Business plan contest finalists reflect range of innovation in Wisconsin

From a better way to integrate pockets in women’s sportswear to more effective heart monitoring during surgery, and from one-stop power conversion software to a pickup compost service, the top 12 in the 2021 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest represent a deep well of innovation.

Literally … there’s also a finalist who has developed a way to remotely monitor a water well without opening it.

That range of business plans will take center stage June 2–3 at the virtual Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference, where the “Diligent Dozen” — survivors of a contest that began with more than 250 qualified entries in late January — will compete for prizes and, more important, exposure. People can register through the Wisconsin Technology Council to watch the competition.

Organized in categories of advanced manufacturing, business services, information technology, and life sciences, the contest is broad enough to attract entries that reflect the extent to which technology has become a staple in almost every industry.

It is broad in other ways as well. The 250-plus entries came from people in 32 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. One hundred women submitted plans in the opening round; six of 12 finalists are women. Nearly 20 entrants were military veterans. Seventy-nine competitors were people from diverse racial or ethnic backgrounds.

That’s emblematic of the fact that entrepreneurship isn’t just for white, urban males in their 20s — although there a lot of them too — but for people from across the spectrum of geography and more.

Advanced manufacturing ideas include a way to monitor water wells from a cellphone; specially designed women’s wear to allow users to carry items comfortably, securely, and hidden from view while exercising, running errands, and more; and power conversion software that can work across many industries.

Entries focused on business services include a system to provide direct access to certified court reporters and videographers for legal proceedings held outside courthouses; a subscription-based model for women who want to write and publish their own books; and a business that works with businesses and residents to divert food scraps and yard waste from the landfill year-round.

Information technology plans include a platform to bridge the digital divide in health care by bringing simple, cost-effective technologies to “resource deserts”; a “creativity arcade” to draw children off video games by gamifying their reading, writing, and drawings; and a scalable, clinical platform to deliver high-quality health care in “at-home” urgent care settings.

Life sciences plans include a device that allow surgeons and operating teams to better monitor treatment of atrial arrhythmias during heart procedures; a small molecule drug that acts like estrogen to mitigate menopausal side effects; and a virtual pharmaceutical company developing drugs that alleviate brain-lung connected disease conditions.

Over time, about 4,300 plans from 330 different Wisconsin communities have been entered in the contest. Finalists have included companies such as RevolutionEHR, Vector Surgical, Nerites, Elucent Medical, Fishidy, Lynx Biosciences, Hyde, bluDiagnostics, Strategic Fishing Systems, Optametra, Platypus Technologies, Reza Band, RoWheels, MobCraft Beer, Sector67, and BadgerBites.

Known today as EatStreet, the founders of BadgerBites built what has become one of the nation’s largest online and mobile food ordering and delivery services.

Some lunar-sized craters were left by promising finalists too, but that’s not unusual in the world of emerging companies. A more striking fact is that past BPC finalists have enjoyed a high survival rate, especially compared to the U.S. startup mortality rate overall. Collectively, past contestants have raised at least $225 million in angel and venture capital and venture debt — all while creating jobs and economic value in Wisconsin.

The Entrepreneurs’ Conference will provide a mix of high-level speakers, panelists, and more. A highlight is always the pitches of those whose business plans emerged after scrutiny by volunteer judges who know what to look for. It’s worth the virtual trip to see young companies that will make a difference tomorrow.

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