Blog - Janesville Innovation Center

Copper Fire Tees triples business while at Janesville Innovation Center

When Copper Fire Tees started out of a basement last decade, the local cop and the local firefighter who owned the company had one T-shirt screen-printing machine in a residential basement.

They aimed to use the business to generate some extra pocket money.

The startup company has operated for nearly six years out of business incubator space at the Janesville Innovation Center, and during that time the owners’ goals have evolved, transformed and grown.

Just like any good American business should.

This month, the company is leaving its digs at the incubator on the city’s south side. Copper Fire is leaving behind a rent-and-consulting package to work out of a much bigger manufacturing space at the former Rock Theaters on Newport Road on the city’s north side.

The move comes as Copper Fire looks to tack on at least $1 million in new, contract e-commerce fulfillment work engraving brushed metal thermal drinking tumblers and other products. And the company just acquired the former Janesville company Throndsen Lettering, which it is rebranding under a new name, Branded Wisconsin.

Copper Fire’s owner, former Sun Prairie cop Brian Garcia, 38, says it is proof the Innovation Center is meeting its mission to help startups get on their feet yet stay rooted in Janesville once they grow beyond the need to operate out of an incubator.

The Innovation Center’s director, board members and Garcia say it’s a case-in-point that startups can make it in Janesville—even during an international pandemic and amid a sputtering national economy.

In spring and summer, during the height of nationwide and statewide COVID shutdowns, Copper Fire was knee deep in an expansion that came under a laser-engraving contract for an e-commerce company on the East Coast.

“In the two years we’ve done this, we’ve literally shipped hundreds of orders to people right here in Janesville. And I guarantee you, those people have no idea that the engraved products were made here in town, a few miles down the road,” Garcia said.

Gale Price, the city’s economic development director, said contract fulfillment work such as Copper Fire’s, particularly for e-commerce companies, has been a major growing industry and a rare bright spot in the COVID-19 economy.

Garcia’s contract bars him from naming the metal drinking tumbler maker he engraves and ships orders for, but he said at one point in the summer months, Copper Fire was shipping out thousands of engraved drinking tumblers a day.

Garcia said the expansion over the last year has filled space in Copper Fire’s 5,200 square feet of leased space in the Innovation Center. The company looks to grow into a 13,000-square-foot space in Jim Grafft’s former Rock Theatres building, which was last occupied by Marling Lumber.

The conversion of that space is going on now, and move-in could come in just a few weeks. It would be a fitting punctuation to a year in which Copper Fire’s sales have mushroomed and its employee ranks have boomed from three full-time workers to about 15 employees—largely thanks to e-commerce fulfillment, online shopping and emerging contracts with manufacturing brands.

But the company also is quickly becoming a go-to vendor and contractor for screen-printed and embroidered apparel for local small businesses companies. During a recent tour of Copper Fire’s manufacturing space in the Innovation Center, the company had orders shipping out for T-shirts, athletic zip-up jackets and other apparel for a local dentist’s office and an area sheriff’s office, among other designs.

Some services the Innovation Center provided Garcia, he said, wouldn’t have been available through a lease with a traditional real estate holding company.

He said help from the Innovation Center included adjusting and transforming manufacturing space in the center for Garcia’s rapidly expanding production lines, and help on legal contracts to buy the former Throndsen Lettering—including Throndsen’s thousands of archived apparel designs for its individual clients.

The experience has been a breath of fresh air for Garcia a former employee at Lear Corp., a Janesville manufacturer and auto parts supplier that imploded when its biggest client, General Motors, pulled the plug on its Janesville assembly plant in 2009.

“A lot of people that have never heard of the Innovation Center. They drive by it, and they see it, and they just think it’s just another industrial building. They don’t understand the whole concept and the programs that’s behind it,” Garcia said. “In the small business world, the Innovation Center is the gem of Janesville. I don’t think it gets enough praise, but I think eventually it will.”

The Innovation Center has graduated other manufacturers, including the startup Simply Solutions, a health product and CBD and hemp product maker that now operates out of a bigger facility on the city’s south side.

The Innovation Center was paid in part through a tax-incentive deal through the city, but in 2018 the city stopped subsidizing the center based on an earlier agreement. It operates largely off tenant rent revenue, which the Innovation Center will be short on in the interim while it hammers out deals with new tenants.

