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Companies to keep an eye on

Greater Madison boasts some impressive fast-growing companies, all of which deserve our attention as they work to become the ‘next big thing.’

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No leap of faith

During stints as a freight broker and shipping consultant, SwanLeap founder and CEO Brad Hollister saw firsthand how the systems that big manufacturers and retailers used to manage their shipments were wildly outdated.

To save them time and money, he started SwanLeap in 2013. The Madison company uses artificial intelligence (AI) to make sure every parcel, container, and truckload goes out under the best available rate. Custom software integrations give shippers a level of visibility into their supply chains they’ve never had before. SwanLeap says its customers that had been spending seven or eight figures per year on freight are now saving an average of 40 percent thanks to its services.

“If people are willing to take the time and the energy to poke holes at what you are doing, you know you are on the right track.” —
Brad Hollister, CEO, SwanLeap

SwanLeap’s technology platform takes into account the service requirements of each potential customer. In the B2B environment, if you have a customer that has a small bike shop down an alley, a trucking company can’t send a full semi truck down there, so it needs information placed upstream in the process so that option can be eliminated. Armed with that information, the trucking company can ship materials or products in the precise way they need to be shipped.

The AI component is a vital one because, as Hollister explains, every company and every supply chain operator works with a development plan and an “implement-the-plan-for-the-next-year” mentality. “I often joke that we don’t even have the ‘I’ figured out yet in this industry, let alone the ‘A.’ It’s a very antiquated space. Businesses that are bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue are still managing their global supply chains with Excel spreadsheets.”

Asked if SwanLeap’s automated platform leaves anything for human beings to do, Hollister says the point is to leave decision-making to the machines. “It’s pretty much down to the point where there is no decision-making happening,” he says. “The value for humans is to look at the graphs and charts, and then they can fix operations accordingly. Although we can automate this, too, humans have to print the labels and put them on the packages. It’s just the idea that the machine can make the decisions for you. We shouldn’t leave that to humans.”

The value proposition is that a typical company ships about 8 percent of its revenue, and Hollister says the SwanLeap technology puts roughly 2 percent of that revenue back into the company “so the savings can be used for further expansion, capital improvement, and staffing.” For larger employers, that means millions of additional dollars can be applied to business development.

Looking to the immediate future, Hollister says the company has started partnerships that will propel it to become a major global provider, which brings unique challenges. Meeting those challenges starts with coordinating an international effort, which SwanLeap has begun to do with offices in the Philippines and Mexico.

With fierce competition for a diverse pool of labor, Hollister says he’s learned to capitalize on criticism. “If people are willing to take the time and the energy to poke holes at what you are doing, you know you are on the right track. Nobody needs to devalue a worthless idea. Take that criticism and use it to make yourself and what you are doing better.”

Blessed with early success

Speaking to Erin Tenderholt, it’s clear the young CEO and co-founder of Blexx Technology is bursting with enthusiasm for her fledgling company.

Tenderholt, who only recently graduated from UW–Madison, hatched the idea for Blexx in the fall of 2016 as a college sophomore when a family friend who struggled with diabetes shared with her the challenges he faced. Surprisingly, the hardest part was disposing of the needles he used to administer his insulin. The more research Tenderholt did, the more she realized the unsafe disposal of used medical needles was actually a public health epidemic.

“To understand how you can use your talents to better society, you must first know what those talents are and what drives you.” —
Erin Tenderholt, CEO, Blexx Technology

In the simplest of terms, Blexx Technology is a medical waste disposal company focused on the disposal of “sharps,” which includes any device or object used to puncture or lacerate the skin. But its technology actually sounds like something straight out of science fiction.

“We have developed a product that sterilizes and disintegrates hypodermic needles on-site, in less than a second,” explains Tenderholt. “The user base for Blexx are individuals who use hypodermic needles and need to dispose of them, as well as companies that would like to provide their customers with the convenience of quick and safe disposal.”

Tenderholt notes that while hypodermic needles often administer life-saving medicine, insufficient means of disposal is causing an epidemic across America, regardless of the industry. Americans use upwards of 7.8 billion needles a year, but struggle to ensure these needles are safely disposed of. Typically, sharps have to go through a long process of storage and transportation — think of those red plastic containers on the walls of public restrooms and doctors’ offices — before they neutralized off site.

As a result, the current process is expensive, dangerous, and harmful to the environment. What Blexx provides is a safer and more sustainable alternative to the conventional disposal process by eliminating hazards immediately and on site.

Blexx is already generating forward momentum. The young company won first place and the “People’s Choice Award” in November 2018 at the Wisconsin Technology Council’s Elevator Pitch Olympics, part of the group’s annual Early Stage Symposium, and then Blexx took top honors in the business services category at the 17th annual Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest this June.

It’d be easy to take this early success for granted, but Tenderholt continues to travel the country, winning startup competitions and earning precious financing and industry recognition as Blexx looks to open its first official offices in Madison.

“In my mind everything comes down to stewardship,” says Tenderholt. “In order to understand how you can use your talents to better society, you must first know what those talents are and what drives you. My faith is at my core and my work is offered to God so that I may help my community in the way that my vocation calls me to. As a Catholic, I believe that what Pope Benedict XVI said is true: ‘The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.’ The success I achieve is God’s and it is difficult to be complacent when my vocation and mission to help others has not been fulfilled.”


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