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Advocate Aurora Health Inc. has invested $75,000 in Milwaukee startup Ideawake as part of a larger funding round. It is the first investment from Aurora’s $5 million InvestMKE corporate venture fund, which is targeted to Milwaukee-area startups, since it was announced almost a year ago.

Coby Skonord of Ideawake presents his company at a gener8tor event.

Ideawake offers an innovation capture software platform for corporations. The startup launched a $1 million angel funding round in late 2017, led by a local private investor, and previously received $50,000 from BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation Inc. The company completed startup accelerator program gener8tor last fall, which came with a $140,000 equity investment that is also part of this round. The funding round is still open, but co-founder Coby Skonord expects to close it soon.

Founded in 2013 by Skonord and Trae Tessmann, Ideawake has previously raised $1.2 million since its inception. The company has recently gained traction with large clients like Advocate Aurora and Sussex-based Sussex IM Inc. With the new funding round, Ideawake plans to expand from 10 to 13 employees to implement some of its new products.

Advocate Aurora’s investment in Ideawake will help the early-stage company expand and add to its product portfolio, including platforms it has been co-developing with the healthcare company, said Michael Rodgers, vice president of commercial innovation at Advocate Aurora.

“We were willing to be flexible on our roadmap in order to accommodate a mutual vision between Mike Rodgers and myself,” Skonord said. “Because of that and where we’re going next, we proved ourselves and it made sense for them to invest.”

Ideawake and Advocate Aurora have been working together for more than a year on a branded platform instance for Aurora that was used to gather and select employee ideas. They recently added on a product that takes the idea a step farther: an internal corporate incubator called Ideabox. Advocate Aurora uses Ideabox to source and act upon its caregivers’ innovations. The caregiver who comes up with an idea that is selected by the company for potential development gets some funding to immediately test it out.

“It is a new offering that we have through Ideawake. We utilize it for our frontline challenges,” Rodgers said.

Now that Aurora has completed its merger with Downers Grove, Illinois-based Advocate, Ideabox is being rolled out across the organization’s network. Advocate Aurora is the 10th largest nonprofit health care system in the United States, operating 27 hospitals and employing about 3,300 physicians and 70,000 employees.

Some of the innovations created through the Ideabox platform are promising enough to potentially become their own companies, Rodgers said. He declined to provide more detail on them at this time.

“Our goal is to not only benefit our patients that we serve, but as many patients as possible if it makes sense,” Rodgers said.

Ideabox could also be rolled out at other corporations that are seeking to make sure ideas don’t get put on the shelf, he said.

“You can capture ideas on a platform and you can polish those ideas… but the problem is at a very large organization like Aurora, if you have 100 opportunities that you want to pursue but you’re only able to pursue five of them at one time, then you’re leaving ideas on the table,” Skonord said. “What we did was we created a system called the Ideabox in order to train the caregivers themselves how to become entrepreneurs.”

“The power of crowdsourcing, along with empowering employees by being very thoughtful, what they go through, the tools that they utilize, has been key to us working with Ideawake,” Rodgers said. “You can see the change in how (caregivers) perceive and come to work now. That’s pretty cool to come to work and know that you’ve helped people reach their full potential.”

Rodgers said Advocate Aurora spent almost a year evaluating startups before making its first InvestMKE investment so it could learn more about the corporate venture capital process, and make sure it was adding value to the deals.

“Fundamentally, we want to make sure we add the most value to startups we’re working with,” he said. “At the end of the day, some of these startups will benefit a lot not only from the investment itself, but from the co-development.”

Other investments from the InvestMKE fund are in the pipeline and are expected to close “very soon,” Rodgers said.