After earning doctorates from Stanford University, Julie Blumreiter and BJ Johnson returned to Wisconsin knowing the resource available for startups in the state would allow them to thrive.

Graduating and earning prize money from the WERCBench Labs accelerator program on Tuesday, March 5, is the latest way the pair has benefited from Wisconsin’s opportunities for entrepreneurs. Julie and BJ took home a $10,000 prize for ClearFlame Engines, the startup they established to commercialize their high-efficiency, low-emission diesel alternative engine.

“Creating a startup can be tough, but having programs like WERCBench Labs provides the valuable support you need to keep going,” Blumreiter said. “Programs like this provide validation that what you’re doing is beneficial, and the exposure it gives you to people wanting to help is amazing.”

Operated by the Mid-west Energy Research Consortium (M-WERC) at its headquarters in Milwaukee, WERCBench Labs is a 16-week accelerator program for energy, power and controls startups. This year, seven companies received resources, assistance and office space to test their ideas and work to bring their technologies to market, as well as access to nearly 100 mentors. WERCBench participants engage in customer discovery; receive investor readiness training; and develop their business model, value proposition, financial strategies and legal and accounting methods.

The program culminated when five of the companies pitched to five judges at the headquarters on WERCBench Labs Demo Day. With support from WEDC, this program gives each graduating business a $20,000 grant and $20,000 investment, using a royalty-based funding mechanism.

“The program promotes strong collaboration, and there is opportunity to learn and benefit from interacting with incredible mentors,” said M-WERC CEO Alan Perlstein. “We want entrepreneurs to be the source of future technologies and to become tomorrow’s success stories.”

Radiant Panel Technologies, which markets new and proprietary radiant panel products and adapts them to applications, took second place and received a $6,500 prize. BlueLine Battery Inc., which engineers and manufactures state-of-the-art industrial lithium-ion battery systems for motive power and stationary energy storage, placed third and received $3,500.

According to WERCBench Labs Managing Director Jacquin Davidson, the program featured 36 startups in its first four cohorts, including two that were purchased and 10 that have received major investment capital. These companies have generated more than 120 jobs, and five companies have moved into the M-WERC building.

“A program like this is really important for these kinds of startups because there is a lot of technical risk in what they’re doing, and that can inhibit them from getting the kind of funding other companies would,” said David Linz, who served as a judge and is the client services director at the Center for Technology Commercialization. “This accelerator gives companies an opportunity and the funds needed to position them to grow and succeed when they otherwise may not be able to get over that hurdle.”