The center is now looking to fill vacancies left by companies such as Copper Fire. Mike Mathews, the Innovation Center’s director, said the incubator has a few new local companies who are poised to move in over this winter.

Mathews said the Innovation Center has requested the city sink in some spending to help it bridge the temporary funding gap.

Copper Fire’s move and rebranding also will help it crack into brick-and-mortar retail at a renovated downtown storefront the company just opened—21 West Collections on West Milwaukee Street.

That’s where the company will market some of its own screen-printed and embroidered apparel, plus other products made regionally.

Garcia hopes local companies who do business with his print shop connect the dots in his expansion. He wants more startup businesses to know a local, grassroots company formed by a former cop has launched itself into not one but three emerging Janesville businesses, thanks in part to help from the Innovation Center.

“I was a cop for seven years. I’m a very simple creature. I’m very loyal. And if somebody does something for me, I think it’s important that you don’t just say, ‘Oh hey. Thanks for the four years of a great deal, and by the way, we’re out of here,’” Garcia said.

“We’re staying here in Janesville.”

Industrial Hearing Consultation Fills Wisconsin Niche

When Cynthia Chow purchased a hearing practice in Oak Park, Illinois, she never imagined expanding to Wisconsin. But her future husband was in Janesville, and with a growing number of industrial clients in the Badger State, a second location made sense. The Janesville Innovation Center (JIC) was a perfect fit.

“We needed a brick and mortar location to establish legitimacy,” Cynthia says. “The Janesville Innovation Center was perfect.”

OSHA Compliance for Wisconsin Workers

While The Hearing Place’s Chicagoland office sells hearing aids and performs clinical testing, the focus in Janesville is on OSHA compliance. Many of the Oak Park clients live close to the practice and visit in person, but in Wisconsin, Cynthia and her husband travel around the state, acting as consultants. They visit factories and manufacturing facilities from Beloit to Green Bay to ensure employee hearing is intact.

These onsite visits are industry-mandated. OSHA requires all employees who are exposed to loud noise to have their hearing tested every year.

“Our company goes out and we do the hearing testing,” Cynthia explains. “We have software to generate reports and catch shifts in hearing. When we send the report, we might say, ‘hey — out of your 200 employees, these four had shifts in hearing. Let’s follow up with them to make sure they’re not having noise-induced hearing loss. If they are, let’s make sure they’re wearing proper hearing protection.’”

In addition to industrial consulting, The Hearing Place offers clinical hearing aids and evaluations, and has a government contract to perform evaluations for veterans. Cynthia enjoys the variety.

“It’s nice to float around between the three,” she says.

Competitive Rent, Support Let JIC Tenants Focus on Growth

Cynthia believes the decision to rent space at JIC was a smart business move for several reasons.

“Janesville Innovation Center has been great because we don’t need a lot of space, but we do want to have an actual physical location,” she says. “They have helped us look a lot more legitimate, which gives clients confidence that we aren’t going anywhere.”

There are other benefits to being a JIC tenant.

“The rent is super competitive,” Cynthia continues. “It allows you to build that clientele base. If you go to a place with high rent, your overhead is way higher and you’re more likely to fold. It gave us a nice stepping stone to grow our Wisconsin consulting business.”

Cynthia and her husband plan to stay at the JIC for as long as they are welcome there. Once they leave, she envisions adding clinical audiology and related services, but is in no hurry for that to happen.

“The Janesville Innovation Center is a great place, especially if you’re just looking to expand or start up,” she summarizes. “You have a lot of support, it’s a great facility, and you have everything you need for your business to operate.”

When Mission-Critical Solutions Matter

David Farrell knows a thing or two about Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS). Designed to provide backup power in the event of an outage, they’re an essential piece of hardware that protects both electronic equipment and data. Devices that rely on a UPS include computers, wireless routers and modems, televisions, security systems, mobile devices, and more. 

“Anything that is critical runs on a UPS,” David says. “Today’s electronics cannot withstand gaps in power.”

While most people might associate UPS with a certain global courier, David knows better. He’s a sales manager for N1 Critical Technologies, experts in the design, installation, and maintenance of mission-critical UPS systems. 

Switching Focus in Order to Compete

When N1 Critical Technologies was formed in 2015, they started out as resellers, offering UPS systems from brands like Eaton, General Electric, and Xtreme Power. Two years later they had their sights set on government and school district bids but realized they were unable to compete with suppliers, who secured contracts through lower pricing. Success demanded they develop, and sell, their own systems. 

