The Madison Public Library and library systems in four other cities will be equipped, by the end of the year, to archive the albums of local bands and offer them, free, for library card holders to hear and download — if Rabble has its way.

Rabble is a Madison startup whose MUSICat software will let libraries solicit songs from local musicians, contract with the artists and save the collection in a way that library users can stream or download the music. The local collections will be integrated with the libraries’ systems for checking library cards and with their online card catalogs, co-founder Preston Austin said.

Founded in 2014, Rabble is an offshoot of Murfie, the local company that lets members sell, swap and stream their CDs and albums. As reported in this column last week, Murfie co-founders Austin and Matt Younkle are stepping aside from their leadership roles and have brought in Chris Wheeler to take Murfie’s helm.

While Younkle is expected to pursue other ventures, Austin says he’ll focus much of his efforts on Rabble.

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, is the first city whose library system is using a pilot MUSICat program. Aside from Madison, Austin’s not saying yet where MUSICat will turn up next.

A for-profit company, half-owned by Murfie, Rabble will charge libraries a fee for hosting the music software and for support and development work, Austin said, but the company doesn’t want to overcharge.

“Ultimately, we would love to see the service we offer be as inexpensive as hosting a website has become, and see the licensing fees for artists be funded with parallel community arts dollars and donated dollars so as not to draw directly on libraries’ general funding,” he said.

Rabble — which has four employees including CEO Kelly Hiser, who works from Massachusetts — and Murfie have been housed at Horizon Community Workspace, a co-working space at 7 N. Pinckney St., on the Capitol Square. Murfie expects to move into a bigger location soon, so that will open space at Horizon.

There’s room for about 50 members at a time — which could mean total membership of 150 or more, Austin said.

“We’re also looking at more offerings to individuals and businesses who have another office but benefit from a pleasant workplace with a quiet, professional vibe when work or meetings bring them Downtown,” he said.

STARTUP FUNDING: Wicab, a Middleton company whose device helps blind people “see,” said it has brought in nearly $1 million from existing investors.

CEO Robert Beckman says the latest funds are bridge financing to tide the company over until a larger round comes in.

“Our real goal is to raise additional capital from some Chinese investors,” Beckman said.

That’s because the potential market for Wicab’s BrainPort V100 is much larger in China than in the U.S. There are 250,000 Americans who are “profoundly blind” while there are more than 5 million in China, said Beckman.

“We’ve gotten some very positive, preliminary indications from the Chinese government that they may be interested in helping people who are profoundly blind to acquire the technology,” he said.

The BrainPort V100 consists of a video camera mounted on a pair on sunglasses that sends messages to an electrode plate on the user’s tongue. Black, white and gray images send different signals to the tongue plate, letting the user recognize the size and shape of nearby objects.

Approved for use in the U.S., Canada and parts of Europe, sales of the non-surgical device — priced at $10,000 — have been small, so far, Beckman said.

“The reality is: most people who are profoundly blind are also impoverished,” he said. Without government or insurance support, it’s hard for them to afford the device, said Beckman.

In the U.S., most insurance companies use a Medicare coding system to determine reimbursement. Wicab has not received a Medicare code, Beckman said, because the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services require data supporting the cost effectiveness of the technology.

It’s hard to provide that information “when very few people can afford the device,” he said.

Wicab, which has 10 employees, plans to seek approval to sell the BrainPort device in China, Beckman said.

Among other companies that have received recent financing: bluDiagnostics, developing a saliva test for fertility, reports $1.2 million in convertible debt; and Wellbe, with care plans for patients after surgery, reports $1.3 million in debt financing.

Contact Judy Newman at jdnewman@madison.com with tips and story suggestions.

Judy Newman is a business reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.

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