Students in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences are regularly assigned to write about Wisconsin companies that participate in the annual Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest and the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium. They are part of a senior capstone class taught by Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. Please review our portfolio of recent student news features to learn more about some of Wisconsin’s up-and-coming companies.



Entrepreneurs’ Conference

Colorful Connections helps companies meet diversity employment goals

By Ave Dieck

After a year of historic social and racial turmoil, many corporations have committed to create an inclusive and diverse workplace. Those pledges can fall short of accomplishing company goals due to a lack of diversity-focused hiring resources.

Morgan Phelps, founder and chief executive officer of Colorful Connections, aims to overcome these challenges by creating a social enterprise and full-service diversity talent agency to represent skilled, diverse individuals.

Founded in 2019, Colorful Connections matched 10 clients into jobs and organized 11 workshops and training events in its first year.

According to Phelps, their services are “led and designed by the voices of the under-represented.” The team is comprised of human resources, recruiting, and communications experts who share a passion for cultivating inclusive workplace cultures.

The team of specialized recruiters work to provide recruiting, coaching and consulting to a variety of under-represented professionals who “reflect the spectrum of diversity” in an inclusive hiring process, Phelps said.

Colorful Connections helps HR teams through identifying the primary problems of their recruiting approach and offering services to connect them with diverse talent to match their hiring needs.

What makes Colorful Connections different from other recently emerged diversity recruiting services is that it addresses the “full employee life cycle and work(s) with clients to create sustainability within their organizations,” explained Phelps.

For individuals, this includes professional development services aimed at achieving future career success, including resume and portfolio assistance.

One major way the company can fulfill the needs of clients is through direct communication with the network of under-represented professionals established by Colorful Connections. This allows for a faster, more efficient hiring process.

Beyond matching employers with talent to meet their hiring needs, Colorful Connections also focuses on establishing an inclusive and welcoming culture in the workplace. This is achieved through workshops, programs and assessments.

“We stand out for our holistic approach to creating long-lasting solutions,” Phelps said. “Our insight and relatability provide an edge and makes us approachable and more effective, versus typical consultants and companies.”

The interconnected services offered by Colorful Connections aim to “attract, retain, and grow inclusive teams that represent the spectrum of diversity in alignment with companies’ business goals.” These three pillars guide the organization to “achieve meaningful and lasting results with diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives,” Phelps explained.

Like most other businesses, Colorful Connections was not immune to the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. After all business contracts were cancelled through May, the company spent the rest of 2020 converting services to be offered virtually, as well as finding new clients and expanding their team. The main goals in 2021 include doubling both the number of successful candidate placements and the workshops and trainings they provide.

Further, the company is working on launching an online marketplace to allow employers direct access to connecting with talented individuals. This subscription-based solution also provides resources to assist organizations in improving social and cultural competencies.

Due to its success this far and the unique services it offers, Colorful Connections is among the semi-finalists for the 2021 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which will culminate at the Entrepreneurs’ Conference in June. Visit to learn more.

Dieck is a graduating student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.


‘Steady Shot’ aims to help Type 1 diabetics with their injection routines

By Reagan Stultz

Communication is critical in any healthy relationship, including the relationship between you and your body. Think about how your body talks with you. Does it need energy? If it does, your stomach will grumble, begging you for food. Did your body overexert itself during a workout? You’ll feel fatigued and have lasting muscle soreness, warning you to take it easier next time.

Type 1 diabetics must be highly vigilant of their body’s signals to prevent catastrophic events. Steady Shot is a product designed to help people with diabetes check in with their bodies while maintaining their active lifestyles.

Human bodies are typically efficient at extracting nutrients and transporting the energy source for cells to use. However, people with Type 1 Diabetes can create the energy source, glucose, but cannot transport it into cells, leaving an individual deprived of essential nutrients.

This is equivalent to pumping a car’s gas pedal, but a fuel-line clog prevents it from getting to the engine, so it never runs. The “clog” is formed because Type 1 Diabetes patients lack the protein insulin, which helps facilitate glucose out of the bloodstream and into energy-deprived cells.

Blood glucose levels vary throughout the day, so people with Type 1 Diabetes must regularly check their body’s blood-sugar levels and make appropriate adjustments. In addition, Type 1 diabetics are dependent on insulin injections to help regulate the blood glucose levels.

Shawn Michels, the founder and chief executive officer of Steady Shot, was a busy student attending the UW-Madison when he recognized a problem with his own insulin injections. He designed a solution to help him and 7.4 million other insulin injectors safely rotate injections and be less prone to a specific side effect.

On average, people with Type 1 Diabetes inject three to five insulin shots a day, which amounts to 1,100 to 1,800 injections per year. Insulin should be injected into fatty tissue so results aren’t immediate and don’t cause a drastic swing in blood sugar levels. Common sites for insulin injection sites include the abdomen, the top outer thigh, the upper outer space of the arms and the buttocks.

When a task needs to be completed each day, it’s not hard to imagine doing it the same way every time.

Michaels found himself injecting insulin in his thighs and abdomen each day, as those sites were more accessible than others. Over time, he noticed pain and bruising in these areas.

The pain was caused by a buildup of fat accumulating under the skin, a condition called lipohypertrophy. About 50% of people with Type 1 Diabetes have experienced lipohypertrophy, Michels said, including himself.

The cure to this ailment is rotating injection sites, but not all injection sites are easily accessible. Thus, Steady Shot was invented to make these inaccessible sites accessible.

Steady Shot is a reusable plastic attachment to standard insulin pen needles. The device pinches the skin keeping the needle in place and allowing for removal of the needle with little to no pain.

“There is nothing like it, and too many people can’t easily rotate to all the doctor recommended injection sites while using either the dominant or non-dominant hand,” Michels said.

Users of the Steady Shot device tell Michels they are confident injecting at new sites and the device’s ability to allow overused injection sites time to heal. Steady Shot is accommodating to a busy lifestyle, allowing customers to discreetly inject in a public setting or traveling in a car. About 20% of daily injectors experience needle-anxiety phobia. Steady Shot can help these people complete injections comfortably as the attachment is less intimidating than a “naked needle.”

Michels introduced Steady Shot to the market in January 2020 and has grown the company in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Steady Shot sells to customers directly and has moved business-to-business sales online.

Steady Shot hopes to bring on a sales staff and expand to brick-and-mortar pharmacies and other pharmacological distributors. Michels hopes its performance in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest will bring the company publicity, mentorship, connections and potential funding. Michels also hopes to add a new product to the company’s list within a few years.

Stultz is a graduating senior in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

Nobbits hopes to “tie up” the market for specialized shoelaces

By Jenna Langrehr

Are your shoes always coming untied? Shoelaces made by a local company in Fitchburg led by a veteran sports entrepreneur may provide a tight solution for you.

Nobbits USA LLC produces shoelaces made with premium polyester, along with raised dots (which they call the “nobbs”) formed from an adhesive on both sides of the shoelace. These nobbs create consistent tension throughout the lace, lessening the chances of knots coming untied and creating a more comfortable fit.

The nobbs are strategically placed throughout the shoelace so to reduce the amount of slippage between the eyelets, which is the most common reason why shoes come untied. A study done at the University of California-Berkeley revealed that when running, feet hit the ground seven times greater than the force of gravity, which in turn drives inertial force of the shoelaces forward, causing them to come untied quicker.

With Nobbits shoelaces, the nobbs lock the shoelace and knot in place, making it almost impossible to naturally come united.

With these innovative shoelaces, Nobbits plans to focus on active people, such as athletes, for sale of shoelaces, founder Ron Brent said. With more than 2 billion pairs of shoes sold each year, and about 60 million people engaging in running activities, Nobbit should find a wide audience. With about 40% of athletic injuries relating to ankle or feet sprains, Nobbits strives to create a safer, more comfortable fit for athletes.

Nobbits has already received interest from basketball leagues and programs, physical therapists, and other retailers once full production starts. With COVID-19, production was delayed due to the manufacturing of primary production machine. Once the company enters the market this spring, it plans to sell its shoelaces primarily through wholesale and secondarily through eCommerce in various sizes – 36, 45 and 54 inches.

There are multiple people that have been a part of Nobbits success, even as a newfound company. In addition to being a founder of Nobbits, Brent is also the sales lead for the company and an entrepreneur. He is passionate about athletics, health, and fitness, also being the founder of RB Publishing and creating well-known magazines such as Bally Total Fitness, Personal Fitness Professionals, and Inside Wisconsin Sports. Brent is also the founder of Interscholastic License Company, which is an e-commerce company that provides spirit apparel to schools across the country, along with Sponsorship America, an organization that sells sponsorships for local sports associations like the WIAA and WIAC.

Other team members are Amos Anderson, Justin Hajny and Jerlando Jackson, who bring a combination of business, marketing and entrepreneurial expertise to the mix.

Nobbits was among the 55 semi-finalists for the 2021 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which will culminate at the Entrepreneurs’ Conference in June.

Langrehr is a graduating student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.


BookScape brings the written word to 3D life

By Jordan Bogaty

Trevor Santarius has always consumed a variety of written material, from books to newsletters to online blogs and more. In his consumption of text-based media, Santarius imagined the excitement that could come from turning these writings into a more interactive tool. This is when Santarius took his brother-in-law, Luke Southard, who is a full-stack software engineer, under his wing to help him create BookScape.

BookScape is a finalist for the 2020 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which will wrap up at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference June 2-3.

BookScape is a software-based product designed to bring a more immersive and visual aspect to reading. The product has both a mobile application and a browser-based version that takes an excerpt of text and turns it into an illustrative work of art. Once available for purchase, BookScape will be a recurring subscription-based software so users can easily create and store their illustrations online.

The software uses a library of three-dimensional models to build the visualized environment, using artificial intelligence to fill in any gaps in information. The user is then able to purchase that illustration in a physical hard copy or save it to their digital archive.

BookScape is targeting readers between the ages of 18 and 35. This group is especially adaptable to new digital technologies.

The first segmentation that BookScape will aim promotional strategies toward parents of school-aged children between six and 19.

“A student could input text from one of their history books and our software would give them an illustration that better helps them engage with and visualize that historical event,” Santarius said.

Promotional tools and strategies that will be used in building BookScape’s identity will involve applications such as Tik Tok, Facebook and Instagram. Since these are known and trusted social media networks, BookScape expects to reach their target audience using digital marketing campaigns through these platforms.

In terms of distinguishing the company from competition, Santarius described a few unique aspects of BookScape.

One feature is the versatility of the software. Not only is he personally an active reader of traditional books, but Santarius reads a good number of other textual works. BookScape can take text from almost any source and turn it into a personalized illustration.

The software adaptable to different types of textual content, but it is also more personalized and accessible than other similar products. Customers will be able to create an avatar and alter their illustrations as desired on BookScape, further distinguishing it from competitors such as movies or video games. Additionally, it will be a faster and cheaper alternative to physical drawings that are currently available.

BookScape launched its “minimal variable product” and Santarius hopes to begin generating revenue by late 2021. The biggest stepping-stone will be in the third quarter of 2021, which will involve integrating the BookScape algorithm into a tangible software product for customers. This will be where Southard’s skills come in handy in creating a software language, which brings users texts to life.

“Part of what makes BookScape so exciting is that although it fits perfectly with converting books or short stories into illustrations, the options of what content you input into the software are endless,” Santarius said.

Bogaty is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.


New medical device aids in treatment of cardiac surgery patients

By Maddie Arthur

A device created by the team at Atrility Medical assists doctors caring for cardiac surgery patients to quickly and accurately recognize heart rhythm issues following surgery.

After heart surgery, arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats, are common and can be difficult to diagnose. Arrhythmias can cause a range of symptoms including chest pain, dizziness and death in some cases.

With more than 400,000 heart surgeries taking place each year in the United States alone, Atrility Medical saw the need for a new device to better equip clinicians with the tools to diagnose arrythmias in cardiac surgery patients.

Its product is AtriAmp, a Food and Drug Administration-cleared device that provides continuous heartbeat monitoring by measuring the electrical signals that cause the heart to beat. This information is displayed on a bedside monitor as an electrocardiogram, which is a graph of the patient’s heartbeat.

Essentially, AtriAmp acts as a “hub” between temporary wires connected to a patient’s heart at the time of surgery, a bedside monitor and, if needed, a temporary pacemaker.

“Having this information present at the bedside gives a quick and easily manageable way to interpret the patient’s rhythm without the need of waiting for an ECG technologist. With this simple concept, I believe that the way we evaluate and manage post-operative arrhythmias will be disrupted and changed for the better,” said Dr. Vincent C. Thomas, a pediatric cardiologist and electrophysiologist, formerly at University of Nebraska Medical Center. He was quoted at the time of the FDA’s device approval.

