By Tom Still

MADISON, Wis. – I don’t live in one of the 87 million U.S. households with at least one pet, but I know pet owners will spend generously to help their little companions live better lives. Entrepreneurs understand that $137 billion per year consumer market, too.

Pitches from three young companies hoping to capture a bite of the growing pet market are among the 24 five-minute presentations that will take place Nov. 8-9 at the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium in Madison, where they will compete with innovations in artificial intelligence, medical devices, manufacturing, workforce solutions and energy for the attention of early stage investors. Another batch of 90-second pitches includes a pet pitch, as well.

The annual conference is often a microcosm of ideas searching for a marketplace niche, and often reflective of Wisconsin’s economic strengths.

The pet category is a prime example. The owner of Pet Bliss, a Waupaca company, was inspired to create a vacuum-attached grooming brush for dogs and cats by watching dairy cows enjoy their grooming sessions. Contented cows; contented dogs and cats. A patent is pending.

The team behind JangoPet, a Fitchburg biotech firm, are developing cell-based regenerative therapies to combat the effects of aging in pets. They’re starting with a product for canine osteoarthritis, which is under review by the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.

Chocolate Rescue for Dogs, which scored well in the 2023 Governor’s Business Plan Contest, is a Germantown company with a patent-pending, at-home “treat” to help dogs survive ingesting chocolate. If administered with an hour of so of Fido wolfing down a toxic chocolate bar, it can help avoid costly visits to a veterinarian or worse.

Wisconsin is one of the nation’s leading manufacturing states. Young companies that will take the stage at Madison’s Monona Terrace Convention include a Madison company with innovation in adhesive application; a Wales firm with a new way to capture carbon from fluid contactors often used in manufacturing processes; and a 3D metal printing process from Stoughton that uses heat to remove other materials. Also, a Hudson company will talk about its system for replacing lithium-ion batteries commonly used for storing energy produced by wind and solar farms.

Medical pitches will include a Madison company with a rapid DNA test to identify bacteria tied to diarrheal diseases so that treatment can begin sooner; a company from Connecticut with Wisconsin ties working on a drug-based therapy for traumatic brain injuries; an Oconomowoc firm that can convert a manual wheelchair to a power chair through an easy-to-install power base; a Madison company with technology to treat patients with blood-flow complications; and a Michigan company with a portable, wearable phototherapy “swaddle” to treat jaundice in newborns.

One AI pitch ties into the healthcare world. A Madison company has developed a voice-activated platform to help people navigate home diagnostic tests or at-home medical devices. Another AI play from Bloomington, Ind., helps companies and other find skilled translators and interpreters for various projects.

Agriculture is included through a Madison company with a pinpoint system for spraying specialty crops such as fruits, citruses and tree nuts. Also in the food category is a Middleton company that is developing a national network for delivering meals from ethnic restaurants near them.

The construction industry is represented by a Madison company with a cloud-based software system to help contractors make more accurate estimates and schedule the work. Also, a Wittenburg company will pitch its system for producing green “hempcrete” blocks for construction.

Workforce ideas will include a two-side learning platform to connect employers and entry-level job seekers; a data-driven platform that can assist volunteer-driven organizations; a process that connects mentors and mentees; and a company that has established high schools in three countries using Wisconsin curricula in hopes of attracting graduates to Wisconsin colleges. All are Wisconsin-based.

In-state information technology, wealth management and cybersecurity plans will take the stage, as well.

Over the past five years alone, more than 50 companies that have taken part in the conference have raised at least one round of angel or venture capital sometime after presenting. This year’s crop will aspire to do the same.

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