That’s when a lightbulb went off. Or more accurately, a battery: a lithium ion (LI) battery. Nobody in the single-phase market had used one before, but N1 Critical Technologies felt it was an idea worth exploring. 

This turned out to be a shrewd business move. Pairing a UPS system with an LI battery allowed the company to offer a 10-year warranty and 15-year design life, far superior to anything else available at the time.

“As you can imagine, if you have 200 of these units in your school district or across your company, you’re not changing the battery every three to five years,” David explains. “You’re saving hundreds of thousands of dollars.” 

From that point forward, N1 Critical Technologies was able to compete for contracts alongside the brands they had once sold.

Janesville Innovation Center Offers Space & Mentorship

When David and his partner were first setting up shop, they decided a space in the Janesville Innovation Center would perfectly suit their needs. After all, it was just the two of them. 

“It made sense because we needed an office, a phone, and internet, and we had no money,” he recalls. “We did our startup with nothing down, and JIC was very affordable. It was a great leg up in order to get started.” 

In addition to the amenities provided by JIC, other intangibles came into play. The innovation center introduced them to community leaders, banks, and other business people who served as mentors to help them get the company up and running.

Eventually, N1 Critical Technologies grew to the point where they needed more space, so they purchased an office building on Parker Drive in Janesville. And then COVID happened.

“Our whole workforce went remote,” David says. “And we had the best two years we’ve ever had!”

When they finally returned to work, they were there for about three days before deciding they preferred the flexibility of remote work. They sold the building and moved back to the Janesville Innovation Center full-time, taking an additional space that included a lab for testing and holding video conferences with clients. No matter what happens next, David says N1 Critical Technologies won’t ever make the mistake of buying their own building again. Why should they when they’ve already got the perfect setup? 

“We’ll stay in JIC as long as they’ll have us or until we outgrow it,” he promises. “As long as they’ll keep us, we’d love to stay!”

Man Your Posts!

When Kane and Jennifer Carmody were growing up, their dad waged war with a stop sign. They never imagined that one-man showdown between a lawn mower and a sign post would lay the groundwork for their future business venture.

“When we were young, there was a stop sign in the front yard,” Kane explains. “We had to mow around it, and it was always getting chopped up. Dad wanted to protect the bottom part of it, so he came up with an idea in the early ‘90s.”

That idea was a piece of vinyl that would fit around the bottom of the post and protect it from mowing and trimming, but it never moved beyond the concept stages. Until Kane and his sister grew up, bought houses of their own, and encountered similar problems with cedar fences. They reached out to their dad to see if he was interested in resurrecting the idea, and Post Shields was born. 

Well, sort of.

National Sale Leads to Incorporation

Like most entrepreneurial ventures, things got off to a slow start. Kane and Jennifer teamed up to buy a 3D printer, but creating the individual panels that connect together to form a square or circle around the post was a laborious process that took 3-4 hours per panel. They brought in a friend who did CAD drawings, another one familiar with plastic extrusion, bought a saw for cutting, and improved the efficiency enough to be able to create small production runs to get started. They’d already had some success selling on Amazon, but were ready to take things a step further. 

Next stop? The National Hardware Show. Ace Hardware liked their product and agreed to put it into their retail service centers nationwide. That’s when the Carmody siblings realized they had a small problem.

“We had just sold a product we didn’t have from a company that didn’t exist,” Kane recalls. They had to file vendor paperwork and incorporate, a process that took 7-8 months. They also needed office and warehouse space and signed a lease with Janesville’s Old Towne Mall. Despite the building’s historical appeal and cheap rent, the basement space wasn’t ideal for their growing business: semi trucks were dropping off 6-8 pallets in the street, and unpacking and carrying the boxes downstairs took an entire day with each shipment. 

Janesville Innovation Center Offers Perfect Solution

Fortunately, there was a solution. The Carmodys had met with Mike Matthews at the Janesville Innovation Center and he encouraged them to become a tenant there. The rent was higher than they had been paying at Old Towne Mall, but within a month the decision to relocate had already paid off.

“That month we had 20 pallets come in,” Kane says. “With pallet jacks and a dock, it took us 20 minutes versus at least a day at our old location.”

