It’s rare that a spinoff company ends up buying its parent. But that’s what happened with STEMhero and MeterHero, two software startups born in Milwaukee and recently rejoined.
In 2011, McGee Young, then a professor at Marquette University, taught an environmental politics class in which students brainstormed ideas to help people better understand how much water they use. One of the students in the class was Nathan Conroy, who has a degree in secondary education and had previously taught at a high school in Sherwood, OR.
The group discussion helped inspire Young and Conroy to co-found H20score, which began as an online portal allowing homeowners to compare water usage data to past billing cycles, and offering rewards for reducing one’s water footprint. The Milwaukee-based startup eventually changed its name to MeterHero, and broadened its scope to focus on conserving energy, in addition to water.
In 2013, MeterHero was part of the first batch of startups accepted into The Water Council’s water tech accelerator, dubbed “Business Research Entrepreneurship in Wisconsin”—the BREW for short. Conroy says that schools in the Milwaukee area sometimes took field trips to the Global Water Center near the city’s downtown, which houses the council and accelerator.
“Students would see our poster and they’d say, ‘Oh, that’s really interesting: data analytics that relate directly to a student’s life. Can we use that in school?’” Conroy says. “For a long time, our answer was, ‘No. This is something that we’re just doing with homeowners.’ That really propelled me to focus on education.”
So in 2014, Conroy split off and launched STEMhero, which is similar to MeterHero but is aimed at educating adolescents about consuming and conserving natural resources, through their schools’ curricula.
And earlier this month, STEMhero finalized a deal to acquire MeterHero’s technology, website domain, and other assets, Young confirmed to Xconomy.
“It came around full circle,” says Young, who in 2014 moved his family—and MeterHero—to the San Francisco Bay Area. “[Conroy] did a really great job finding a great niche, use case, for that functionality.”