By Tom Still

MADISON, Wis. – The spotlight will shine on emerging companies and entrepreneurs Nov. 9-10 during the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium in Madison and with good reason: Young firms spawn jobs and invigorate the economy from below, sometimes displacing older system and companies in a process economists call “creative destruction.”

Those young companies continue to innovate after they’re mature, in some cases for decades or more. Three Wisconsin examples illustrate the point that when startup companies “grow up,” they play in larger arenas, create lots of jobs and provide goods and services that help everyone.

Promega Corp. was among the first companies to pitch at the Early Stage Symposium, called the “Madison Venture Fair” at the time, with its ideas for producing chemical and biological “tool kits” to help researchers and scientists find better diagnostics and therapies. Today, Promega has about 1,200 employees in the Madison area alone, branches in 16 countries and more than 50 global distributors of about 4,000 products – reagents, assays and benchtop instruments among them.

Recent market news about the company has focused on its standing as a leading global player in “plasmid DNA purification,” which has therapeutic uses but can also be used in research settings, such as gene cloning or mapping. With a rising number of people seeking gene therapy for chronic diseases, it is a growing sector.

Promega research has recently gone beyond the confines of Earth. Because astronauts who spend a lot of time in space are exposed to significant radiation, NASA scientists are using a Promega instrument – called OncoMate for short – to measure the effects of long-term radiation on human DNA and increased incidence of diseases, including cancer. Like many space-related technologies from the past, this testing could have much broader applications.

SHINE Technologies in Janesville is getting closer to its goal of producing medical radioisotopes on a scale that could help patients everywhere. The company recently announced testing is complete on a “supercell” device critical to production of molybdenum-99, which is used in about 40 million nuclear medicine procedures per year worldwide. When the supercell structure is delivered to Janesville, SHINE will move one step closer to federal regulatory approval and being able to produce about 20 million MO-99 doses per year at what the company calls its “Chrysalis” facility.

The company was born in research at UW-Madison and plans to build a second nuclear medicine facility in the Netherlands after the Janesville plant is running. Founder and chief executive officer Greg Piefer was recently recognized by Goldman Sachs as one of its “most exceptional entrepreneurs” of 2022.

Exact Sciences was a nearly dead company in Boston in the late 2000s when it was moved to Madison with a bit of help from state government. With less than a handful of workers at the time, it stands at about 7,000 employees with many of them in Madison.

Chief Executive Officer and co-founder Kevin Conroy took to Twitter the other day to applaud the latest ruling by the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which he said will “reduce barriers and expand coverage for colorectal cancer screening … Colorectal cancer is the most preventable, yet least prevented cancer and finalizing this change means more Americans will have access to earlier detection of this deadly disease.”

In its final ruling, CMS said it will eliminate all cost to Medicare patients for a full colonoscopy test that follows a positive, at-home colorectal cancer screening using Exact’s Cologuard stool-based DNA screening test. The company will also be a part of upcoming healthcare conferences in London, California and New York with news about other developments involving independent research at Dartmouth College and the Mayo Clinic.

Not all young companies succeed; in fact, most don’t. Those that do get over the startup hurdles can pay dividends to investors, local markets and society for years to come.

Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He can be reached at