The Janesville Innovation Center offered plenty of additional benefits, from conference room space to the camaraderie between other tenants — startups like themselves, experiencing the same highs and lows that accompany any new business venture. Through it all, they found the mentorship required for success.

“Mike Matthews has been a wonderful guide for our business,” Kane shares. “Janesville Innovation Center is an amazing place that fosters healthy startup business growth. You have the absolute best possibility to grow your business there.”
If you’re interested in learning more about protecting fence and sign posts from damage, Post Shields’ website has a solution perfect for your needs. And if you’re a new company looking for a business incubator setting, check out Janesville Innovation Center.

Janesville tech company’s products could wind up on the moon

In its half-completed state, “Spider-Bot” looks like a primordial land crab—albeit one that is made of composite plastic rated for conditions harsher than the hottest desert and coldest tundra on Earth.

The bot’s spine is hinged, a feature its developers say will help it climb near-vertical slopes with its arachnid-like legs and adjust to sudden, obtuse changes in terrain.

Spider-Bot will need those abilities because it could one day find itself navigating massive craters on the surface of the moon.

Spider-Bot is a robotic terrestrial drone made mostly of 3D printed parts that is under development by Janesville tech manufacturing startup GLW Technologies, one of the newest tenants at the Janesville Innovation Center.

It’s just one project that the company hopes could wind up in the hands of space explorers on missions to the moon and beyond.

GLW moved from Madison to the Janesville Innovation Center last fall. Late last year, the company launched a new partnership with Colorado aerospace startup Lunar Outpost to design wheel suspension parts for a lunar rover robot, GLW owner Nick Shepherd said.

Lunar Outpost’s robot could land near the moon’s south pole in 2023 under a contract with NASA to collect rock and soil samples from the lunar surface.

NASA wants to learn whether some moon materials contain enough water and carbon to help space explorers sustain long-term expeditions, which could come as soon as 2028 and run for months, even years.

The local company has styled itself partly as a contract manufacturer of niche parts made of 3D-printed materials, which Shepherd said can help other companies build new technologies faster and at a lower cost.

Shepherd and his partners are now delving into artificial intelligence design models that can produce aerospace and medical equipment parts from plastic. The parts have the look and some properties of complex organic matter, such as sea coral or animal bone structures.

“The problem is there’s no way to produce these pieces using traditional methods. You can’t mold them, and if you could, it would be very costly, so the only way to do it is to use 3D printing,” Shepherd said.

He said certain plastics his company uses in 3D printing can form parts with enough strength to withstand super-subzero cold and heat surpassing 170 degrees Fahrenheit—conditions similar to outer space and the moon’s surface.

At a national aerospace conference about a year ago, Shepherd said his company connected with a few major aerospace companies that liked the idea that GLW was making parts with 3D printer technology.

He said that’s how partnerships with Lunar Outpost and other aerospace companies eventually developed.

Shepherd said GLW was in talks this week with an official with NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts who is an expert on solar radiation on the moon and Mars.

“What I love the most about 3D printing is that it can be a massive equalizer in industry, how we can design and print so many different materials,” Shepherd said. “And we do all that with literally a push of a button. Out comes these wonderful potential parts that can do everything from testing if you have COVID in three minutes to operating on a lunar rover on the surface of the moon, and eventually Mars.

“It’s amazing to me that these things are being done in a building in Janesville. Some people think the future’s 20 years down the road. But it’s here, right now.”

Spider-Bot and other projects aside, some plans GLW is tackling are rooted on this planet.

This week, Shepherd and his partners Andrew Maule and Andrew Klinge were working out wiring modifications to the computerized drive attached to their prototype “Windigo,” a six-rotor helicopter drone that is made almost entirely of 3D printed parts.

Shepherd was limited in how much he could say about the new project. But his company hopes to design and build lighter aerial drones with interchangeable, 3D-printed parts that can lift, carry and drop off heavier items, such as ground drone vehicles, among other things.

Shepherd envisions aerial drones being increasingly used in complex, large-scale visual analysis work, such as crop surveying and nuclear power plant inspections.

GLW’s move to Janesville and occupancy in the innovation center has put the company in a better position to grow, Shepherd said. He said the entrepreneurial environment is more inviting and inclusive to his startup than what he experienced in Madison, where GLW started.

