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Energy Innovation Ignites Within Milwaukee's Century City

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation awarded $350,000 to M-WERC, the Mid-West Energy Research Consortium, to launch a 12-week, mentor-driven program.

WERCBench Labs is designed to support startups in the fields of energy, power and controls.

M-WERC was founded in 2009 by three universities and four industrial companies “with the mission of conducting collaborative and transformative energy-related seed research.” From A.O. Smith to UW-Parkside, the consortium has more than 80 members today.

The WERCBench Labs will work out of M-WERC’s headquarters at 27th and Capitol in Milwaukee.

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The building originally built by Cutler-Hammer has been renamed to carry the Century City signature.

The last manufacturer to have operations on this site  was Eaton Corporation. The power management giant used the seven-story building as its R&D facility.

“It’s a perfect home for M-WERC. Its labs...are just very unique facilities,” says the consortium's director of business development, Jeffrey Anthony.

Anthony says M-WERC’s goal is to nurture businesses that research and develop energy, power and control systems and bring them together. Thus, creating a hub of regional developers.

While it started five years ago with a Wisconsin focus, M-WERC now folds in seven surrounding states; and interest continues to spread.

“We just had a member join this week, they’re actually based in Boston. They have their research facilities in Michigan, which is one of starts, but out of Boston," Anthony says. "They heard about this and wanted to be part of this because the ability to connect with our members is one of the key values."

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M-WERC plan calls for up to 20 researchers testing their designs on the building's second floor.

When the WERCBench Labs program kicks off in June, M-WERC’s office space on the seventh floor will be its home base.

To draw them in, crews have morphed the building’s top floor from the olive greens and browns of the 1960s. Nearly every wall is white boarded so researchers can scribble down inspiration, whenever it strikes.

Only a handful of staffers rumble around, but Anthony says that’s about to change. M-WERC has enlisted a support team.

“We have our law firm, financial accounting firm will be moving in there, our engineering firm there, so they will literally be surrounded by our business service providers counseling, mentoring,” he says.

Anthony says M-WERC corporate members, including Rockwell Automation, Brigggs and Stratton and Johnson Controls, will also mentor the startups.

M-WERC is located in the upper right corner.

M-WERC’s office provides a bird’s eye view of the Century City parcel. Life is slowly sprouting from the abandoned industrial space.

Anthony tiptoes guardedly into the role M-WERC might play.

“It’s not our primary vision, but let’s say we have 20 start-ups in here a year from now, not all 20 will be successful, not all 20 will be taking the next step and creating an actual manufacturing company or building things, but if some of them are – that’s the long-term goal, is to see manufacturing reborn in this part of the city,” he says.

There could be more immediate connections between Century City and M-WERC.

It is brainstorming with the City of Milwaukee to explore how new buildings constructed on the parcel might pilot cutting-edge energy technologies - everything from its generation, to storage and efficient distribution; elements M-WERC's members and entrepreneurs hope to bring to life.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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