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Nov 5, 201912:21 PMInside Wisconsin

with Tom Still

No longer exclusively biotech: Emerging companies in Wisconsin become more diverse

Throughout the 1990s and well into the 2000s, biotechnology seemed to be the only “tech” in Wisconsin when it came to startups and other emerging companies.

And why not? The state was and continues to be a hotbed for genomics, personalized medicine, stem-cell research and assay tests used for pharmaceutical testing, laboratory medicine, and more. It was a specialty consistent with the state’s academic research base in Madison and beyond.

Without diluting those life sciences sectors, others have risen. Medical imaging and medical devices were quick to follow biotechnology as related “cousins” in the sense both revolve around health care. Growing slowly at first but expanding rapidly in the last 10 years was health information technology, led by Epic Systems and its game-changing influence on digital health.

Today, the landscape has broadened to include advanced manufacturing, such as next-generation robotics and changes driven by the “internet of everything,” software of all descriptions beyond digital health, gaming, consumer products, agriculture and natural resources, business services, and sustainability. Not that those tech sectors were nonexistent in the past, but they had yet to grow to a noticeable size in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin is no longer a one-trick-tech pony, as the upcoming Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium demonstrates.

The two-day conference, which runs Wednesday and Thursday at Madison’s Monona Terrace Convention Center, will feature 43 presenting companies plus more than 40 others that are engaged in one-on-one meetings with investors. Health care is well represented throughout, of course, but so are other sectors that appear to be drawing market interest.

There is also more geographic spread than in past years, when Madison companies held a lop-sided edge in the selection process because they were often more mature and in tune with investor interests. Next week, five of the 25 companies presenting in the main five-minute tracks are from Madison, three others from other Dane County communities and the rest hail from across Wisconsin or other states.

The same holds for the 90-second Elevator Pitch Olympics, which will feature another 18 companies, often younger but just as spread out when it comes to industry sector. Here are just a few examples of presenting companies that represent the growing range of tech startups in Wisconsin:

American Provenance is a Mount Horeb-based manufacturer of natural personal care and wellness products hand-crafted in southwest Wisconsin.

Blue Line Battery is a Whitewater-based manufacturer of intelligent lithium-ion batteries that can improve the efficiency of operations.

Evolve Brands of Jackson, Wisconsin, is expanding the availability of organic and plant-based, single-serving snacks.

Hive Central is a student-led Oshkosh agri-tech company that has developed tools for beekeepers to help improve the over-winter survival rate of bees, which are essential to pollination, among other tasks.

HuTerra Rewards is a Green Bay customer loyalty program that offers a way to dramatically improve fundraising for sports teams, bands, schools, and nonprofits.

SeedLinked is Viroqua-based firm that uses crowd-sourced data and advanced analytics to enable plant breeders, seed sellers, farmers, and gardeners to choose, acquire, breed, and sell place-adapted, specialty seed.

Upstream is an Eau Claire company offering solutions for delivering audio-visual-over-internet protocol to make audiovisual systems easier to use, faster to install, and more flexible.

The Virtual Foundry, based in Stoughton, provides a path to pure metal from the desktop with its metal and ceramic 3D printing filaments that work in printers designed for plastics.

Again, there is no shortage of med-tech companies on the presentation docket, but the diversity is noticeable and offers at least anecdotal evidence that tech entrepreneurs are springing up in cities outside Wisconsin’s largest metros.

Preceding the Early Stage Symposium on Tuesday, also at Monona Terrace, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation will present a different set of emerging companies and technologies during the annual WARF Innovation Day. It’s a combination that should leave attendees feeling impressed about what tech entrepreneurs in Wisconsin can do.

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About This Blog

Tom Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.

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