FRI AM News: Blue Line Battery approaching profitability, president says; WisBusiness: the Podcast with Trish Lane of Foley & Lardner

— The president of Blue Line Battery, a Beloit-based startup producing lithium-ion forklift batteries, says the company will begin turning a profit in July. 

“Most startups never see that, so our business is really, really growing,” Phil Fonfara said yesterday during the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference, held by the Wisconsin Technology Council in Milwaukee. 

He said the business has raised $5.7 million to date, nearly all of which came from within the state. 

“We are unique in that we are not backed by any venture capital funds, any managed money funds. Our shareholders are primarily angel groups,” he explained, pointing to Milwaukee Venture Partners, Silicon Pastures, Midwest Wealth Ventures and others. 

Since partnering with a Pulaski contract electrical component manufacturer called MCL Industries, Blue Line Battery has ramped up its production. 

“Initially we were doing about five to 10 batteries a month with them, at the start of our partnership about a year ago,” Fonfara said. “Now we’re scaling up to 100 batteries a month starting in August. That is really what’s turning our course to profitability.” 

He noted several million electric forklifts are used each day in the United States, 95 percent of which use lead-acid batteries. He said these batteries use a “tremendous amount” of electricity compared to the newer lithium-ion variety. According to Fonfara, Blue Line Battery helps its customers save up to 70 percent of overall electricity consumption. 

“When you think about two million forklifts running in the U.S. every day — electric forklifts — these aren’t like electric vehicles where they might be used one to two hours a day,” he said. “Some of them are being operated 22 to 24 hours a day.” 

He said forklifts running on lead-acid batteries emit hazardous fumes and have to be charged in specific rooms with venting to prevent explosions from occurring due to gas buildup. Because lithium-ion batteries create no emissions and reduce energy usage, he predicts this technology will be widely adopted within the next decade. 

Fonfara added lithium is recyclable and all the materials used in the Blue Line’s power cells can be obtained from recycling companies. While the company currently sources those cells from China, he said company leaders are “looking to bring production in house” and incorporate recycled materials into that process. 

— Two Wisconsin investors urged entrepreneurs at the conference to be patient, avoid overly technical pitches and do their homework ahead of meeting with potential investors. 

Tim Keane, director of Golden Angels Investors in Milwaukee, said “everything takes longer than everybody thinks” when it comes to growing a startup company. 

Jenni Le, an associate with Venture Investors in Madison, said some founders can get caught up in explaining the technical details while investors are often more concerned with other aspects of the business. 

And she cautioned those seeking investment against casting too wide a net, instead urging attendees to select pitch targets that fit the business in question. 

“It shows us that you’re serious about fundraising and that you’re not just spraying and praying,” she said. “And you do have to kiss a lot of frogs to find the investor prince, certainly it can take a lot of meetings. But don’t just spam investors’ inboxes.” 

Both investors said startup teams with prior successful exits are typically more successful, while Le also highlighted the importance of technical expertise and existing industry connections. 

Listen to an earlier podcasts with Le: 

— Rapid Radicals Technology, a Milwaukee firm with a water treatment solution, has won this year’s Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest. 

An award ceremony for the contest was held during yesterday’s Tech Council conference in Milwaukee, recognizing Rapid Radicals Technology as the grand prize winner of this year’s competition. 

The company beat out 12 other finalists who presented their companies during the conference this week for its ability to treat wastewater “at a municipal scale” when storm events lead to overflow. 

“Rapid Radicals was born of a flood in Milwaukee that frustrated homeowners, businesses and city officials alike,” Wisconsin Technology Council President Tom Still said in a statement. “At a time when the resiliency of municipal water systems is vital, our judges saw the value of Rapid Radicals’ ability to dramatically speed up the cleaning of effluent.”

See more details in a release: 

— This week’s episode of “WisBusiness: the Podcast” is with Trish Lane, a partner and finance attorney in Foley & Lardner’s Milwaukee office. 

She discusses a program that provides small business owners in Wisconsin with free consultations from volunteer attorneys and law students, as these companies continue to navigate the pandemic and other challenges. 