“Janesville is not a small pond at all. We haven’t found that. What we have found is that we thought we were bringing something unique to the area, and the people here have listened to us. It’s a very positive environment for us.”

Nick Shepherd of GLW Technologies helps inventors shoot for the moon

In this new feature, local economy reporter Natalie Yahr gets “In Your Business” with local entrepreneurs, discovering how they got where they are and what’s driving them now. 

Nick Shepherd started inventing early. By fourth grade, the Milwaukee native was was posing for a newspaper photo with a cardboard mockup he’d created of a self-driving lawn mower. 

But as the young inventor continued designing, cardboard wasn’t cutting it. He wanted to begin building with plastic, the go-to material for manufacturing, but soon discovered he’d need to buy a mold for injection molding, a set-up that could cost around $100,000.

“It’s so expensive, it’s almost impossible for anyone, especially someone who is an 18-year-old guy, to have access to those kinds of resources,” Shepherd said. “It really stymied my ability to invent and create.” 

It was at Sector67, a makerspace on Madison’s east side makerspace, that Shepherd, then a college student, found a solution: 3D printing. 

Two decades later, Shepherd owns more than 40 3D printers and makes a living by eliminating that barrier for other inventors. His 3D printing company, GLW Technologies, provides design services, rapid prototyping and short-run manufacturing, helping startups and established businesses to quickly turn designs into objects. 

The company wasn’t always focused on 3D printing. When Shepherd launched GLW around 2013 as part of a University of Wisconsin-Madison sustainability competition, he was a microbiology undergrad growing algae to turn into biofuels in his 12th floor Langdon Street apartment. The endeavor proved unsuccessful, leaving Shepherd with a ruined carpet and a security deposit to pay. 

But today, the company is laser focused on 3D printing, GLW attracts clients looking to sign million dollar deals. Last fall, GLW expanded production from its New Glarus home base to a spot at the Janesville Innovation Center, a hub for entrepreneurship and technology. 

The company’s short-run manufacturing service allows start-ups to begin production even if they can’t yet afford to produce several thousand units. To qualify, the business must know what it plans to build and for whom, and the idea should be “innovative, fun/cool, or otherwise uplift humanity in some way,” according to the online request form.

Among those ideas is a solar-powered water purification system in the lid of a water bottle, designed by Roving Blue, a company based in Lena, Wisconsin. At the push of a button, the device uses ozone to disinfect water, making any water drinkable within minutes. 

“We didn’t invent that,” Shepherd said, but GLW’s 3D printing technology meant the business could start small before scaling up. “We helped them get their first 50 units so they can start changing the world.”

Shoot for the moon

Shepherd has also turned his tools and training toward the coronavirus pandemic. When supply shortages threatened to leave frontline workers like his mom and wife without the equipment they’d need to protect themselves, Shepherd worked with a team of local makers to design and fabricate 3D respirator masks. Now they’re working with biotech company Baseline Global, which is seeking FDA approval for a patent-pending medical device designed to use biomarkers in saliva to test for health conditions including COVID-19, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. 

Despite the pandemic, 2020 brought major wins for GLW. The company’s design of a versatile drone frame that can accommodate a variety of attachments won a Defense Innovation award from Tech Connect, a pipeline connecting innovations to clients and funders. The project’s modular design means the same frame can be adapted for everything from delivering lunch or surveying disaster damage to reseeding coral reefs or spraying crops, simply by 3D printing the necessary attachments.

That could dramatically reduce the cost to use commercial drones, whose price tags often range from $30,000 to $70,000, he said. Just as cars didn’t take off until Henry Ford devised cheaper production methods, Shepherd thinks a price drop could change the game.

“The big thing is having an open source, affordable thing,” he said. “We’re using 3D printing technology to do something that’s never been done before.”

GLW’s work will soon reach new heights — literally. The company 3D printed the suspension systems for Colorado-based aerospace company Lunar Outpost, which was recently awarded a contract to bring back moon samples. 

“So, hopefully within the next four years, our company will have parts on the moon.”

The four questions 

What are the most important values driving your work?

The biggest one is invention is not an option, it’s a requirement. I think the biggest difference I’ve seen between companies that are struggling in 2020 and the ones that are exploding is their ability to embrace new innovation and see that it’s not just something that is for some companies — it’s for all of us. 

How are you creating the kind of community that you want to live in?