What separates the AtriAmp from the current ECG equipment on the market is the quality and timely information the device provides to doctors. This is because the device attaches to external wires that are connected to the patient’s heart during surgery, which allows for a clear, real-time signal allowing for an arrythmia diagnosis.

The AtriAmp is in use at the UW Hospitals and Clinics in the pediatric intensive care unit. The team at Atrility Medical began their sales here because its chief marketing officer, Dr. Nicholas Von Bergen, has close connections to pediatric cardiac research as an associate professor of cardiology.

“I thought, ‘Why in the world don’t we have a simple device that would allow continuous monitoring of the atria [top chambers of the heart] through these leads, which is the gold standard for arrhythmia identification?” Dr. Von Bergen told University News Service regarding the development of the device.

Atrility expects to expand their sales to reach adult patients around the country, although this roll-out has been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, Atrility’s first sales began this quarter. UW Health’s Isthmus Project, through its network of clinicians, investors and advisors, connected Atrility’s team with additional support and resources.

Feedback from the UW Hospital has been overwhelmingly positive, and Atrility Medical is looking forward to extending their device to more hospitals soon. The AtriAmp is expected to aid in a faster and more accurate arrythmia diagnosis and improve patient outcomes.

Atrility Medical is among the semifinalists of the 2021 Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which will come to a close at the Entrepreneurs’ Conference in June.

Arthur is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.


Medical device startup aims to keep dangerous tangles out of patient tubes

By Mary Magnuson

In an intensive care unit, every move can mean life or death for a patient. Every time doctors and nurses transport patients, they risk a life, and even the smallest of complications — a tube getting stuck, for example — can bring their world crashing down.

For Milwaukee-based nurse Lindsey Roddy, that reality came true one day on the job. The tube carrying her patient’s life support line got caught and wrenched out of their neck, nearly spelling their end.

But the same heart wrench that shook Roddy that day motivated her to create a solution, RoddyMedical LLC. She has created SecureMove-TLC, a device that organizes medical tubing and cords to prevent them from getting caught and pulled in fast-paced ICU environments.

Roddy’s startup made it into the final 25 in the 2021 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which can introduce young companies to investors, funding opportunities and mentorship help.

RoddyMedical entered the competition last year, and in 2019 as well, but as Roddy says, they “didn’t quite have their ducks in a row.” Now, the three professionals that make up the RoddyMedical team have a variety of experiences and backgrounds in engineering, manufacturing and more.

“We have a pretty clear plan as to what we need to do to get this into sales and to get revenue. So far so good. Because we’ve been working on this material, we’ve been honing it in and planning and planning and so it wasn’t too bad this year,” Roddy said. “Last year, we just didn’t have everything put together yet, so there were some things that we couldn’t answer that now we can.”

Roddy said the transition from nursing to business wasn’t exactly straightforward, but once she started talking with other nurses about their experiences with patients’ tubing getting caught — something more common than she had expected — she knew her team engineer a solution.

“Twenty-three percent of those we talked to had witnessed a potentially life-threatening safety event because of an issue like that, where a patient was moving and the life support line got pulled out and life support was interrupted, leading to extensive bleeding. Also, people trip over these things,” Roddy said. “A total of seven deaths that were reported in all of our customer discovery interviews.”

Her business partner Kyle Jansson, who handles the engineering side of things, joined her early on. Pat Deno, who handles operations, marketing and manufacturing, joined the team later. Along with a group of consultants, RoddyMedical has gotten the project off the ground and have executed two seed investment rounds. The team hopes to get through Food and Drug Administration regulations and start selling the device to hospitals and other companies this summer.

The COVID-19 pandemic has uprooted health systems in unprecedented ways, but Roddy said aside from working remotely, the pandemic hasn’t thrown as much of a damper on the company’s efforts. The biggest challenge the pandemic brought, she said, was not being able to pitch their device in-person, as hospitals aren’t accepting walk-ins.

“I’m a nurse, I have connections and I have most of the prerequisites to go into hospitals, but if you’re not an employee and you’re like a sales rep, you can’t just walk in anymore,” Roddy said.

Briefly, Roddy said the company dabbled in producing N95-like masks, but the regulatory process for getting them distributed to people would have been long, costly and more challenging than rewarding, so they moved on to other things.

“COVID-19 didn’t really slow us down. Actually, we’ve been able to continually make progress. We’ll have to see how things go,” Roddy said. “I mean I think that might be challenging sales that we’re anticipating, but so much can be done virtually and we do have a lot of personal connections into different health systems and so hopefully that will make the difference.

Magnuson is a graduating student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

Laundry service startup targets BnBs and other rentals

By Sophia Wells

Startup company Washbnb does what many Airbnb hosts, vacation rental property owners and boutique hotel managers don’t necessarily have the equipment or time to do – load after load of laundry.

Founder and chief executive officer Daniel Cruz figured that out for himself when he began renting out several units through Airbnb, only to discover the laundry and linen turnover was far too much for a residential washer and dryer, or an individual person, to handle. 

“I started looking into laundry solutions and trying to find a better way to do it, and I realized that there really wasn’t one, so I decided to do it myself,” Cruz said.

As suggested by its namesake, Washbnb caters to Airbnb hosts (as well as vacation rentals and boutique hotels) and takes the burden of laundry services off of their hands. Founded amidst the beginnings of the pandemic, the business among the semi-finalists in the 2021 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest.

Due to the pandemic, customers have been veering away from larger hotels, and are more inclined to book with Airbnb or smaller vacation rentals. Cruz explained that the demand side of Airbnb has really surged during the pandemic, while the supply side has faltered. This has created an ideal ecosystem for the startup.

“It’s been gang-busters on the vacation rental and Airbnb side,” said Cruz.

Cruz has a clear vision for the future of the company. He wants to build a community around the business, helping Airbnb hosts to provide a repeatable and high-quality stay for guests. Cruz said there is a lot to learn from the hotel industry and how hotels run laundry systems. 

Cruz also believes it essential to preserve the innate “funkiness” of Airbnb. Unique properties are a large part of what drives people to book with Airbnb in the first place. However, he emphasized there are certain aspects of your stay that should never be left open to interpretation.

“When you get out of the shower you don’t want to wonder what you’re drying yourself off with, what it smells like, or who else has used it, you just want it to be super clean and white and luxurious,” he said.

The pandemic has been a deterrent for businesses everywhere. The travel industry, for obvious reasons, has been hit particularly hard. Airbnb cut 2,000 employees in May 2020 alone. However, home sharing schemes have proven to be a much more pandemic-friendly mode of travel than large hotels or resorts. There is one caveat: How far are hosts willing to go to ensure the cleanliness of their properties during a global pandemic?

Washbnb provides pick-up and delivery of clean, high-quality linens. Unless you are an Airbnb host doing innumerable loads of laundry to keep up with the constant turnover, you may not have even imagined that this was a problem in need of fixing. 

Now, more than ever, customers are preoccupied with cleanliness. Washbnb aims to provide a prompt, professional, and timely service that fills a major gap within the small-scale rental market. 

Wells is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.



Early Stage Symposium

Mappix creating a social network for drone imagery

-By Maya Sanghvi

In an increasingly virtual world, the need for managing and storing data is crucial. 

With the drone and virtual reality industries growing rapidly, Mappix might be the convenient management platform drone pilots and companies have been searching for.

Madison-based Mappix aims to overcome the lack of data management in drone imaging. Acting as a social network for drone pilots and aerial imaging, Mappix will provide a unified resource for managing, storing, promoting and discovering drone images. 

The platform will allow users to more efficiently manage their drone images and media through geotagging, making Mappix a user-friendly system that means users don’t have to move their drone media to a centralized location.   

According to CEO Christopher Johnson, the company’s product is the first system of its kind supplying free drone pilot training. Partnering with Pilot Training System, the company provides a free course for users to become certified commercial drone pilots. 

Johnson, an Air Force veteran with years of experience instructing drone pilots at Wisconsin Aviation, wants to make this course readily available and free to the public. The course has been up and running since March and has more than 48,000 subscribers on YouTube. 

By introducing Mappix to the commercial drone industry, this platform will make drone imaging and media easily found and ease transactions between drone pilots and companies. 

“My vision for Mappix is to create a robust, world-wide, image repository where people can buy, sell and share geotagged drone imagery for things like creating virtual reality models,” Johnson said.

There has been a spike in commercial drone industry growth over the past couple of years. Business Insider Intelligence estimates drone services market size will see a $59.2 billion increase from 2018 to 2025. The increasing demand for aerial photography and remote sensing has spurred interest.

With thousands of companies already using drones for image-based analysis, remote sensing and inspections, infrastructure modeling and making digital replications of the world, the demand for pilots and imaging management is massive.

With the company already creating thousands of certified drone pilots through the Pilot Training System, Mappix will provide a free tool for managing their drone images and media.

Selected from a large list of applicants, Johnson presented Mappix to investors at the 2020 Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium this week. Johnson hopes to launch a beta version to its current subscribers later this month.

Listen to a recent episode of “WisBusiness: The Podcast” with Johnson: 

Sanghvi is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

AirDeck helps create on-demand business presentations during COVID-19

By Olivia Irene Westerbeck

We live in a world where everything is “on demand.” We rent movies, watch TV, listen to music and increasingly depend on services that give us what we want when we want it … and how we want it.

However, in the business world, we still rely on real-time communication and meetings to work through most situations. It can be frustrating, however.

Entrepreneur Jason Weaver found it difficult to align schedules with business contacts to have a live Zoom meeting or phone call to review documents or presentations. Sending presentations over email without narration also lacks a layer of communication, he found, especially in our on-demand world.

To solve this problem, Weaver developed AirDeck in March 2019.

“Companies spend countless hours going back and forth reviewing documents and presentations.” Weaver said. “So much valuable time is wasted by needing to have Zoom meetings or phone calls to make edits and suggested changes to documents or to walk through a sales presentation.”

Weaver is an experienced technology entrepreneur with multiple company exits. Prior to starting AirDeck, Weaver founded and successfully exited from two technology companies. They were Shoutlet, a leading social media management platform, and Spendsetter, a mobile loyalty platform. Weaver has raised more than $30 million in venture capital funding for his prior companies.

Weaver said the AirDeck’s user base has “experienced tremendous growth during the last few months. For those users, AirDeck is becoming a critical part of business communication and workflow. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to find alternatives to in-person conference presentations, which makes AirDeck potentially more appealing.

 “We intend on raising a seed round soon between $3 million to $4 million,” Weaver said.

AirDeck’s 1,800-plus customers are comprised of banks, medical companies, human resource companies, manufacturing businesses, consultants, law firms, software businesses, and more. Weaver believes the market size for AirDeck is comparable with company valuations for Zoom, Canvas and DropBox at similar stages. The total addressable market size is more than $120 billion, he said.

AirDeck competes only with alternative communication methods, not platforms. For example, you can create a presentation using Zoom or other desktop video options. However, AirDeck’s key differentiator is the platform’s ability to narrate each page or slide one at a time.

This approach enables AirDeck users to create personalized documents or presentations for each intended recipient, make changes quickly, and track each slide or page being viewed.

Weaver said AirDeck hopes to continue to build the features of its platform and strengthen sales and marketing efforts. It was selected for the “People’s Choice Award” in the recent Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium from among 19 other presenting companies, where it was used to construct the presentations of the other presenters.

Westerbeck is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication

C-Motive Technologies is reshaping electric motors and generators

By Heather Wilharm

Most scientists agree climate change poses a threat to life on Earth as we know it. To maintain a cleaner future, the world is turning to renewable energy, and in the world of motors and generators, that means changing how electric power is generated.

C-Motive Technologies is an upcoming company that has taken to the cause, focusing on making a new breed of electric motors and generators that are simpler, cheaper and more effective.

“What if we completely reinvented what an electric motor is?” prompts Justin Reed, chief executive officer of C-Motive Technologies and a UW-Madison Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Power Electronics. That re-invention is precisely where C-Motive has focused.

Conventional electric motors use electromagnets, such as a magnet you would have on your refrigerator but much stronger. In contrast, C-Motive’s motors use electrostatic forces, such as when a charged balloon sticks to your head.

In Reed’s words: “It’s an entirely different kind of physics.”

Why is this important? Because electrostatic forces don’t lose energy in the form of heat, resulting in technology that has 98% energy efficiency and improves a battery lifespan by 10%.

Electrostatic motors and generators have simpler designs because they don’t include gears and coils, which makes them lighter and require less maintenance.

What’s more, they don’t use imported “rare earth” magnets, which greatly reduces price. It also means this technology is not dependent on a limited resource.

“Having a new way, it has an enormous impact,” exclaims Reed when asked what this idea means to him.

