By Tom Still
MADISON – For many years in Wisconsin, the number of success stories in the high-growth sectors of the economy were few and far between.
Epic in Verona, Plexus in Neenah, Logistics Health in La Crosse and Promega in Fitchburg remain among the most familiar stories of companies born and raised here, in part because they’re mature companies with long track records. Fortunately, the list is growing.
One emerging story is Stratatech, a human skin replacement company in Madison recently acquired by Mallinckrodt, a pharmaceutical company based in the United Kingdom. Stratatech offers an instructive example of how innovation can move from laboratory to the marketplace with the right help.
Stratatech was founded by Lynn Allen-Hoffman, a professor in the UW-Madison’s School of Medicine and Public Health who has long been known for her work in creating skin replacements. She will speak Wednesday at the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium in Madison.
Over time, Stratatech has produced the world’s first genetically enhanced substitutes for human skin. The cells produced in Stratatech’s labs can deliver safe, effective help to patients with complex skin loss, such as burn and wound victims and people suffering from complications of ulcers and diabetes.
The science is impressive but so is the pathway that allowed Stratatech to so far clear two rounds of regulatory approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The research began on the UW-Madison campus and was disclosed to the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which patented the discoveries and handled licensing. The company set up shop in University Research Park and enlisted the help of other UW-based labs and facilities over time, particularly those engaged in working with cell therapies and bio-manufacturing.
The company attracted the attention of a number of federal research agencies and won a string of Small Business Innovation Research awards, known as SBIR grants. That merit-based federal program, in place since 1982, provides money and other assistance to help promising technologies make the leap from lab to market.
Few companies in the United States have been more successful at winning competitive SBIR grants than Stratatech, which more recently won a $247-million contract from the federal department that worries about the public-health response to “mass casualty” events. As grim as that might sound, the General Accounting Office has estimated that such as event could produce 10,000 burn victims. Preparedness is essential yet lacking, which is why Stratatech’s skin replacement technology has taken the lead.
The company has also attracted private investors and, last summer, was acquired by Mallinckrodt. It stands as a prime example of Wisconsin’s expertise around regenerative medicine, a broad term for the process of replacing, engineering or regenerative human cells, tissues and organs.
There are other examples of companies coming of age.
- PerBlue, the mobile gaming company started in Madison in 2008, recently sold its “DragonSoul” role-playing game to GREE International Entertainment for $35 million.
- Nordic Consulting, which has focused on working with many users of Epic’s health care information systems, has grown to 700 employees or consultants and about 175 clients nationally since its founding in 2010.
- Propeller Health has raised $21.5 million from a mix of investors, which will continue the growth of that company in the respiratory ailment space.
- Comply 365 moved to Wisconsin from Illinois and is helping to rejuvenate Beloit with its software products.
- JAMF Software has been a part of the revival of Eau Claire with its tools for integrating Apple products.
- Renaissance Learning in Wisconsin Rapids is producing broadly adopted educational games and tests.
- Skyward in Stevens Point in creating software tools used by a number of educational institutions.
- NeuWave Medical in Madison was acquired in March by Ethicon, a part of Johnson & Johnson, and will remain in Wisconsin.
The fact the list doesn’t stop there is encouraging. More young companies are in the pipeline, as well, with about 90 taking part in various presentation tracks and investor meetings at the Early Stage Symposium. That two-day event will be held at Madison’s Monona Terrace Convention Center.
Wisconsin’s economy will benefit if startup successes encourage more entrepreneurs to take the plunge and more investors to put their money to work.