Everything we do is about building a new world that’s cleaner, and by cleaner I mean less pollution, more automation and more equity. We’re enabling new technologies to build a better future for all of humanity, whether it’s using drone technology to increase efficiency in crop production, or logistics systems so that we can create better transitions in a post-COVID world or helping small businesses enable their ideas to function. We love working with companies with innovative technology that has positive effects in the world, and that’s really our core focus.

What advice do you have for other would-be entrepreneurs?

Patience and persistence are the most important thing to entrepreneurship. People aren’t more successful than you are, they’re just more persistent longer until they are. There’s no magical formula. I wasn’t a straight A student in school. You don’t need to have vast resources. It’s just about patience, persistence and making great connections through building great personal relationships. Find something that people really need, and then relate it to something that you’re very passionate about, because at the end of the day, if you’re not passionate about it, you’re never gonna stick with it. 

Are you hiring?

Yes. We’re always looking for people. We understand that 3D printing is a very narrow field, so we’re (willing) to train. We’re really looking to grow pretty big here in 2021.

County Launches Emergency Small Business Fund

Date: April 10, 2020

(Janesville, WI) – In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rock County Board of Supervisors recently approved a $1 million dollar emergency loan program. This fund, known as the Rock County COVID-19 Emergency Small Business Loan Fund (SBLF), is designed to assist small businesses in Rock County that are experiencing financial difficulties which are directly attributed to the global COVID-19 pandemic. The maximum loan amount available to an eligible applicant will be capped at $20,000; and the proceeds from that loan will be weighted toward small businesses that are seeking bridge and/or long-term, permanent working capital financing to help stabilize, sustain, strengthen or restart their operations. The online SBLF application portal is tentatively scheduled to open on April 24, 2020.

“We recognize the economic hardships that our small businesses, particularly those with fewer than 20 employees, are experiencing and we wanted to help”, said J. Russell Podzilini, Rock County Board of Supervisors Chair. An appointed seven-member Loan Fund Committee, consisting of four Board of Supervisors and three members of the public, will be in charge of the SBLF. Meanwhile, the County’s Planning, Economic and Community Development Department will manage the fund’s day-to-day operations.

While the SBLF is open to all for-profit, private-sector businesses that are considered in good standing and not operating as home-based businesses, funding will be prioritized for service producing businesses – particularly those that are independent (i.e. non-franchise) and businesses that support the hospitality and business services sectors, respectively. These loans will be structured as low-interest, working capital loans with terms that have an ability to extend up to 60-months. These specific details, as well as final loan making decisions, will be determined by the Loan Fund Committee.
County Administrator Josh Smith noted, “Economic recovery efforts are fueled by public / private partnerships, and this emergency small business fund reinforces the County’s commitment to keeping those partnerships active and functional.”

“This is another tool that our team can deploy to facilitate, as well as accelerate, economic repositioning and revitalization efforts throughout the Janesville-Beloit MSA”, said James Otterstein, Rock County Economic Development Manager.

The SBLF will remain active until the funds are exhausted; and opportunities to leverage, solicit, receive and/or co-mingle non-County funding streams will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Additional SBLF information will be available online at this link in the coming weeks.

Press Release Contact: James Otterstein
608.757.5598 or

Janesville Innovation, Inc. Receives $40,000 State Grant to Support Rock County Entrepreneurship

February 14, 2019 – Janesville Innovation, Inc. (JII) has been awarded a $40,000 grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) to help fund the organization’s efforts to advance the climate for entrepreneurship and small business through the Rock County Entrepreneurial Business Development Program (RCEBD).

Janesville Innovation, Inc. is one of 9 Wisconsin organizations to receive a grant under WEDC’s 2019 Entrepreneurship Support program, which will build-upon the area’s ecosystem by providing customized, consultative services. Nearly $500,000 in matching grants were awarded statewide.

“WEDC congratulates Janesville Innovation, Inc. for being among the recipients of this grant, which enables organizations throughout the state to provide more resources to support their local entrepreneurial communities,” said Mark R. Hogan, Secretary and CEO of WEDC, the state’s lead economic development organization. “Through this program, we are supporting local and regional organizations that understand the unique needs of their communities and can provide key resources to foster a statewide culture that celebrates and encourages entrepreneurs to build successful businesses.”

According to James Otterstein, Rock County Economic Development Manager, the local network of economic development organizations and their partnering service providers have been experiencing a consistent flow of requests from emerging entrepreneurs, as well as existing small businesses.