The electric motor market in America is booming and C-Motive’s motors could change the entire industry. Reed believe their product, protected by dozens of pending or issued patents and trade secrets, will be the template by which all new electric technologies will be referenced.

Although the company is relatively new, Reed is quick to note “this idea isn’t new.” Benjamin Franklin invented a prototype, but Franklin’s 18th century design was “anything but practical.” C-Motive has created an effective, scalable version.

“We saw a fundamental gap in the technology market left by electromagnetics,” Reed said.

C-Motive Technologies was chosen to present at the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium, Nov. 9-11. It was held virtually with about 50 investor groups in attendance, a big change from past years.

“I’m glad that it’s happening,” Reed said prior to the symposium. “We were dealt the cards we were dealt, and plan to do the best we can.”

The company had previously raised $3.5 million and is aiming to raise another $6 million, Reed said. Some of that funding could help C-Motive expand its technology into more industries.

“Electrification is everywhere,” Reed said, from phones, to heating and cooling, to lighting, to transportation and much more. “We hope make viable technology for all applications” in order to “transform our world into a better place.”

Wilharm is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

Qobotix tackles the automated challenges facing manufacturers

By Krystal Hakes

At the end of an assembly line might be a finished product, but there is still one crucial task that remains – the examination. Sure, a product like a pretzel is straight forward to inspect, but what about an iPhone?

Smaller industrial lines often use people, but those people have a lot of responsibility when inspecting complex components. Could such invaluable eyes and attention to detail be possible for a robot to do?

Solving these puzzles is like an interesting game. At least, that is how co-founder and CEO of Qobotix, Egor Korneev, thinks about it. Qobotix is a developer of collaborative robots known as “cobots,” short for collaborative robots.

Cobots are a growing industry, and at Qobotix they are creating cobots that are smaller, cheaper and have a universal operating system that can support a platform for any automation application. The company is based in California with an R&D office in Madison, Wis.

To complete complex tasks, these robots need to be adaptable. They have what is known as machine vision, where the robot’s cameras can recognize objects and respond appropriately. For example, if there is an obstacle in their environment, they need to move around it instead of bumping into it. These robots can also respond to simple commands like what you would give to a human.

The concept is much like a modern phone. Manufacturers have many tasks they need to accomplish on their assembly lines, much like smart phones fulfill many different roles. Phones save people from needing to buy various notebooks, cameras, gaming devices and more by having it all in one electronic device.

Such applications also need to be easy to use. Talented people who can understand such complicated machinery are in low supply. As a result, manufacturers need to be able to simply purchase an application and then be able to use it for specific tasks. The initial applications for the Qobotix system will be variable picking and presentation, visual quality inspection and sorting, and parts packaging.

For Korneev, the game is not over yet. There are more levels to defeat.

With cobots representing a growing industry, there is competition. There is breathing space for Qobotix since there are slight differences between them and their competitors. . . for now.

Once a company performs its intended purpose well, it will want to grow into different areas. Korneev predicts that he will need to directly compete with other cobot companies in the future but also appreciates how that competition will help keep Qobotix’s momentum up.

As Qobotix grows, Korneev wants to stay focused on his consumer’s needs. “It’s not about who has the best product, but who has the right product,” Korneev said. In other words, a Ferrari might be faster, “cooler” and fancier, but a family probably needs a minivan that can accommodate multiple children.

Qobotix strives to provide the “right product” as they talk to different manufactures about their biggest worries.

To defeat each level in the business game, there are some reoccurring obstacles that Qobotix works on overcoming.

The nature of Qobotix’s products helps reduce the amount of people condensed into one space. Such an attribute is valuable in these times of social distancing and is likely to grow in favor over time.

Another obstacle is the conservative approach that manufacturers have with new ideas. These decisions are big for them and are often slow to be adopted. This requires Qobotix to spend considerable time on building trust between provider and consumer. Like for many other startups, it takes time to establish that they will stay around and be able to provide continued support.

Thus far,  Qobotix has been able to self-fund its development and is aiming to attract $6 million from investors to mainly focus on boosting its commercialization.

“It’s an exciting business that will be mainstream in coming years,” Korneev said.

The company presented during the 2020 Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium.

Hakes is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication

Don’t worry, ‘Twi’ happy: Find anxiety relief with vitamin-fortified Satori drinks

By Roseanne Crave

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the world. And yet, the current leading medications for anxiety may have negative effects on one’s health.

Imagine if you could find anxiety relief by drinking hot cocoa or a mocha latte straight out of your Keurig brewer. Satori Food Project Inc has developed Twi Hot Cocoa and Mocha Latte K-Cups to do just that.

Psychiatrists recently started recommending these beverages fortified with magnesium, gamma aminobutyric acid and L-Theanine, which may help reduce common symptoms of anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.

Satori Food Project Inc is an “integrative healthcare” company founded in 2019 by UW-Madison Pharmacy School alumni, Kwadwo Owusu-Ofori. Milwaukee-based Satori focuses on producing foods and beverages fortified with vitamins and minerals that may protect and improve mental health.

Satori’s Twi Hot Cocoa and Mocha Latte are offered in biodegradable K-Cups and were recently named the top-selling new hot cocoa K-Cup on Amazon Prime. Investors include The National Science Foundation and Global Capital Group out of Milwaukee. Satori is raising $125,000 through investors in their first round of fundraising and has already raised $90,000.

“COVID-19 has affected our company. We had to change our sales plan dramatically so that we can reach consumers that are now working virtually from home,” Owusu-Ofori said.

COVID-19 is predicted to have a continued harsh effect on people’s mental health and well-being. Owusu-Ofori is confident that Twi K-Cups will continue to be a “half step” between psychotherapy and prescription medication for psychiatrists and their patients. The K-Cups allow people with various lifestyles to find anxiety relief through this alternative, rather than prescription medications that can sometimes lead to cognitive side-effects and addiction.

Although this product is still in the early stages of introduction into the marketplace, it is predicted to do well in the specific market of loyal K-Cup users and patients of various psychologists and psychiatrists. The cost is similar to other beverage products, such as Starbucks Hot Chocolate pods, but this product offers possible additional benefits to improve your mental health.

Since the company was founded in 2019, Satori has been recruiting psychiatrists to design and participate in clinical trials for Food and Drug Administration approval. Satori uses vitamins and minerals that are routinely recommended by psychiatrists for anxiety relief and have been proven to work in published human trials. Their primary innovation was to use consumer feedback to create an ideal product.

Owusu-Ofori is excited to introduce this product to Wisconsin.

“Anxiety is an example of a mental illness that is consistently growing,” he said. “Many individuals suffer with different severities, some have situational anxiety, while others suffer from anxiety chronically and long term. Twi is a solution for all cases.”

Satori Food Project Inc presented at the 2020 Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium conference virtually in the Elevator Olympic Pitch Competition on Nov. 11.

Crave is a student at the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

CarePool lowers rural transit barriers for elderly, disabled

By Mitchell Mocadlo

As a young entrepreneur, Josh Massey saw the agony his grandmother experienced through typical Medicare van rides to medical appointments and other visits. He says his grandmother was a frequent customer of this “old-school” van program.

“She would spend upwards of three hours each way from her home to visit the (memory care) medical facility where my grandpa resided,” said Massey, a self-described “transportation geek.”

Unfortunately, Massey said, this remains the reality for many elderly people who live in rural settings and cannot drive themselves. He started CarePool to provide a scheduled ride-share service that can help solve the problem.

“The mission of our company is to provide a new profound independence in the form of mobility for elderly people,” Massey said. “CarePool wants to close rural transportation gaps in order to ensure every individual is able to travel anywhere they want no matter their age or disability status.”

With a Transportation Network Company license in each of the states where it operates, CarePool is capable of turning any licensed vehicle and insured taxi into a ride-share option that can be compensated through government-run programs such as Medicare.

Massey self-funded the company at first. Once he was able to establish a business model and show his concept would solve a problem, he then turned to business investors to raise capital in order to expand the company. Within the first round of raising capital, CarePool attracted $500,000 and continues to need more for growth. This is important because the business can then expand into other rural areas that would otherwise be relying on old-school van services.

Massey said CarePool is the first profitable ride-share company in the United States. That’s a surprising statement considering Uber and Lyft have dominated this market throughout the past 10 years.

“This is made possible because each ride works on a specialized software system that acts to pre-schedule rides at a specific time,” Massey said.

Other rideshare companies are unable to provide this type of service because they are centered around an “on-demand” system. This means that the rides are not scheduled and dependent on the number of drivers online at that specific time. CarePool also has solid support from health-care organizations that work with both the business and its customers to take care of the cost.

Because of its strong connection to multiple health-care systems, the company was able to establish a network of drivers to service thousands of customers throughout the rural Midwest. It also has a web-based system for hiring drivers at, where applicants may click on the “Driver’s Tab” and then click “Become a Driver.”

“Eventually, our overall goal is to expand this service across the entire nation,” said Massey.

This would enhance individual health care by simply getting patients to the right places faster, increasing inclusion and decreasing isolation along the way. Massey said that will also bring the nation one step closer to equal access to health care for everyone.

CarePool was among the presenters at the 2020 Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium, which was held Nov. 9-11 virtually.

Mocadlo is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication

Is a truly wireless future closer than we think?

By Erik Spitz

Remember the excitement you got when the teacher would roll out the TV at the beginning of class? The whispers and giggles grew louder as everyone realized today was going to be a fun day because you were going to watch TV… in school! Now, think back again, did the tape or DVD ever not work or the video wouldn’t play for some reason? It seemed like all hope was lost as the teacher would give up and roll the TV back to the dusty corner.

Lucky for us, those days are gone … not just because the VCRs have all been thrown away by now … but because there are now companies such as UpStream AV to provide wireless technology to eliminate the hassles of wired media presentations.

Based in Eau Claire, Wis., UpStream AV is building the next generation of media presentation technologies. Started in 2019, UpStream is run by a small team. Jim McDougall, chief executive officer, oversees operations. Veronica Merryfield is the company’s chief technology officer and Matt Kennedy is the systems engineer.

Their product, the Freedom platform, is a versatile tool that allows for wireless streaming of content to different devices. Any customer from convention centers, to churches, to homeowners can benefit from the first-of-its-kind product.

To distribute their groundbreaking new technology, the company plans to work with existing, local, audio-visual professionals to allow their customers to work with people they already trust for a smoother experience.

UpStream’s solution is more flexible than current AV solutions that require hardwiring, allowing it to be easier to use and faster to install, according to McDougall. The solution utilizes paired hardware and software, thus eliminating the need to wire AV equipment together.

As explained by McDougall, UpStream “increases system flexibility and reduces non-value-added labor costs in commercial installations…. (which is done) by creating patentable, custom electronics supported by next generation software systems with cloud and mobile management.”

The wireless system also “future proofs” any media setup because it removes the old infrastructure needed for displaying old forms of media while still allowing for users to upload and use their media on the new system. It’s such a simple yet revolutionary idea that may change the way digital media is presented forever.

The company is currently in its seed stage but is looking to grow quickly. The global industry for content delivery systems is worth $250 billion and UpStream’s product is the first of its kind. The company is hoping to complete its first sales within the 2020 calendar year, and they plan to grow rapidly from there with a goal of more than $1 million in revenue by 2022.

The company will present at the 2020 Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium, which is being held virtually, Nov. 9-11, and is produced by the Wisconsin Technology Council.

Spitz is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication

SmarTrac can help alleviate shortage of physical therapists

By Caroline Cotten

For many aspects in our lives, we do not realize how integral something is until we experience a first-hand need for it. Physical therapy is one of those things. It can make the difference for a quick post-surgery recovery, getting back to physical activity after an injury or aiding any other physically burdening situations.

Unfortunately, the United States is experiencing an extreme shortage of physical therapists that is only expected to get worse.

 “The demand of physical therapy right now is incredible, yet, under-appreciated unless you are in the field,” said Suman Banerjee, a professor in Computer Sciences at the UW-Madison

Banerjee recognized this opportunity to tap into unmet needs with the technology he had been researching for the past four and a half years. He has since started OnTracMD, a company pioneering the patent-pending technology called SmarTrac in the hopes to alleviate the burden from the scarcity of trained professionals.

SmarTrac, the wearable device, consists of a sensor, mobile app and a cloud-hosted web portal that accurately tracks the motion of an individual’s limbs. The precise and real-time measurements of the sensor not only allow physical therapists an ability to scale up their practices, but it creates a much more convenient consumer experience as well.

 “People don’t realize how important physical therapy is,” Banerjee said. “This neglect often results in patients not completing their full physical therapy treatment.”

