By Tom Still

MADISON, Wis. – Known to many I-94 travelers as the exit with an outlet mall, the Wisconsin village of Johnson Creek will take on a different identity this fall when the first “AgTech Venture Day” draws a mix of investors and young companies to town.

The Oct. 2 pitch event will feature 15 companies – from as far afield as Israel, Germany and British Columbia, Canada, and as close as Middleton, Viroqua and Madison – with technologies that could change how crops are grown, how livestock is raised and how natural resources are sustained.

Investors from the Midwest and beyond will gather to hear each company’s story and to consider investments somewhere down the line. The event has the backing of investors such as Milwaukee’s Golden Angels, 4490 Ventures, the State of Wisconsin Investment Board and Open Prairie, organizations such as the Wisconsin Technology Council, and private sponsors.

In a state and region where agriculture is an economic staple, the right investors want to see technologies that can advance precision agriculture, use of drones, crop rotation, robotics and animal health monitoring, to name a few.

The AgTech Venture Day is one specialized example of how young companies and innovators can get their ideas in front of investors who can help turn it into reality. Another upcoming event, with a track record of success that span decades, is the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium.

Set for Nov. 7-8 at Madison’s Monona Terrace Convention Center, the Early Stage Symposium has introduced up-and-coming companies to prospective investors and contributed to Wisconsin’s high-growth economy over time.

This year’s event will again provide platforms for emerging companies across a wide range of sectors to pitch their ideas and business plans.  Those 40 or so companies will range from firms that have raised angel or venture capital in the past to first-time presenters with little more than a compelling idea.

Over time, about 600 companies have pitched at the event – and the list includes its share of success stories.

Past presenters include Promega (then called Promega Biotec), TomoTherapy (now Accuray), Virent, Mirus Corp., Sonic Foundry, Prodesse, NimbleGen, Nerites, Idle Free Systems, Third Wave Technologies, Stratatech, PanVera, Soft Switching Technologies, Invenra, MobCraft Beer, OnKol, HealthMyne and many more.

The 2018 format includes two pitch opportunities, the Tech Council Investor Networks track and the Elevator Pitch Olympics, as well as “Investor Intros,” which will allow pre-selected companies brief, one-on-one meetings with targeted angel and venture investors. The deadline for applying for any or all three is 5 p.m. Sept. 28 through

  • The Tech Council Investor Networks track will feature about two-dozen companies from the Midwest representing an array of industries, such as advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, health care, information technology, medical device and mobile application sectors. Each will present for five minutes and earn other opportunities for mentoring and exposure.
  • Companies or entrepreneurs selected for the Elevator Pitch Olympics will give a 90-second pitch in front of conference attendees and a panel of six to eight investors. The investors will score the presenter on a scale of 1 to 5, focusing on whether the pitch was compelling enough to arrange a follow-up meeting, and will offer immediate feedback.
  • Companies picked for the Investor Intros will have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with investors from Wisconsin and beyond. To foster this type of communication, the Investor Intros will feature pre-scheduled, 7-minute strategic meetings between investors and emerging companies. This format will resemble a “speed dating” exercise, allowing both parties to learn more about each other and explore potential relationships.

There are many ways to approach getting young companies off the ground, from boot-strapping to the “minimal viable product” approach. Angel and venture capital isn’t right for every company, but the process of pitching to those investors can help entrepreneurs decide what’s best for them and their idea.

Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.