“Over the past three years, we have leveraged the services of multiple organizations – such as the Janesville Innovation Center (JIC) and Irontek – and thanks to the support of the WEDC grant, we can continue to enhance RCEBD’s offerings,” said Otterstein.

Barry Brandt, Janesville Innovation, Inc. Board President stated that, “While we have a good pulse on the growing entrepreneurial and small business activity in Rock County, it’s difficult to provide the levels of required services with limited financial resources. With a solid foundation already in place, we look forward to leveraging this WEDC grant with local public/private funding to increase our collaborative efforts; sharpen our focus; and expand our services to a larger constituency base.” 

Other 2019 grant recipients include: BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation of Milwaukee; Oconto County Economic Development Corporation of Oconto; Green County Economic Development Corporation of Monroe; Couleecap Inc.of Westby; Indianhead Community Action Agency of Ladysmith; Concordia University of Mequon; UW Health Innovation Hub of Madison; and Western Dairyland Economic Opportunity Council Inc. of Eau Claire.


About Janesville Innovation, Inc.

Janesville Innovation Inc. (JII) is a regional, 501(c) (3) corporation that oversees the Janesville Innovation Center (JIC); and the extensive management, mentoring and business assistance services provided to JIC tenants. The purpose of JII is to provide entrepreneurial and small business development opportunities by offering a supportive infrastructure, education, training and mentorship environment. Additionally, JII facilitates the establishment of value-added relationships that encourage technological innovation, job generation and the continual repositioning of the area’s economy. For more information, visit . 

About the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) leads economic development efforts for the state by advancing and maximizing opportunities in Wisconsin for businesses, communities and people to thrive in a globally competitive environment. Working with more than 600 regional and local partners, WEDC develops and delivers solutions representative of a highly responsive and coordinated economic development network.  Visit or follow WEDC on Twitter @WEDCNews to learn more.

Janesville Innovation Center continues to succeed

Five years since opening its doors to entrepreneurs in 2013, the Janesville Innovation Center will be self-sufficient this year after the city stopped subsidizing it in 2017, the center’s operations manager told the Janesville City Council on Monday.

Mike Mathews said the business incubator he manages at 2949 W. Venture Drive on the city’s south side is currently at capacity. Two current tenants are planning to leave, and others are lining up to fill those vacancies.

N1 Critical Technologies will soon finish its relocation to the former Red Cross service center at 211 N. Parker Drive in downtown Janesville.

Mathews said the company’s renovation of the building is a “must see.”

K4 Innovations will move to Edgerton, Mathews said.

Three potential tenants have emerged to replace those companies at the innovation center, he said.

“Fortunately, the demand for the space has timed well with the exit of some of our tenants,” Mathews said.

The city stopped subsidizing the center last year. The plan all along was to slowly decrease how much city money went into the center before cutting funding altogether.

“We’re surviving totally now on our rental income, which is a lot easier to do when you’re at 100 percent” capacity, Mathews said.

The center budgeted conservatively this year, but rental revenue this year will outpace expectations, he said. The center budgeted $124,000 in revenue and $110,000 in expenses for 2018.

The center has had a total of 13 tenants, seven of which occupy the center now.

Monthly rates to rent office suites that include utilities range from $275 to $465. Rates for manufacturing spaces range from $515 for 450 square feet to $2,185 for 4,200 square feet, according to the center’s website.

Councilman Jim Farrell asked if the rates are constant or if they’ve fluctuated. Mathews said they increase by about 3 percent annually.

Janesville tech firm is on the move

JANESVILLE—Nate Ellsworth is picturing a day soon when he can remotely chat with employees at his Janesville tech company, N1 Critical Technologies, using a Segway scooter equipped with a video chat screen on top.

Spitballing on the idea, Ellsworth’s partners at N1 dubbed the roving scooter, which would feature Ellsworth’s disembodied face, “Segway Guy” or “Segway Nate.”

“At least, that’s what we’d call it to its face,” N1’s Chief Financial Officer David Farrell said.

In an interview Tuesday, Ellsworth, Farrell and N1 Critical Technologies Director of Operations Matt Hess came off as both jocular and excited, and they have reason to be.