SmarTrac can solve this predicament for the patient. Preliminary studies are underway to demonstrate how SmarTrac reduces recovery time by the effective ability to monitor specific body movements on top of supporting compliancy through its convenience.

Banerjee is not new to innovation and levering computer science to solve problems in the world of startups. Past successes include WiRover, a software platform that delivers high-bandwidth internet services to moving vehicles. WiRover won the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest in 2011 and has since been used by the Wisconsin Metro Transit System and with Van Galder Bus Company.

When asked how his experience has helped navigate the concept of this latest company and its device, Banerjee explained: “Technology is only one piece, but circumstances are a huge factor.” This insight hits home given the already existing lack of physical therapists, combined with the pandemic of COVID-19, which has accelerated movement towards virtual healthcare.

That path happened to be the path already being followed by the OnTracMD team.

“This will be the future of physical therapy,” Banerjee said. “COVID-19 has only emphasized the need for such tele-rehab software, further supporting the goal of OnTracMD to change the paradigm of physical therapy treatment to create easier access for all.”

While a researcher at heart, Banerjee has expressed passion for what he has learned while interacting with physical therapists and other professionals involved with regards to patients and therapist needs. The company will be presenting at the 2020 Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium on Nov. 9-11 and are soon implementing a soft launch of the product.

Cotten is a senior in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

Boosted Chews hopes to boost its reach into the caffeine market

By Caesar Williams

Some entrepreneurs bite off more than they can chew. UW-Madison senior Kit Chow and Aditya Singh Pariha knew what they were sinking their teeth into when they created Boosted Chews – a new way to capture America’s fondness for caffeine.

Founded in November 2019, Boosted Chews produces a caffeinated snack that can provide the same punch as a cup of coffee while satisfying craving for another All-American craving – chocolate.

Each chew contains 30 milligrams caffeine, so three chews has about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee. Boosted Chews also comes in different flavors: original, hazelnut, mint and mocha.

Chow and Parihar started sales in late March and since then, they have sold more than 800 bags. They’ve also launched an online store and have reached out to shops and delivery services to sell their products. It’s available at some retail locations.

Customers can buy three different sized packs of Boosted Chews, a variety pack, the “boosted bundle” and the jumbo boosted bundle. All contain the different flavors. Bags come with recommended maximum “chews” in one sitting or one day. Prices range from about $7 to about $24, depending on the size of the package.

Like many products, Boosted Chews wasn’t ready on the first try.

“I started with a drink called boosted juice caffeinated with mango and pomegranate flavors,” Chow said. “People weren’t liking the pomegranate flavor so eventually we switched to candy like gushers, for example, then eventually translated to chocolate candy taffy or a firmer fudge. It’s a better tasting Tootsie Roll, which is the original flavor, and now comes in mint, hazelnut and mocha.”

Chow and Pariha worked with Transcend UW, a campus hub for creative thinking, entrepreneurship and innovation, and entered a competition that helped to move them ahead. They credited the resources available on campus with their ability to move quickly while continuing their studies.

Companies such as Awake Chocolate, Go Cubes and Verb Energy are Boosted Chews’ biggest competitor, Chow said. Because Boosted Chews planned to launch in March, just about the time COVID-19 shuttered much of the campus, Chow and Pariha couldn’t market the samples they planned to get out and had to pivot to digital marketing.

“We were supposed to be in stores by now, Badger Market for example, and had to transition our business to e-commerce.” Pariha said.

All varieties are available online. If you want to purchase Boosted Chews “live” you can visit Roll Play, the Fresh Cool Drinks food cart and Sencha Tea Bar on State Street.

Chow and Pariha hope to raise $250,000 by mid-2021 to improve marketing and scale up to a contract manufacturer. The company was selected from a field of applicants to present during the Elevator Pitch Olympics at the 2020 Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium, which will be held virtually Nov. 9-11.

Williams is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

Talent Bandit hopes to ‘steal’ its share of the staffing market

By Alexander Wick

Inefficient; clunky; extra work. These are words that come to the mind of Bill Neill, co-founder of Talent Bandit, when he talks about the general state of the staffing industry.

Staffing is an old industry, and it has operated the same way for decades: A client receives a resume attached to an email and that’s about it. That is not always enough to tell if a candidate is the right fit. Not only that, Neill said, but the outdated technology creates extra work for staffing agencies and hiring managers alike. The email workflow alone can make it easy to get lost and will slow progress down. A waste of not only time, but money. Something nobody would want.

So, what is Neill’s solution?

Make it easier. Make it faster. Make a candidate more accessible.

Mount Horeb-based Talent Bandit strives to do all these things and more. Talent Bandit is an innovative hub that centralizes the workflow for all parties by putting all the relevant information in one place. It provides access to resumes, video interviews, assessments and even work samples. This allows good job candidates to soar over others and helps clients to make faster hires. 

Talent Bandit untangles the disorderly process of staffing and helps generate more gross profit for staffing agencies by shortening the task at hand. Neill describes the process that Talent Bandit provides as an “Amazon shopping cart” for resumes. This new technology being used allows for an instant way to look at a candidate’s information and hire, inquire, interview or decline on the spot. 

Neill said he believes Talent Bandit can bring some much-needed attention to a staffing company, especially during a time when more temporary workers may be needed. Neill said the status quo systems don’t really allow staffing companies to stand out from their competitors, but Talent Bandit can help to change that. Ease of access for job applicants and reviewers alike is one such way, he said.

By helping a staffing company provide access to more materials than its competitors can, Neill said, it will help secure jobs and save money for both parties.

Neill said he and his team were tired of seeing how “lethargic” the bulk of the staffing industry had become over time, and they started Talent Bandit in hopes of providing a wake-up call.

Wick is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

Estrigenix Therapeutics develops hot flash treatment for menopausal women that minimizes cancer risk

By Riley Bell

Since the dawn of human existence, women 50 and older all around the world have naturally been destined to suffer through negative symptoms of menopause. This includes possible health issues after treatment and therapy to relieve those symptoms.

However, the negative consequences of treating those symptoms may be safe and even avoidable for menopausal women in the future because of a recently founded company, Estrigenix Therapeutics.

In the United States, less than 60% of women seek treatment for menopausal symptoms. Most of this is due to possible health issues such as increased risks of cancer and stroke from taking estrogen and cancer risk from hormone therapy.

Estrigenix’s vice president for business development, Dr. Daniel Sem, spoke recently on the specific demand of safe treatment needed in the market. He said he participated in a National Science Foundation program in which he interviewed menopausal women and found that “about 50% of the women’s’ biggest worry is hot flashes,” adding that “some women with breast cancer family history expressed even greater worry.”

Estrigenix has re-invented estrogen treatment to deliver first-class therapy in a way that targets hot flashes in menopausal women without the risk of post-treatment health issues.

The lead molecule in their new drug is EGX358, the most selective estrogen reception beta. The molecule’s 750-fold selectivity is far more effective in reducing cancer risk than competitors, which use 32-fold selectivity for their drug developments. Selectivity in this context refers to how favorable molecule EGX358 is in relation to what is desired of it (to treat hot flashes without health risk). Since EGX358 has a very high selectivity number, it indicates that it is extremely favorable to treat hot flashes and also to avoid cancer cell proliferation.

Estrigenix is doing more “good” in the world than just helping menopausal women with their symptoms. The company’s treatment will also provide economic benefit in the global hormone therapy market. This market in 2022 is expected to reach $28.4 billion. Pharmaceutical company interest in this market is validated through Bayer’s upfront buyout of KaNDy for $425 million, an incentive to compete with Astellas.

The Estrigenix team has already received funds from Small Business Innovation Research grants and seed funds, which has allowed them to file an investigational new drug application with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration after preclinical studies were completed of EGX358. After Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials, EGX358 will then be licensed to seek pharma co-development partners and further development.

There are currently no approved drugs for treating hot flashes with the exception of non-selective estrogen receptor agonists. While other companies such as Bayer and Astellas are also developing new hot flash treatments, Estrigenix may stand out because of their use of EGX358’s 750-fold selectivity compared to other companies use of Erteberels (LY500307), having only 32-fold selectivity.

Although the Estrigenix team is currently working to target hot flashes in menopausal women, their plans go above and beyond this symptom. After trials pharmaceutical development for hot flashes is complete, they plan to pursue a subsequent Phase 4 study for their secondary target symptom in which they have already established efficacy for: dementia.

Estrigenix is presenting at the Nov. 9-11 Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium. For more information, visit

Bell is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

Entrepreneurs’ Conference

Pyxsee founder: It’s time to put your phone down

By Sailaja Varma

Recent reports say teens spend up to nine hours a day on social platforms. College student Dayne Rusch, with the help of his app, Pyxsee, is hoping to cut this number down.

Pyxsee is a mobile application that combines a person’s social media accounts in one place, and helps users monitor the amount of time they are spending daily on those accounts.

While sitting in his freshman-year physics class at the UW-Oshkosh, Rusch listened to his professor talk about how companies use online applications to consolidate their social media accounts. These applications streamline the posting process and allow companies to monitor which apps are garnering the most traffic relative to others, all in one place.

Knowing that apps already existed for these functions at the company level, Rusch wondered why there weren’t apps that allowed everyday social media users to do the same thing.

“So, I stood up in class, the middle of class, and I called my dad. He’s an entrepreneur himself,” Rusch said.

Two years later, Rusch is a senior majoring in finance with a minor in information systems, and the CEO of Pyxsee.

The original function of Pyxsee was to integrate an individual’s social media accounts for easier posting, as well as to monitor time spent on each app, but Rusch didn’t want to stop there. In January, Pyxsee launched a feature that gives parents the ability to monitor and control their children’s social media use. “Pyxsee: Parental Guidance” is a subscription-based service through which can pay $3 per month per dependent, or $50 for the entire year for unlimited dependents.

With companies such as Facebook being questioned about their social media policies and security, the implications of social media accounts on personal decision-making is clear. On the impressionable minds of children and teenagers, social media websites can make a large difference.

Rusch emphasizes that spending too much time on apps such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter can have a significant effect on the mental health of a young adult. Social media use largely contributes to depression and anxiety which can shape someone’s entire life. Pyxsee aims to control this problem. Rusch intends to continue fighting this epidemic while maintaining his Dean’s List grade-point average at UW-Oshkosh.

Apps such as Moment and Forest are on the market to make an individual aware of their personal phone usage. Apps such as FamilyTime and OurPact are available for parents to monitor their children’s phone usage. Apps such as Hootsuite and Buffer were already on the market for companies to monitor the efficacy of their social media accounts in one place. Pyxsee aims to combine these features into one mobile application.

Pyxsee is a finalist in the 2018 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest and will present to judges and attendees June 5 during the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference.

Varma recently graduated from the UW-Madison in the Department of Life Sciences Communication.

FixdPicks uses AI for ROI transparency in sports betting

By Diego Vega Rivera


FixdPicks is pushing for artificial intelligence to be the next big thing to come to sports betting.

Founder Zach Nichols came across the idea for the new company when he was working on some code and saw that the algorithm was predicting the outcomes of National Basketball Association games rather accurately. It was through this code that the team created FixdPicks.

FixdPicks offers a subscription service that allows its subscribers access to the picks that the algorithm believes will win. By utilizing the algorithm, the AI can comb through many more data points than the traditional expert and can therefore predict the winning teams better than any individual person can.

Part of what allows the AI to be so effective, he said, is that it takes out the error of human emotion.

While many people want to go with their “gut feeling” or favorite team, FixdPicks is offering the opportunity for people to be a little smarter with their money and play the stats, rather than go for the emotional victory.

There are already many pick sites available for consumers, with big names such as SportsLine and Action Network in the mix.

However, co-founder Caleb Dykema points out that a key difference between FixdPicks and its competitors is that “you cannot find [the competitors] numbers anywhere. What we really wanted to do is be transparent. We want people to know our numbers.”

The numbers Dykema is referring to are the accuracy of the results, and how much money you can expect to make from utilizing the site. By offering the return on investment (ROI) statistic, a potential client can see the benefits of utilizing the service before even paying for the subscription or using one of the picks.

What makes FixdPicks even more interesting is that they want to open the field of sports betting for everyone to get in on the action where it’s legal. Since FixdPicks only offers the numbers and does not place any bets, it is legal to use in any state.

The subscription service will not only offer the picks that the algorithm develops, but will offer training and tips on how to best utilize that information to maximize ROI as well covering the basics of sports betting. By combining the two, the team at FixdPicks believes users will see value to the service and also enjoy using it and learning more about the field.

As a finalist in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, the company is seeking $17,000 primarily to help fund its marketing campaigns when the next season starts. While the algorithm is currently being used for basketball, Caleb also mentioned that some of that money will be used for research and development so that they can expand to other major U.S. sports leagues.

