MILWAUKEE, March 4, 2020 – BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation Inc. today announced that it has invested in two more Wisconsin based companies: Stem Pharm, Inc. and AgriCycle Global, Inc. These investments bring to 54 the number of early-stage Wisconsin companies in which BrightStar has invested.
Stem Pharm, Inc. is a Madison biotechnology company focused on creating adult stem cell derived neural organoids to evaluate drug treatments for neural diseases. Its unique in vitro models will explore new therapeutics for the most devastating central nervous system (CNS) diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, ALS, and brain cancers such as glioblastoma multiforme (GBM).
AgriCycle Global, Inc. is a Milwaukee based vertically integrated company with a portfolio of ethically sourced and up-cycled consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands. Agricycle sells fully traceable, 100% natural, organic and hand-grown fruits from ancestral trees empowering over 35,000 rural farmers from across the world to help eliminate food waste and create economic opportunity. Agricycle has three main product lines. Jali Fruit Co. is a family of fun, tropical sun-dried fruit with no added ingredients. Tropicoal Ignition is better-for-everyone charcoal made with coconut shells, cassava and palm, which burns hotter and lasts longer than traditional charcoal. Thirdly, What the Fruit?! is a gluten-free alternative flour line made out of 100% fruit.
Joshua Shefner, Agricycle’s CEO and founder, studied structural engineering at Milwaukee School of Engineering. BrightStar discovered him at our 2018 Hatch event in Chippewa Fall and recommend him for the Global Student Entrepreneur pitch program. He won the regional event and was a semi-finalist at the national event, both firsts for someone from Wisconsin. That lead Agricycle to being accepted into an inaugural 15-week Target Incubator in Minneapolis that had more than 400 start-ups apply for only eight slots in the program. Agricycle is now getting support from organizations around the world, including US Agency for International Development, the World Food Programme and the African Development Bank
Another recent BrightStar investment, “Give Me Liberty”, is a film that has now received acclaim from critics around the world. The freewheeling yet profound comedy was shot entirely in Milwaukee and was co-written, directed, and produced by individuals from the area. It debuted in Milwaukee and went on to become only the fourth film ever to be invited to both the Sundance and Cannes film festivals. It was also nominated for four Spirit Awards and won the John Cassavetes Award for the best independent movie with a budget under $500,000 in February 2020.
The $20,000 film investment marked the first time that BrightStar has deployed capital in an investment opportunity other than tech-based start-up companies. Hopefully this test investment leads to a new separate effort to leverage BrightStar’s unique model to help build the creative space ecosystem. Talent from this space has become essential over the past decade to fill new jobs in innovative large corporations, small businesses, and early-stage companies throughout the state. Investments in this space would expand on and complement BrightStar’s ongoing Wisconsin angel and venture investing mission.