The partners say their 2-year-old company has grown by leaps and bounds in recent months, with N1 absorbing more and more of the space available at its home, the Janesville Innovation Center on the city’s south side.

Now, N1 is eyeing a move out of the Innovation Center, a local business incubator that Ellsworth said has been instrumental and “amazing” in helping the company launch and grow.

The company is planning a new product launch that Ellsworth said would make the company a true 21st-century innovator, and it would do that in a new location: the vacant former Red Cross service center at 211 N. Parker Drive in downtown Janesville.

N1 bought the 9,000-square-foot building in August for about $250,000, Ellsworth said.

In tandem with buying the new building, N1 has worked with a Chinese partner to develop and ready for market a new series of uninterrupted power supply (UPS) systems that would run on lithium-ion batteries, Ellsworth said.

UPS systems are used to protect computer systems and large electronic data and telecommunications centers from power interruptions that can damage equipment or lead to massive data loss.

Ellsworth said N1 would be the first IT company he knows of to customize and sell such systems with lithium-ion battery technology.

He said lithium technology would simplify and improve the way UPS systems are powered and create a new class of systems that could run up to five times longer compared to systems that use standard, lead-acid batteries similar to traditional car batteries.

As he spoke, Ellsworth, 34, adjusted a Milwaukee Brewers ball cap that topped his attire, which included a sport coat; an untucked, button-down shirt; fashion jeans; and cowboy boots.

“We’re the only one out there doing this. I haven’t slept in months, and all I can say is that I’m excited,”

Ellsworth, a Westfield native, said he decided to take N1 on a plunge into lithium ion after a revelation he had that was based at least in part on the battery technology in his own car, an electric Tesla Model S P90D.

As N1 plans to get its new digs in downtown Janesville renovated and move-in ready—possibly by the end of 2017—Ellsworth and his partners are set to unveil a new product line, which includes new racking systems and connection components.

The company could begin to build the units in Janesville soon, and Ellsworth and Hess said their company is hunting for a third facility where it could ramp up building UPS systems and racking equipment and store the products.

N1’s projects that in the next three or four months, it could begin to build 1,000 of the new systems along with the traditional systems it continues to sell, install and service.

Eventually, Ellsworth said, the company could grow to build and sell several thousand units a month, although it’s not clear how soon the company might dive into full manufacturing of the products yet. Some of the systems it customizes are built by other tech firms.

Now, N1 has sales offices and operations in several suites inside the Janesville Innovation Center, and a move downtown would allow the company to do hiring it needs to tackle an expansion and new product launch.

Under N1’s own projections, it could need to grow its employee base from 20 people to 30 or 40 within a couple of years, Ellsworth and Farrell said.

That hiring would largely be to handle accounts the company expects to gain through its regular business and its entree into lithium-ion-powered products. Ellsworth said N1 already has a national sales presence that includes business with Raytheon and Google.

Ellsworth said N1 liked the location of its future downtown headquarters, and he says its two-floor layout would allow the company to set up open-air sales office space, along with an operations, data and customer support center, while having leftover space to add some Silicon Valley-style flourishes.

Some ideas to that end include an adult-sized slide that would span both the building’s floors, a kitchen, gym and locker rooms, and a chill-out area where employees could play video games, race drones and relax.

N1 is also working on turning the building into a technology-smart facility with copious videoconferencing setups and a lobby equipped with a giant touch tablet that would allow visitors to electronically summon N1 officials.

“Every employee is going to get a hoverboard. It will be like a Willy Wonka factory come to life,” Ellsworth said

Ellsworth and Farrell said N1 is now working with the city of Janesville on a potential tax-incentive deal they said could help with an exterior facelift as the company makes re-use of a building downtown that has sat vacant for more than a year.

A rehab of the building’s interior could cost N1 $300,000 to $400,000, Ellsworth said. He said the idea is to gear the building to be N1’s corporate headquarters, regardless of where growth might take the company.

Farrell said despite what could be a tricky renovation project and exterior re-design, N1 so far views the city as an “ally” in the company’s plans to grow downtown.

Two maintenance workers at the Garden Court Apartments, which is adjacent to the former Red Cross building, were curious Tuesday about recent activity they’ve seen next door.

One of the men, who did not identify himself by name, was surprised to hear it was a local IT firm moving into the former Red Cross.

“It’s good to have a tech influence in downtown,” the man said. “Something like that … that’s Janesville moving forward.”