By Tom Still

MADISON – Large companies that work on a national and even international
scale often travel in different business orbits than emerging firms, even if those
companies are operating in the same general technology or commercial universe.

A young company that is developing a new way to help existing
devices better communicate with one another in a supply chain, for example, may
not know that a much larger company is looking for exactly that kind of
solution to improve its business efficiency and flow.

Helping those “orbits” come together in ways that foster
connections between the large and small planets in Wisconsin’s business solar
system is the goal of the Wisconsin Tech Summit, an event set for April 7 at
the GE Healthcare Institute in Waukesha.

Produced by the Wisconsin Technology Council and partners
that include the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the Tech Summit will
provide an organized way for young companies and corporate giants to meet and
explore likely business relationships around technology needs and innovation.

Those relationships might include research and development
partnerships, direct investments, strategic partnerships as vendors or sales
outlets, even merger and acquisition. With major companies on a never-ending
hunt for ideas and the revenue those innovations produce, young companies are
often a likely source.

Read this column in the Wisconsin State Journal here.

Gone are the days when larger companies only worried about
what other large companies were doing. Today, they’re also keeping an idea on
young companies they may creatively disrupt their business or industry with a
new product or service.

The Tech Summit will put together some of those larger
companies with emerging firms in a “speed-dating” setting that will allow a
series of brief meetings in which both sides learn whether there’s enough
chemistry to keep talking.

Participating major companies thus far are Rockwell
Automation, GE Healthcare, American Family Insurance, HP Enterprise Services,
Aurora Healthcare, AT&T, IBM, Faith Technologies and TASC (Total
Administrative Services Corp). Others are being invited. 

The event co-chairs are Sujeet Chand, senior vice president
and chief technology officer at Rockwell Automation, and Munesh Makhija, vice
president for global research at GE Healthcare.

Major companies will be able to hear from emerging firms
with innovative products or services tied to areas such as “big data,”
connected devices and data analytics in sectors ranging from health care to
information systems, and from power electronics to telecommunications. Emerging
companies will be able to apply to participate beginning next week through A selection
process involving major companies and the Tech Council will follow. Selected
companies may meet with more than one company, depending on interest.

A broader goal of the conference is to fuel two important
sectors of the Wisconsin economy – its major firms, which are often world
leaders, and its early stage sector, which is a source of innovation but often
disconnected from the right markets and potential users of those ideas.

While larger, more general, events can produce such business-to-business
interactions, and often do, a targeted approach allows major companies and
young companies alike to be efficient and not waste time.

“In some parts of the country, there are well-established
ways for larger companies and emerging firms to connect,” said Toni Sikes,
chief executive officer of CODAworx and chair of the Tech Council. “This is a
way to enhance that kind of connectivity in Wisconsin and our region. There are
benefits to entrepreneurs and major companies alike.”

“Speed dating” meetings on April 7 will run about 15 minutes
each. Other features of the day-long event will include:

  • “Office Hours” meetings and presentations, which
    will be available to all participants during those times in which they are not
    scheduled for individual meetings.
  • Addresses by major speakers who will bring
    perspectives that will be helpful for major companies as well as emerging
  • An opening panel discussion that will help set
    the stage by affording major companies an opportunity to talk generally about
    their goals, needs and emerging markets.

The success of the event may well be judged on how many of
the “speed dates” turn into lasting relationships, either through corporate
investments or other strategic partnerships. It may not be love at first sight
in every or any case, but every good relationship needs a start.