While COVID-19 has shut down sporting events in the United States for now, with an indefinite re-launch, Caleb said the company will take its time to get better prepared and to be ready to roll out as soon as the seasons restart. Because the team was working remotely before the pandemic, it hasn’t slowed progress.

After having done a small trial run at the beginning of the year, Nichols and Dykema said they hope the October start date for the NBA will allow them to make a “fast break” in the new season with FixdPicks.


Diego Vega Rivera recently graduated after studying Life Sciences Communication at UW-Madison.

What happens when you mix tradition with technology? You lock up success!

By Brianna Van Matre


It’s hard to believe that during a time of technological innovation, people sometimes forget to incorporate tradition in their ideas.

For Jack Ryan, his idea began by looking at a traditional gated entryway and wondering how it could become better.

Ryan has developed a “smart lock” that is able to give people a more secure and advanced lock, while keeping the traditional look and function of a normal deadbolt. Ryan, founder of Last Lock, has designed a lock with “smart” software features as well as functions for a variety of uses.

When asked about his inspiration for this lock, Ryan responded: “When walking home one day, I saw a tangled string of locks on a gate on East Washington Avenue (in Madison) and snapped this picture.”  

“It is a very practical system called a “daisy chain lock,” Ryan continued. “It is commonly found on construction sites and utility plants, and it allows a select number of people access without having to copy and share keys. Additionally, it is easy to add another user to the system by simply adding another lock to the chain. While very convenient, it occurred to me that this system has the same weakness as any other chain, it will always fail at the weakest link, or in this case the weakest lock. The unique solution I devised to solve this problem, not just in padlocks but in all locks, is the driving force behind Last Lock.”

Last Lock is a finalist in the 2020 Wisconsin Governors Business Plan Contest, which links up-and-coming entrepreneurs with a statewide network of community resources, expert advice, high-quality education, management talent and possible sources of capital. Last Lock has created a way to transform any doorway or lock into a smart access control system.

As opposed to mechanical locks, the last lock cylinder utilizes a proprietary scanning system that allows it to read and be opened by any desired physical key. In addition, the cylinder can also be opened by an authorized user, their cell phone, or a computer. By combining tradition with technology, Last Lock has an abundance of potential new customers. They include the UW-Madison, which faces a struggle of constant stolen or misplaced keys, along with senior living facilities and managers of Air BnBs. Such customers stand to benefit from the ability to have a physical key, as well as digital access to monitor security.

Through the mentorship and investment of gener8tor’s gAlpha program, Ryan has been able to build a team, develop sophisticated prototypes, and pursue patents. “We are very fortunate. Just a few months after being founded, we have a great team of UW Badgers growing this company and pilot partners testing our product. After sufficient testing, we will be excited to bring the Last Lock to our strategic industry partners throughout the Midwest.” Ryan said.

Last Lock is aiming to secure a bright future, despite this year’s surprising economic slowdown due to COVID-19. When asked about the virus crisis, Ryan said: “We are very lucky to have been only marginally affected by the effects of COVID-19. Our low burn rate has enabled us to stretch our runway for the foreseeable future, while our traction on our patents and prototype testing has only accelerated. As a result of the pandemic, we are also looking towards the future and creating solutions that combat viral transmission spread through lock systems and door handles.”

Last Lock and other finalists will compete leading up to the June 4 Entrepreneurs’ Conference, which will be held on a virtual platform this year. The conference is part of a five-month process that includes the opportunity to work with mentors and receive feedback from judges. It also leads to valuable exposure for the top business plans and helps spur economic growth in Wisconsin.

Van Matre is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.


Gud Medical offers a less expensive yet precise IV tool to the medical world

By Alexis Terry


Madison-based Gud Medical is striving to be a leader in delivering medicine and intravenous fluids as precisely as possible.

In hospitals across the world, there is a common theme: people and trauma. In urgent cases, intravenous or “IV” compound medications are often used in order to help people and deliver essential medicines.

Intravenous technologies are even used in non-hospital circumstances such as in research, dentistry and veterinary applications. When it comes to blood samples, mixing medications, or dosing medication, IV is the “go-to” method.

Gud Medical was co-founded in early 2020 by Joseph Ulbrich and Dr. Robert Radwin. According to  Ulbrich, the idea was brainstormed when a contract research organization reached out to his UW-Capstone Biomedical Engineering class. Together, they collaborated to make the ErgoExact-50 syringe adapter device.

Gud Medical is among the 28 finalists for 2020 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which will culminate at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference June 4.

The need for the ErgoExact-50 is designed to take the strain and pressure off the technician preparing the IV. The ErgoExact product line is being used in a piloted program at the UW Health Pharmacy Service Building.

Gud Medical’s ErgoExact-50 is a syringe attachment that allows accurate and precise volumes of fluid to be delivered in a comfortable manner for both the patient and administrator of the IV. The ergonomic design of the ErgorExact-50 is aimed at universal comfort in hands meaning the design is compatible with both left-handed and right-handed people.

The ErgoEcact-50 is patented by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. It is unique because it is compatible with the 50-milliliter syringe. The 50-milliter syringe is known as the most difficult syringe to use – even for the most seasoned technicians. What makes this device unique is that it draws and injects fluids.  

The ErgoExact-50 is designed the guesswork of administering IV fluids in the age of precision medicine.

At present, IV bags are filled by manual and full-automatic methods. With manual methods it is timely is repetitive for the pharmacy technicians. On the other hand, the fully automatic IV methods are economically costly, ranging from $250,000 to $500,000 for both purchase and maintenance of the machinery. The fully automatic IV methods require annual calibration, maintenance, often repair service damaged.

“The ErgoExact-50 has the potential to save hospitals millions of dollars,” Ulbrich said.

As a result, fully automatic IV methods are often not an option for smaller healthcare centers and rural hospitals that may not have the budget to allocate resources towards IV.  ErgoExact-50 is a greater value with an estimated cost of $1,000 per unit. Each manual IV prepared in real-time can lead to a 2.25%-4.5% human error rate, while the ErgoExact delivers precise drug concentrations that falls within the range of less than 10% concentration error. Having too much medicine can be fatal for the patient.

In the age of COVID-19, blood transfusions are being collected from people who have recovered from the disease. IV methods are being used to collect plasma hundreds of times a day. From the plasma collected researchers can see what antibodies are present. Although, the competitor, BD Vacutainer, is a common device that separates plasma are often used for drawing a volume of blood. If there becomes a shortage of Vacutainer tubes, then the ErgoExact device can be used. The antibodies from blood can help with immunology and virology testing.

In the next six months, company leaders believe, there will be an increased demand for the ErgoExact-50 in order to accommodate for testing antibodies in recovered COVID-19 patients.


Terry is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

eCourt Reporter is connecting talent to legal system more efficiently

By Mekenzie Steffen


eCourt Reporter provides a one-of-a-kind technology that allows for a thorough selection of court reporters who are needed in the legal world.

This Wisconsin-based marketplace allows law firms, government entities and court reporting agencies to directly schedule court reporters and legal videographers with live search capabilities across all 50 states.

The idea behind eCourt came from the difficulty in trying to efficiently find well-qualified court reporters across the United States.

Current reporter Karen Renee’s brother was one mastermind behind the unique technology. After using the popular mobile application, Uber, a lightbulb went off in his head. What if the searchability for legal personnel could instantly be done in a similar way?

In 2017, company president Karen Renee and vice president Judy Gerulat launched eCourt Reporters. Since starting, eCourt has been able to effectively reach members of the legal community through its unique technology-based platform.

Renee views eCourt as a one-of-a-kind for many reasons, mainly because she believes it is the trailblazer of this type of technology. eCourt is the first in the industry to successfully do the full process of searching, selecting, scheduling, and invoicing, she said.

Scheduling court reporters for specific proceedings can be time consuming. Users in the legal word are constantly waiting for responses on various platforms. However, eCourt has created a technology where there is no wait time making it very efficient for all users.

Law firms, government entities and court reporting agencies have all used eCourt’s technology. Their use has led them to receive direct results from live search criteria. The criteria feature upfront pricing, and contains information about certifications, years of experience, five-star ratings and availability. 

There have been multiple companies that have tried to mimic eCourt’s system, but none have been completely successful. NexDep, Expedite, Statim and AppearMe are three companies that have GPS search process capability such as eCourt, but they fail to provide the full “gavel-to-gavel” service.

“We do the whole process: search, select, schedule and invoice. It allows for law firms to find the best reporter representations for specific proceedings in the United States,” Renee said. “Our competitors are similar to a google search. They do provide a lot of information, but they do not provide the specific information like we do.”

However, Renee added that eCourt welcomes the competition. “From a technology standpoint it will just be a matter of time before our competitors start to catch up. We gladly welcome new competition because it forces us to grow and implement new components into our preexisting technology,” she said.

In terms of growth, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has had a positive effect on eCourt from a business perspective.

eCourt typically averages between 30 and 50 registrations per month; in the past month they have had about 200.

“The recent pandemic has been an uncomfortable position for lawyers,” Renee said. “Lawyers are forced into a remote setting. This is promoting for us because lawyers are essentially forced to try our technology and, hopefully, they will find that they enjoy it and implement it into their lives even after the pandemic.”

eCourt is a finalist in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which will end June 4 during the virtual Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference.


Mekenzie is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication

Keeping bikes safe from elements, and bikers active, is Pedal-Motive’s motive

By Elizabeth Schreiber


Pedal Motive aims to keep people riding their bikes year-round with “Speedcase,” a fully enclosed bike transmission.

Every day, people rely on bikes for recreation, training and commuting. Traditional bikes rely on exposed derailleurs to shift gears and provide an optimal riding experience with minimal pedaling effort.

The exposed nature of the mechanism leaves it susceptible to damage from rain and dirt. When exposed to the elements, chains and gears rust, leaving the rider with a worse riding experience. Weather conditions, thus, render the bike useless for a good portion of the year.

Pedal Motive’s Speedcase tackles this issue by enclosing the gears and chain from weather with a cover that mounts on any bike frame. The Speedcase allows riders to flip through the same 27-speed range offered by traditional derailleurs with a single control. The mechanism comes at the same weight and price as traditional versions but mitigates the potential for damage and repair cost.

Pedal Motive founder, CEO, and daily rider Nick Hein says the idea evolved during his time living on the state of Oregon’s often-rainy coast. 

“For about three months of the year, the bike riding was wonderful,” said Hein, who now lives in Madison.

As for the rest of the year, weather conditions largely put his bike out of commission. Consumer surveys revealed that, like Hein, “most people just live with whatever happens to the drivetrain.”

Dissatisfied with clunky alternatives such as geared hubs and bottom-bracketed gear boxes, and unwilling to accept the inevitability of damage and seasonal use prevention, Hein sought a solution.

He says the change was a long time coming: “Car transmissions have had covers for years, so why not just do the same thing with bikes?”

According to Hein, the Speedcase, is less expensive to produce and maintain, and more versatile than alternatives such as geared hubs.

“Several types of bike transmissions are trying to solve this problem,” Hein said. “But, they’re a lot heavier, more expensive, and have to be designed for a specific transmission.”

Even with these alternatives, Hein says the Speedcase’s primary competitor is inaction. Most individuals will either stop riding when conditions get bad or accept that their bike will see damage. To combat this, the Speedcase will be sold on a bike as a working unit, “so that the user doesn’t have to do it as a DIY project.”

Going forward, Hein sees plenty of opportunities for Speedcase to make biking an efficient, low-maintenance mode of transportation. “It’s something the market needs,” he said.

“I want everyone to be able to have this. I want people to be able to ride their bikes without having to worry about the chains and gears getting messed up,” Hein added.

According to Hein, making the innovation available to consumers may be more urgent than ever amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People more strapped for cash are looking to bicycling more than they would have before,” Hein said, adding that Speedcase may make bicycling a more reliable transportation alternative for healthcare and essential workers.

Pedal Motive now seeks funding to start manufacturing and move the product to the mass market where it will be sold as part of a complete bike for consumers to purchase from a vendor. The Speedcase will also be sold to other bike manufacturers as a component part.

In 2016, Pedal Motive created a prototype for the Speedcase with a grant from an environmental competition and was established as a limited liability company, or LLC, in 2019 during the Madworks business accelerator program.

Hein is the sole member of Pedal Motive LLC and is now a finalist in the 2020 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which will culminate June 4 during the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference.


Schreiber is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

Extended release opioid treatment is aim of Plumb Pharmaceuticals

By Emma Olstad


To the construction industry, the term “plumb” means the material is straight and true. Being straight and true brings a whole new meaning to Plumb Pharmaceuticals and its extended release solution for people trying to kick opioids.

