By Tom Still
MADISON, Wis. – From three plans for cleaning large amounts of water to a nutraceutical to keep your dog from itching, and from medical science breakthroughs to novel ways to employ artificial intelligence, virtual reality and software, the “Diligent Dozen” in the 2022 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest represent a cross-section of tech innovation in Wisconsin.
Make that the “Diligent (Baker’s) Dozen” … a virtual tie in one contest category advanced 13 plans and underscores just how tight this year’s competition has been so far.
That range of business plans will take center stage June 1-2 at the 20th annual Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference, where the survivors of a contest that began in late January will compete on stage in Milwaukee for prizes and, more important, exposure.
People can register through the Wisconsin Technology Council to attend the conference at Milwaukee’s Italian Community Center.
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. First-round entries came from people in 30 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. More than a third (37%) of initial entries were from women; a similar share (38%) came from of diverse racial or ethnic backgrounds. While many of the top 13 are from the Madison and Milwaukee areas, others hail from La Crosse, Kronenwetter, Sturgeon Bay and Fontana.
Advanced manufacturing ideas in the finals all involve water. They include an energy-efficient process to remove salt from water and convert it into valuable chemicals (such as caustic soda or bleach) and create a sustainable recovery cycle; development of a water and wastewater treatment system for removal of PFAS, which are chemicals commonly found in consumer and manufacturing products; and expanding existing municipal systems to include a decentralized, high-rate wastewater treatment technology to eliminate sewer overflows and basement backups.
Entries focused on business services include a web app that collects contract forms, extracts quantitative risk data using state-of-the-art AI, and automatically produces high-caliber outputs; a business-to-business wholesale marketplace that enables frictionless online transactions between RV, marine, powersports and automotive dealers; and an engineering camp and events for middle-school girls, taught by female role models, to help girls to see their potential as engineers.
Information technology plans include an immersive virtual reality experience for molecular design of pharmaceutical products that gives researchers high-quality images; a digital platform that allows consumers to scan product UPC barcodes to get varied recycling or composting guidelines based on geographic location; a wireless wristband of sensors that allows users to directly interact with AR/VR experiences using a digital twin of their own hands; and an e-government management software with tools that help cities conduct all types of business digitally.
Life sciences plans include an over-the-counter, science-based pet nutraceutical for itch relief that is sprinkled on top of the pet’s food daily; an X-ray based tool that helps vascular surgeons and radiologists better monitor blood flow during interventions; and an over-the-counter hearing aid enabling people with mild to moderate hearing loss to fit and adjust their devices without an audiologist.
Over time, about 4,400 plans from 330 different Wisconsin communities have entered the contest. Finalists have included companies such as Atrility Medical, RevolutionEHR, Vector Surgical, Nerites, Elucent Medical, Fishidy, Hyde, bluDiagnostics, Strategic Fishing Systems, Optametra, Polco, RoWheels, MobCraft Beer, Sector67 and BadgerBites.
Known today as Eat Street, 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 finalists have enjoyed a high survival rate, especially compared to the U.S. startup mortality rate overall. Collectively, past contestants have raised at least $250 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 trip to see young companies that will make a difference tomorrow.