to help tech freelancers navigate the gig economy.
WhereToHunt: Founded by Eric Clark, this mobile app and podcast helps hunters identify occupied and unoccupied hunting land.
WorkShift: Led by co-founder and chief business development officer Manny Lara, WorkShift is a staffing platform that matches contact or "gig" workers in the restaurant, hospitality and events industries with companies that have last-minute open shift needs.
The Tech Hub Coalition plans to give out the second half of its grant funding to another group of FOR-M alumni later this year, according to the coalition's press release. Applications for the second round of grants will open June 1.
Winners of the first round of FOR-M grants each received $10,000 that was administered by the MKE Tech Hub Coalition and funded by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.
MKE Tech Hub Coalition The coalition launched FOR-M in October 2019. The program wrapped up its third cohort — which included 45 startup founders, 75% of whom represent demographics that are traditionally underrepresented in tech, according to Henrich — with a showcase event on Monday evening. Last year, 115 startups completed the program in two separate cohorts, Henrich said. The fall 2021 cohort will begin in September.
FOR-M is sponsored by the Tech Hub Coalition and run by The Commons, an entrepreneurial skills accelerator for college students in southeast Wisconsin, and WePivot, a Milwaukee-area organization that's dedicated to creating diversity within the tech industry. The group of investors that selected the grant winners included Dan Renouard, a managing director at Baird; Dana Guthrie, managing partner of Gateway Capital Partners; Matthew Friedel, co-founder of Milwaukee Venture Partners; Nyra Jordan, social impact investment director at American Family Insurance; and Todd Sobotka, portfolio manager at BrightStar Wisconsin.