Plumb Pharmaceuticals is a Madison-based company founded in 2016 by Timothy Heath and Lisa Krugner-Higby. Plumb Pharmaceuticals has created a drug-delivery technology for extended-release medications, specifically to help the fight against opioid addiction.

The United States diagnoses 2.5 million people annually with Opioid Use Disorder. Currently, Medication Assisted Therapies are the best on the market for treating OUD. These therapies help suppress cravings by blocking opioid receptors. However, relapse occurs between MAT doses.

Heath and Krugner-Higby have created a solution to help decrease relapse occurrences. A formula of liposomes, much like a “microscopic water balloon,” that is filled with medication is placed under the skin and slowly releases medications. The liposomes are filled with medications including naltrexone or buprenorphine. These medications help dirtier? opioid cravings and block receptors such as MATs through extended release.

The technology requires a single dose four times per year. This dosage is significantly less than MATs and significantly reduces the potential of relapse. In addition, this form of treatment allows for fewer clinic visits, thus reducing the financial burden for patients and treatment providers.

Plumb’s closest competitor is Vivitrol® (by Alkermes). The product is a one-month, extended-release injectable naltrexone. It is more effective than oral medications but does have side effects.

Plumb Pharmaceuticals primary focus is helping tackle opioid relapse, said chief executive officer Jackie Hind. In the future, their technology may have application for anti-narcotics, HIV drugs or Chloroquine to help treat COVID-19.

Both Heath and Krugner-Higby are graduates of the UW-Madison and have decades of expertise in pharmaceuticals research and veterinary medicine respectively.

In addition to the team’s co-founders, Plumb Pharmaceuticals is comprised of six employees.

Plumb Pharmaceuticals patented technology, Advanced Quantload Technology, was originally used in Krugner-Higby’s work at UW-Madison’s Research Animal Resource and Compliance center. She was looking for a better way to provide pain management to animals less frequently and started working with opioid formulations in liposomes.

The company started formed its first LLC in 2016, which was focused on animals, and transitioned its research to humans and opioid addiction in early 2018.

When deciding to make the change from animals to humans, Hind said they looked at areas in human medicine where there was “great need and that the company could make a positive impact.” That area was opioid medication to help mitigate relapse.

Plumb has received grant funding through the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. In addition to the grants, Plumb’s market opportunity will require a capital raise of $8.6 million spread over multiple milestones between 2020 through 2023. This will allow them to complete “investigational new drug” enabling studies, IND-submission and Phase 1a of clinical trials.

Once on the market, Plumb anticipates the cost of its product to be $950 per three-month dose. At this price, it would be one-third of the price of its closest competitor, a naltrexone shot that lasts one month and costs $1,000 per month.

Plumb Pharmaceuticals has been selected as one of 28 finalists for the 2020 Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which will conclude at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in June.


Olstad is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

‘Assembly line’ approach makes building a website a one-day project

By Emily Matzke


Building a brand-new website is often a painstakingly long process, but with the help of the developers at Bizzy Bizzy, the process can be done in just one day.

Using traditional methods, the website development process can take anywhere from a few weeks to months until the project is completed. It is often hindered with clients not having enough time to focus solely on the website, and the developer being tasked with multiple client projects. This process leads to inefficiencies and time lost to gain brand awareness or bring companies to life.

Candy Phelps, the founder of Bizzy Bizzy, has experienced this challenge first-hand, as she has run her own experiential creative agency and marketing accelerator for years. Instead of shying away, Phelps rose to the challenge and used her prior experience in journalism to create the idea of a One Day Website, Bizzy Bizzy’s new signature service.

“Traditional website building methods take time,” Phelps said. “Typically, clients and developers are playing phone tag or emailing back and forth constantly, which leads to a back log in the work being done. We wanted to change that.”

Bizzy Bizzy designed a proprietary system that helps business owners save time and frustration redesigning or building their website. With the 1 Day Website service, clients and a team of experts meet for one day, often for nine hours and tackle all aspects of the website at once. This allows team members to create a vertical “assembly line,” and to get instant feedback, approval and access.

“To us, this process is more efficient, more fun and provides more benefits,” said Phelps of the 1 Day Website. “By having all of the team members together in person or virtually allows for super tight processes that produce a high-quality output.”

To date, Bizzy Bizzy has helped build nearly 50 1 Day Websites, but Phelps fears Bizzy Bizzy’s process is limited to the Madison metropolitan area with its current set up. Her goal is to be able to market the company’s licensing and certification program to the more than 75,000 web service providers in the United States.

While the cost of each site depends on the size, scope and how many people are required to work on the site to make it come to fruition, most clients can expect their new site to cost between $4,000 and $5,000 with the help of Bizzy Bizzy.

“Right now, we are just one team, able to focus on businesses in the greater Madison area, but my dream is bigger,” Phelps said. “One day I would like this process available to companies in all major metropolitan areas across the U.S., with web developers honing in on this process and providing the service to clients.”

To help make her dream a reality, Phelps decided to enter the 2020 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which will culminate at the Wisconsin Entrepreneur’s Conference in June. In this contest, Phelps is competing against entrepreneurs and startups from across the state to receiving funding and investment for their companies.

While the ultimate goal is to gain money to further her company’s licensing program and to get it into the hands of other developers, Phelps says that regardless of the outcome she is happy she entered the contest.

“This competition is so much more than just applying for funding,” said Phelps. “Because of this contest I’ve been able to get my business plan tightened up and have gained feedback from experts in the field.”

The contest is designed so that contestants may take small, incremental steps as they advance through the contest. This allows contestants to get more focus and clarity behind what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, according to Phelps.

Whether or not the contest lands Phelps the funding she desires, entering this contest has pivoted her for success. Because of it, she understands her business better and is ready get this process into the hands of others and reach her goals.


Matzke is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication

A startup in Eau Claire is taking the audio-visual industry wireless

By Emily LaVoi


EAU CLAIRE, Wis. – UpStream AV is enabling the audio-visual industry to go wireless.

The Wisconsin based company, founded in 2019, has developed the hardware and software necessary to create the next generation of AV products. These AV products will have no need for wires due to its ability to rely on pre-existing infrastructure and Wi-Fi networks.

UpStream’s solution is an intuitive, mobile, device-controlled application that utilizes pre-existing audiovisual equipment with a “firmwave” attachment that connect over Wi-Fi and is backed through the internet cloud.

The company was founded by a team of software and electrical engineers with a prior understanding of the AV industry, allowing for a deep understanding of the needs of the current system – where the “pain points” are and how to make it less complicated and less expensive.

UpStream is “solving AV’s most pressing problems to put the AV professional’s time where it is most valuable spent – on creating great systems for our customers,” according to Jim McDougall the CEO of UpStream and former software engineer at JAMF Software.

UpStream’s solution is more flexible than the current AV solutions that require hardwiring, allowing it to be easier to use and faster to install. The solution utilizes paired hardware and software, thus eliminating the need to wire AV equipment together.

As explained by McDougall, UpStream, “increases system flexibility and reduces non-value-added labor costs in commercial installations…. (Which, is done) by creating patentable, custom electronics supported by next generation software systems with cloud and mobile management.”

Currently live-event venues must rely on systems that require centralization with manual connection. While other current AV solutions still require dedicated infrastructure, UpStream’s solution does not.

The over-Wi-Fi connection can be utilized in a plethora of live-event venues by using existing equipment, including speakers and screens.

The system not only saves conference goers from tripping over wires and increases the users’ ease, it also lowers non-essential costs. The systems reliance on pre-existing systems will decrease cost of non-essential infrastructure. The system will reduce set-up times and allow venues to have a shorter downtime between events, increasing venue utilization rates.

UpStream will also alleviate pressures by the labor shortage currently facing the AV industry, A situation which is expected to last years. The reduction in need for set-up due to UpStream’s system will alleviate this issue.

“Solutions are needed that reduce labor demands without sacrificing the experience being delivered,” said McDougall. “The decrease in need for installation and reliance on existing networks and infrastructure will do just that.”

UpStream is currently in the investment and beta testing phase through 2020 and is on target to begin accepting pre-orders in 2021.

UpStream has taken on the challenges accompanying COVID-19 in two primary ways.

As explained by McDougall, conference and retail establishments will need support through reopening and more easily managing events, UpStream can help all these factors, he said.

UpStream is also looking into applications in hospitals, which may allow utilization of the solution to share information remotely as visitor access remains limited.

McDougall and team are taking COVID and 2020 in stride, accelerating their applications, continuing beta testing, seeking capital and using the information gained to make a better holistic and wireless commercial AV experience.

UpStream is a finalist in the 2020 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which culminates at the virtual Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference June 4.


LaVoi is a student in UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

Partita, which 3D-prints violins, shifts focus to face shields during pandemic

By Jessica Knackert


The wooden, handmade design of a violin is easily recognizable with around 180,000 violins sold each year in the United States alone. One local company has aimed to redefine this traditional look by changing how the instrument is produced. Partita LLC instead creates violins by using a 3D printer.

Partita was founded in 2019 by husband and wife duo, April Weir-Hauptman and David Hauptman. Weir brings her business expertise to the table. She not only earned her master’s in business administration from UW-Madison, but also has extensive experience in company development and growth. Hauptman provides expertise in 3D printing and illustration, ultimately creating the design for the company’s novel violin.

The violins produced by Partita are much cheaper than their counterparts. Traditional violins used by students or ensemble performers can range from $500 to $1,500 or more. Partita sells the company’s violins for $369 each. The parts are also cheaper to produce and replace if damaged.

The lower price of the 3D-printed violins plays a large role in Partita’s aim to make the instrument more affordable and accessible. With this goal in mind, the company has focused on partnering with local schools. The cheap cost of the 3D-printed violins makes them an inexpensive option for children whose parents can’t afford the high cost or rental prices of traditional violins.

“There have been many studies that show learning a new instrument provides many benefits to the learner, such as increased coordination, better memory, and (offers) a way that one can feel worth,” Weir explained. “We believe that price should not be a roadblock to all kids having at least the opportunity to learn about music and try to play an instrument.”

Partita also gives customers more bang for their buck. Around 16 violins of all sizes are made each week from a plastic polymer that comes in a variety of colors. This not only makes them more durable and weather-resistant than traditional wood violins, but also provides an equal, if not better, sound profile as a violin that costs four times as much.

Due to the pandemic, Partita has temporarily shifted its business focus. The company is now using its 3D printer to create face shields for local healthcare workers.

“I recruited a team of over 40 printer volunteers and together we created over 2,000 shields in just three weeks,” Weir stated. “We know this is a part-time diversion to create these (personal protective equipment), but it was easy for us to do and we wanted to do our part to help out during this time.”

As Partita continues to grow, the company plans to focus more on marketing its product as well as building relationships with retailers and music programs. As emphasized by Weir, “Our hope is that we can get more violins into the hands of more kids, and that in doing so, they will find a new hobby, gain confidence, and overall feel good about themselves.”

The future of Partita appears to be as bright as their iridescent violins. At a time when most of us are stuck in our homes, music could bring an extra sense of comfort, especially when we have the option to make the tunes ourselves.

Partita is one of 28 finalists in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which culminates June 4 at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference.


Knackert is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication

Mappix creating a social network for drone imagery

By Maya Sanghvi

In an accelerating virtual world, the need for managing and storing data is crucial. With drone and virtual reality industries growing rapidly, Mappix might be the convenient management platform drone pilots and companies have been searching for.

Mappix aims to overcome the lack of data management in drone imaging. Acting as a social network for drone pilots and aerial imaging, Mappix will provide a unified resource for managing, storing, promoting and discovering drone images. The platform will allow users to more efficiently manage their drone images and media through geotagging. Through simplicity and convenience, Mappix will act as a user-friendly system preventing users from having to move their drone media to a centralized location.  

According to Christopher Johnson, chief executive officer of Mappix, the company’s product is the first system of its kind supplying free drone pilot training. Partnering with Pilot Training System, the company provides a free course for users to become certified commercial drone pilots. With years of experience teaching drone pilot training, Johnson wants to make this course readily available and free to the public. Up and running since March 2020, the course already has more than 48,000 subscribers on YouTube.

By introducing Mappix to the commercial drone industry, this platform will make drone imaging and media easily discoverable and facilitate transactions between drone pilots and companies.

“My vision for Mappix is to create a robust, world-wide, image repository where people can buy, sell and share geotagged drone imagery for things like creating virtual reality models,” Johnson said.

There has been a spike in commercial drone industry growth over the past couple of years. Business Insider Intelligence estimates drone services market size will see a $59.2 billion increase from 2018 to 2025. The increasing demand for aerial photography and remote sensing has put commercial imaging drones in a leading market.