It was launched about one year ago by a subcommittee of the Wisconsin Bar Association in partnership with Marquette Univerity Law School. Lane explains the program was established after she and other colleagues had been getting many questions about mask mandates and compliance with other regulations. 

“We thought, maybe there’s something we can do to just help generally so that if there are questions — whether COVID-related or not — that there’s a resource for these people,” she said. “The small business owners are trying hard to serve the community. They’re really an integral part of making Wisconsin and Milwaukee and other areas of the state vibrant.” 

Listen to the podcast here: 

See the full list of podcasts: 

— Gov. Tony Evers announced his administration will use the vast majority of the $129 million in broadband grants authorized this biennium to cover requests made by a December deadline.

The administration originally announced last year it planned to hand out $100 million in grants. Yesterday, it upped that to $125 million, accounting for all of the general fund-supported borrowing that was approved in the 2021-23 budget for the grants.

There’s another $4 million available through transfers from the universal service fee fund.

The Public Service Commission received 194 applications requesting more than $495 million from the program, and the agency is expected to make grant decisions in the coming weeks.

The awards marks a continued ramping up of the program. Nearly $24 million in grants were awarded in fiscal year 2019-20 and $28.4 million in 2020-21. Altogether, the program has awarded $72.6 million from its inception in 2013-14.

Along with the $125 million that will be awarded to those who applied by the December deadline, Evers has also directed $105.3 million in federal COVID-19 funds to expanding broadband access.

The PSC a year ago estimated it would take between $700 million and $1.4 billion to fully cover Wisconsin with access to broadband.

It now estimates about 650,000 state residents don’t have access to high-speed internet. The FCC puts that number at just less than 400,000.

— Madison is getting over $400,000 through the Federal Transit Administration to “restore and improve” transit services impacted by the pandemic. 

That’s according to a release from the U.S. Department of Transportation announcing $25 million in total grant awards going to transit agencies in 24 states. Funding is being provided through the FTA’s American Rescue Plan Additional Assistance Route Planning Restoration Program. 

The grants will be used by the transit agencies for projects aimed at boosting ridership and reducing travel times to offset pandemic impacts on travel patterns, the release shows. 

City of Madison Metro Transit will use its grant funding for a plan to restore services to pre-pandemic levels with a focus on low-income riders and disadvantaged neighborhoods, the FTA site shows. 

See the full list of grant recipients here: 

— Dem AG Josh Kaul has opined that the UW Hospitals and Clinics Authority could voluntarily engage in collective bargaining with its nurses, but isn’t required to do so.

Evers asked for the opinion, noting that section of statutes that deals with employment relations and collective bargaining doesn’t expressly mention the authority.

Former Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 ended collective bargaining powers for most public employees more than a decade ago. That includes eliminating language in state law that covered union powers for UW Health employees.

In an October Leg Council memo, the agency opined they didn’t have the ability to collectively bargain with UW Hospitals, pointing to the removal of language from state law that specifically mentions the authority.

Kaul, however, believes there could be other reasons for why the specific language was removed and it shouldn’t be seen as a blanket ban.

The opinion comes as nurses have been pushing for the past two years to have union representation.

Read the AG’s opinion:

— A new study led by a UW researcher found longer periods of medication treatment for opioid use disorder are linked to “significant reductions” in overdose risk. 

Marguerite Burns, associate professor of population health sciences at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, led the research effort. Results are being published in the scientific journal Addiction, a release shows. 

The study included data for nearly 300,000 Medicaid beneficiaries in Wisconsin and 10 other states being treated for opioid use disorder in 2016 or 2017 with medications that reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings. 

Researchers found patients who took their medications for a 60-day period had a 61 percent lower risk of overdose, compared to those that stopped before 60 days had passed. And they found overdose risk fell another 10 percent for every additional 60 days of medication treatment over a 12-month period. 

“Longer is better, but even relatively short episodes of medication treatment for opioid use disorder — as short as 60 days — are associated with significant reductions in the risk of overdose,’’ Burns said in the release. 

She argues performance metrics that “encourage health systems to increase retention in treatment, rather than to meet one duration threshold,” would lead to better patient outcomes. 

See more details: 

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