With thousands of companies already using drones for image-based analysis, remote sensing and inspections, infrastructure modeling and making digital replications of the world, the demand for pilots and imaging management is massive.

With the company already creating thousands of certified drone pilots through the Pilot Training System, Mappix will provide a free tool for managing their drone images and media.

Selected from a large list of applicants, Johnson will present Mappix to investors at the 2020 Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium. Johnson hopes to launch a beta version to its current subscribers later in November 2020.

Johnson’s goal while developing this product was to identify problems within the drone industry, define the solutions and soon provide these solutions.

Air Force veteran Johnson said the best part of creating this product was working alongside a team of supportive co-developers and interns that believed in the product and put the time and effort to make it happen.

Sanghvi is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

“Steady Shot’ aims to make injections more precise for diabetics

By Hailey Jauquet


In the 2020 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, a UW-Madison graduate finds himself a finalist as he strives to provide a low-tech syringe adapter to assist insulin users in the United States and beyond.

Shawn Michels, himself a diabetic who knows the tedious day-to-day annoyances of poking oneself multiple times throughout the day, is hoping to make that regimen better for others through Steady Shot.

Michels came up with the idea when he started noticing his own consistent bruising and lipohypertrophy, or lumps under the skin caused by accumulation of extra fat at the site of many subcutaneous injections of insulin. It was particularly so in common injection sights, such as easy-to-reach places like the abdomen and thighs.

Feeling unhappy with this, Michels decided to 3D-print a cap to go on his needle, thus stabilizing the needle and allowing for easier injection in a range of places. A few prototypes later and Steady Shot was born.

Feeling that such a simple devise had dramatically improved his own life, Michels wanted to share this idea with the other 7.3 million Americans who use insulin. Shawn worked through a startup accelerator at the UW-Madison, called Discovery to Product, that funded the initial commercialization of Steady Shot.

Stead Shot is a $30 plastic syringe guard that lasts six-plus months and simply connects to the pen needle to keep it steady during injections. The product typically allows for a reduced injection sensation but also is extremely helpful in facilitating one handed injection, something that diabetics know is crucial when poking themselves multiple times a day with both their dominant and non-dominant hands.

Michels has been persistent in getting Steady Shot noticed and off the ground. The idea has received just over $47,000 in grant funding from a variety of different business plan contests. Following that, Steady Shot participated in Gener8tor’s gBETA’s Milwaukee spring 2019 cohort to refine the business model, meet mentors, strategize growth, gain customer traction and pitch to investors. As of the Feb. 1, Steady Shot is on the market and is being sold direct to consumer the website,, or business-to-business in three Milwaukee-area retail pharmacies.

In terms of competition, Michels believes he has found a niche market. The only similar product on the market is TickleFLEX, and injection aid that attaches to needles, which is based in the United Kingdom and not FDA-approved for sale in the United States. Being the only product of its type for the huge diabetic and insulin industry, TickleFLEX realized $4 million in revenue during the 2019 fiscal year and is untouched by any competitors in the United Kingdom.

While the idea and physical mechanics of Steady Shot are simple – nothing more than a piece of plastic – the benefits that diabetics in the United States will experience due to this hitting the market may be huge. Of the 7.3 million insulin injectors in America, 38% — or roughly 2.8 million people – need to rotate injection sites more consistently. The burden associated with the need for extra insulin is estimated at about $200 to $400 per year for each injector with lipohypertrophy, which represents a burden of $650 million to $1.1 billion in the United States alone that could be saved with the purchase of Steady Shot. If all the 7.3 million insulin injectors in the United States purchased Steady Shot two times a year for roughly $30 per applicator, it could exceed to a roughly $440 million annual market.

Michels hopes to see Steady Shot grow not only financially but he hopes to see drastic improvements in the lives of insulin injectors as he feels this product has provided for himself.


Jacquet is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

For entrepreneur and survivor, double mastectomy led to idea for clothing line

By Janel Hutchison


Jaimie Sherling’s life was forever changed when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2018. Just two months after diagnoses she underwent a double mastectomy, and for the following 15 months she endured a series of radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

By September 2019, Sherling was cancer-free and cleared to resume life as normal. However, life as a survivor, she found, was anything but normal.

After her double mastectomy, Sherling chose to forgo reconstructive surgery, which presented the new challenge of navigating life with a changed body. At first, Sherling found a solution in prosthetics, silicone disks that are inserted in bras to emulate breasts. After several months of use, however, Sherling decided to stop wearing the inserts.

“They’re not exactly comfortable,” Sherling said. “So [I thought]- Why would I wear this if I don’t have to?”

But without prosthetics, Sherling’s clothes didn’t fit anymore. V-neck shirts were too low, form-fitting clothing laid differently, and shirts with darts were useless. When Sherling started shopping for new clothes, she found that locating flattering feminine clothing that fit her body type was nearly impossible.

“It was a very painstaking process,” Sherling said. “I might be in a dressing room for two hours with stacks and stacks of clothes and find three things that work, maybe.”

After research, Sherling discovered there was not even a single line of clothing that caters specifically to women without breasts. With thousands of women undergoing double mastectomies every year, Sherling knew that many women were likely in the same situation, struggling with clothing fit on a daily basis. And so, after floating the idea to a few breast cancer survivor networking groups, Sherling decided to start her own line of clothing – one specifically made for survivors such as herself.

Wasting no time, Sherling completed the entrepreneurial training program at the Wisconsin UW-Madison Small Business Development Center this past fall, which she said was “a very valuable program for someone looking to be an entrepreneur.” Throughout the nine-week session, Sherling was connected with a business consultant who helped her write and finalize a business plan for “YDY (You Do You), Sweets,” a clothing line specifically designed for women who have had mastectomies.

“If I get my act together and things happen soon enough, I would be the first to market [to this demographic], which is pretty exciting,” said Sherling.

Sherling plans to design the line herself, which will eventually include tops, blouses, tunics and dresses. While she doesn’t know how to sew, Sherling said she “knows what works and what doesn’t,” and so “feels confident” in her ability to work with a pattern maker to design items that are both comfortable and flattering.   

Already, Sherling has one item that she is ready to launch, a cowl neck tunic that she has named “The Heather.” Marketing at $80, the top features “no fuss, wash and wear” fabric that skims the body and will be offered in a variety of different colors and feminine prints. Sherling plans to launch the item by taking pre-orders on social media, which she said was the “lowest risk” option given her limited budget.

Until Sherling secures the funding to develop a website, she plans to market her line through Instagram and Facebook, through which she will actively respond to questions and accept orders. Sherling said she hopes this initial marketing strategy will give her the success she needs to attract interest from investors.

While Sherling was hoping to launch her first item this month, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed back her timeline.

“I just don’t feel it’s the right time given our world [crisis],” said Sherling. “But I know that I still will [launch] and I’m ready to go. It’s just a matter of timing.” 

Once launched, Sherling hopes that YDY, Sweets will attract interest from both consumers and investors, as increased funding will allow her to establish an inventory, build an online store, and eventually begin marketing in small boutiques, hospitals and cancer centers.

This business plan, Sherling said, is driven by the belief that breast cancer survivors deserve better — that their stories are theirs to tell, and they should have the power to decide how they look and how they dress.

“YDY, Sweets [stands for] ‘You Do You,’ and that is the basis of my entire line,” Sherling said. “If you want to wear my clothing and not have prosthetics underneath … perfect. If some days, you want to wear prosthetics in other clothing … great. It’s all your choice… And right now, women in my circumstances do not have [that] choice.”


Hutchison is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

MyGenomeRX shows how DNA variations can affect one’s response to medication

By Liz Grady


Whether it is allergies, cold, flu or pain and chronic disease management, most people turn to medication for relief and intervention of symptoms. However, each person has variations of DNA sequences, and these variations can affect how a person responds to various medications.

MyGenomeRX is the only known digital health company to offer educational information on the influence of a person’s DNA on their response to medications. The company uses pharmacogenomics, a combination of pharmacology, the study of drugs and, and genomics, the study of genes and their function.

As an information technology tool, MyGenomeRX allows customers to upload their existing genetic data from commercial genetic testing providers such as Ancestry and 23andMe.

Anyone can have their DNA tested. Companies like Ancestry and 23andMe have commercialized genetic testing, making it easier for individuals to learn about their genetics for a variety of reasons; some to learn about their family history and others to learn about their susceptibility to genetic disorders.

Genetic data is often collected as simply as a swap of saliva or with a strand of hair. These samples of DNA are shared with genetic testing facilities through the mail. Once tested, the individual will receive a comprehensive report based on their DNA sample. Depending upon how extensive of genetic data a person would like to receive, the cost of personalized genetic testing is between 40 and one hundred dollars.

But commercial genetic testing does not analyze how DNA sequences affect one’s reaction to various medications. That’s where MyGenomeRX comes in. Customers upload their genetic data to MyGenomeRX. Next, choose between three levels of reports, each level offers more comprehensive and personalized information to their specific list of medications. These reports provide insight into how their DNA could influence drug choices and dosing.

The first report offered is a personalized drug to drug interaction report for zero dollars. The second is a pharmacogenomic overview with personalized information at the general drug class level for $39.99. The third is a pharmacogenomic drug report which includes the overview as well as a personalized medication report based on the customer’s provided medication list, for $59.

At-home genetic testing is on the rise. In the next two years alone, more than 100 million people worldwide will use at-home genetic testing. MyGenomeRX is recommended for those who take five or more medications, about10% of the population and 30% of adults over 65.

MyGenomeRX was founded by chief executive officer Annette Gilchrist, Ph.D., an associate professor of pharmacology/medicinal chemistry of oncology drugs and pharmacogenomics at Midwestern University. Gilchrist is a serial entrepreneur, having also founded Cue Biotech and Caden Biosciences.

Others on the management team are Christopher Narys, chief technology officer, and Dimitra Georgonapullou, chief business officer. Both Narys and Georgonapullou are serial entrepreneurs as well, working with several startups in the health information and technology industry.

Narys is a technical expert on distributed systems and natural language processing. He is the co-founder of BioBlaze and was recently the CTO of a now-acquired educational technology startup. The previous director of commercialization at INVO, Georgonapullou is an experienced biotech professional and well-versed on medical devices, diagnostics, health IT and therapeutics.

MyGenomeRX is a finalist for the 2020 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest. Finalists are vying to split upwards of $150,000 in cash and prizes during the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in June, when the contest will culminate.


Grady is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication, with certificates in agri-business management and entrepreneurship.

Company uses ‘smart phone’ app to help people with hearing difficulties

By Kaitlin Edwards


The World Health Organization estimates more than 5% of the world’s population experiences some type of hearing impairment. A Wisconsin-based company called Ascending Hearing Technologies is helping by utilizing something most people constantly keep near them – their smartphones.

AHT was founded in 2018 by Christina Runge, a professor of Otolaryngology and Communication Sciences at the Medical College of Wisconsin who specializes in audiology, and Yi Hu, a professor of electrical engineering at the UW-Milwaukee who specializes in sound processing. After collaborating for more than 10 years, Ph.D.’s Runge and Yi recognized a gap in the market for clinically-based hearing amplifiers.

AHT’s first product is an iOS app that uses an iPhone with ear pods to amplify sounds for the user in real time. “When you first use the app it will test your hearing and then allow you to do a fine tuning procedure to ensure the highest quality sound,” Runge said. She added that the app utilizes machine learning for the fine tuning and sound optimization, and AHT is currently developing noise suppression for the next iteration.

AHT plans to offer the app on the Apple App Store using a subscription-based model following a one-month free trial period. 

The app will be suitable for people who report difficulty hearing in some daily listening situations. It isn’t designed for people with more than a moderate degree of hearing loss, instead depending on individual listening needs it could potentially still offer some benefit. During the initial hearing test, it will also notify the user if it identifies hearing loss that should be assessed by a hearing professional.

Currently the app is a protype developed within Phase I of a Small Business Technology Transfer grant through the National Institutes of Health National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. AHT recently submitted a grant proposal for a Phase II STTR, to fund further research and development of the app. For Phase II, AHT plans to finalize the app’s features and ensure it reaches the standards established by the Apple App Store. The product is slated to be available in two years.

Having the app funded by the NIH means it will undergo vigorous testing, and for the STTR grant the AHT app will also be tested in a human clinical trial.

“Other amplification apps can be developed and made available on the App Store, but few if any of these apps have been tested in clinical trials,” Runge said. To her knowledge, very few of the current available products are developed by people with clinical expertise with fitting hearing aids. “There is some competition, but I feel that our app will definitely be able to stand up to it,” Runge said.

AHT is a finalist for the 2020 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which will culminate at the Entrepreneurs’ Conference in June. AHT is hoping to raise $1.5 million through investors. They would use the money to help with a Phase III clinical trial and to hire four new employees, including two audiologists, a marketing specialist, and a research administrator.

“Already up to this point, the exposure that AHT has gotten to local business professionals, and everyone involved in this process has just been invaluable,” Runge said. “I’m positive it’s opening doors already that AHT will see in the future, that we don’t even know about yet.”

Runge noted she is amazed by the support of many others in the state. Along with funding opportunities and people eager to help, that support “motivates you to keep going when things are tough because you know a lot of people are rooting for you.”

“If nothing else, it makes you really feel good to be a part of the state and a part of the process,” she said.

ATH has already created a part-time position and has the potential for much more growth. The company’s goal is to get the technology to the hands of people who can use it. As Runge noted: “To help people hear better, and communicate better, and help the quality of life for the people in Wisconsin and beyond.”


Edwards is a student studying life sciences communication and neurobiology at UW-Madison.

Gyld provides unique networking platform for skilled trades

By Kylie Donovan


The business goal of Gyld is to emerge as an efficient networking platform, catering to blue-collar professionals and making it easier to showcase skills, certifications, education, and past projects.

Realizing there was a gap in the networking market for skilled trades, co-founders Kahloong Teh and Kyle Shelton founded Madison-based Gyld Inc. in 2019. The name takes inspiration from the medieval term “guild,” an association of craftsmen or merchants, often reaching a high level of their skillset.

The founders believe other networking services, such as LinkedIn and TradeHounds, lack the features that display the strengths and experiences of trade workers. By incorporating profile management, project portfolio and networking features, Gyld aims to provide an effective platform catered to these strengths.

Demonstrating expertise and examples of their work is key for tradespeople when it comes to marketing themselves to employers. With a place to package all they have to offer in one spot, users can confidently represent themselves- and potential employers are provided with instant validation.  

Aside from self-marketing and connecting with potential employers, Gyld also provides a way to collaborate with other tradespeople and work together.

Teh provides this example: “A handyman can’t bid on a bathroom refresh project requiring plumbing work if his plumber contact is busy.”

With Gyld’s collaboration feature, the handyman can easily connect with other plumbers in their area. This feature also allows for younger tradespeople and minority groups, such as women in trades, to find mentors and other career-developing services.

Many different skills go into completing a project and these workers need to be efficient with their time. “You need to be able to bring that team together and find those people in one spot in order to get to the point of being able to work on that project” explains Shelton.

Because the company is in early stage development, the focus is on obtaining users and building a networking effect. The service is free to join and will eventually move toward providing premium services for their users – which will be a main source of revenue alongside advertising.

Teh and Shelton recently launched on the app store within the last few weeks, marking an increase in promotion for the company.

With the money raised from investors, development can become more of a focus and will help move the product forward. The two most important things in any startup is building a product and getting it in front of people — that’s where the money will go.

Shelton also commented on the company’s adjustment to the current COVID-19 crisis, saying “as an entrepreneur and a startup, regardless of the situation, you have to stay positive and keep looking for opportunity.”

While one challenge they face right now includes frozen venture capital funding, the company seems to be focusing on the positives. Companies around the country and state have had to lay off tradespeople, leaving many in the unfortunate circumstance of looking for work. Gyld is a platform that helps them find that.

When asked about their strongest asset, Shelton cited their team dynamic, describing how they work well together and bring different strengths to the table. “Kahloong and I love to innovate and we love to provide efficiency to an industry, there will never be a period of time that we will be okay with the product being stagnant.”

Gyld is one of the 28 finalists for the 2020 Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which will culminate at the Entrepreneurs’ Conference in June.


Donovan is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication

AGent Plus Solutions LLC is a finalist in the Governor’s Business Plan Contest

By Allie Breunig


If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that germs can thrive almost anywhere and spread in the blink of an eye. Today, most people are wiping down the same countertop with a disinfectant that kills the germs currently on the surface but leaving behind a breeding ground for new germs.

In 2011, a Wisconsin couple was looking for a cleaning product that could protect their home from germs, even after the cleaning supplies were returned to their cupboards. After scouring the soap and cleaning compound industry, they decided to create their own.

Enter AGent+ Cleaner & Protectants from AGent Plus Solutions LLC. These naturally derived cleaning products, with multi-purpose and hard surface solution, have a water-based formulation that cleans with citrus oils and isopropyl alcohol like typical cleaning products.

The AGent+ difference comes from adding a bonding agent along with nano-scale copper and silver to protect the cleaned surfaces for up to three days. The small particles provide a high surface-to-volume ratio, allowing consumers to use less product and have a smaller environmental impact. This unique use of nanotechnology was awarded patents in the United States and Canada, giving APS exclusive intellectual property rights to the technology.

Five of six disinfectant product categories do not include a product with residual protection, and the sixth has a brief residual property. Two of APS’ competitors, SC Johnson and The Clorox Company, do not offer products with the same ability to protect surfaces for up to three days, based on results from numerous independent studies.

Controlling the growth of microbials is always important but has become top-of-mind for many people during the COVID-19 pandemic. With consumers looking for products that will keep their families safe when they’re needing products that will clean their surfaces, and keep them protected for up to three days, there is a huge opportunity for APS in the marketplace.

The soap and cleaning compound industry generated over $60 billion in 2016, with 57% and 43% representing the household and commercial segments, respectively. AGent+ is competitively priced for households in a 32-ounce spray bottle at $12.49 for the Hard Surface Cleaner and $13.95 for the Multi-Purpose option, with bulk sizes available for use in commercial settings.

Because of AGent+’s ability to diminish the cross-contamination and microbial growth risks in high-traffic places with many people, they have focused on entertainment venues to enter the market and gain awareness. Customers included the Wisconsin State Fair and seven Major League Baseball teams, including the Milwaukee Brewers.

The current business model of APS is business-to-business, with commission-based sales representatives in addition to the management team. For direct-to-consumer sales, there is an e-commerce platform, They expect to see growth through their online presence within the medical market. Other opportunities, including specialty catalogs and multi-level marketing companies, are being discussed at this time.

The leadership team is comprised of people with a wide range of backgrounds in business, law, healthcare, software and government regulations. This creates a broad network for introducing AGent+ to new markets.

Jeffrey Lord, inventor and manager of APS, said: “Most household cleaning products have been around since the 1940’s & 50’s.  Since then, science has taken us to the moon and back, and we have a rover on Mars that can be controlled from Earth.  AGent+ has taken this same pioneering approach by safeguarding everyday items using nanotechnology to not only clean, but protect surfaces, naturally for up to three days. This is an innovation, given global concerns, whose time has arrived.”

APS is one of 28 finalists in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which will conclude in June at the Entrepreneurs’ Conference. Winners of the contest receive access to a statewide network of community resources, advice, education, talent and possible sources of capital. APS is seeking $1 million in funds to support their strategy, which is broken into three phases. The phases include their e-commerce platform, building brand recognition for sales growth and a regulatory foundation for their entry into the medical market.

With confidence in the product, and exclusive ownership rights to the intellectual property, the APS team expects strong contribution margin results, even in low volumes. The operating profit break-even point is estimated at a little over two years with margins of 25% in year four and 30% in year five. The estimated enterprise value, excluding licensing opportunities, is $16.7 million by the end of year five. Growth may be expedited if they see success during the COVID-19 pandemic as well.


Breunig is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

GoDx uses point-of-care test to quickly diagnose gut, COVID-19 pathogens

By Katy Bergeron


GoDiagnostics, or GoDx, was formed with the vision to “democratize diagnostics” so that all people can learn more quickly and at the point-of-care about infections that make them sick.

The founder and chief executive officer of GoDx, Chang Hee Kim, and his team are in the process of gaining approval of their two diagnostics tests – GutChecker and CoronaChecker.

Kim founded the company to combat deaths related to diarrhea inducing gut pathogens. With 4 million to 6 million annual deaths, diarrhea is the second leading cause of death in children under age 5 worldwide. Furthermore, there is an unmet need for quick, inexpensive and effective diagnostics tests in our healthcare system. GoDx is tackling this unmet need head on.

Traditionally, such pathogen diagnostic tests may take several days to yield a result because samples had to be sent to a lab, which in many cases isn’t enough time to effectively treat a potentially life-threatening pathogen. Most pathogen detection tests are also expensive and require instruments, expensive machinery and plenty of time in order to yield accurate results – resources not readily available to some clinics nationally and globally.

The GoDx tests under review is a rapid diagnostic free from machines, instruments or even a laboratory, and can yield results in roughly 30 minutes.

This non-invasive diagnostic method works by amplifying pathogen DNA and RNA through a process called isothermal nucleic acid amplification. This process uses enzymes to amplify pathogen DNA and RNA, which replaces the need for heat and time required by most traditional diagnostic tests.

After 20 to 30 minutes, a practitioner will test for gastrointestinal pathogens by transferring the amplified DNA or RNA to a paper strip which will identify a positive or negative result for a specific pathogen. “Think of it like a pregnancy test,” Kim said.  

GoDx plans to bring GutChecker to developing countries most affected by diarrheal pathogens.

GoDx initially used this point of care technology for the GutChecker test for GI pathogens which uses stool samples with a $3 million Small Business Innovation Research SBIR grant funding from National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health.

With the rise of the coronavirus pandemic, GoDx is also aiding the current state of emergency by developing a fast-tracked FDA Emergency Use Authorization test called CoronaChecker to detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes the COVID-19 pandemic. For this test, saliva or nasopharyngeal samples will be used.

“There is an urgent need for coronavirus testing at (volumes that are) currently unmet,” Kim said.  “We were already working on the technology to find G.I pathogens… we already had our base platform.”

GoDx’s instrument-free tests make rapid diagnostics available to hospitals and labs that do not already have the specific and expensive instruments required for the current FDA EUA approved tests.

GoDx also hopes to develop an at-home CoronaChecker test by the end of the year. With the current public state of emergency, GoDx is prioritizing the rapid development of CoronaCheck over GutChecker. Kim projects the company must still deal with roughly a year and a half’s worth of development procedures regarding the GutChecker rapid diagnostic test.

Kim obtained his Ph.D. from CALTECH in biochemistry, HHMI post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard with Nobel Laureate Dr. Jack Szostak and has a background in diagnostics and genomics.

While GoDx originated in California in 2017, the company made the move to Madison, Wis. “We love the supportive startup environment here,” Kim noted.

The company also received funding from WEDC through the Center for Technology Commercialization to accelerate commercialization.

“We would also like to thank Merlin Mentors for their mentoring in business,” Kim added.

GoDx is among the finalists for 2020 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which will culminate at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in June.


Bergeron is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication


By Trevor Anderson


Is there anything that says “Wisconsin” more than the combination of hunting and innovation?

ModuTree, a modular hunting blind system developed by UW-Whitewater graduate Trevor Santarius, is a blend of both. It is also among the 28 finalists in the 2020 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which will culminate in June at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference.

Created in 2004, the Governor’s Business Plan Contest has given students and entrepreneurs of all ages chances to win cash, services and exposure with their ideas. Santarius said he hopes to be among the contest’s winners.

Santarius graduated in 2011 from UW-Whitewater’s School of Business with a degree in entrepreneurship. He later founded AriusTek, an e-commerce startup that operated profitably for six years selling specialized LED filament light bulbs. His success with AriusTek gave him confidence to expand and test his other ideas that he had.

His latest idea, ModuTree, is a modular hunting blind system that gives hunters the ability to design, build and modify their own custom blind configuration. The modular system consists of sturdy interlocking composite plastic tiles engineered for inexpensive manufacture and simply assembly.

Santarius said the idea is a mix of two of his passions, entrepreneurship and hunting.

“I came up with the idea while sitting in my hunting blind this past year and realizing the lack of customization in current offerings of blinds out on the market,” Santarius said.

Of course, with every idea comes competition that will stand in the way of a startup being successful or not. Santarius said possible competitors to ModuTree include Banks Outdoors, Shadow Hunter, Nature Blinds and Redneck Blinds.

He added that what separates ModuTree from its competition is that his system is completely customizable and includes a suite of add-ons and accessories not found elsewhere.

“This market is ripe for innovation, there are no existing products that come close to the level of customization that ModuTree would be able to offer,” Santarius said.

To create something of such sophistication won’t be cheap. With the global pandemic continuing, investors aren’t necessarily falling out of trees to invest in a startup company such as ModuTree.

Winning the Business Plan Contest would go towards the target number of $600,000 that Santarius is looking for this idea to leap into action.

“(The $600,000 investment target) would go towards manufacturing tooling, initial production runs, and patents, website development, advertising costs and hiring a salesperson.” Santarius explained.

The pandemic has interrupted ModuTree’s plans, Santarius said, because “COVID-19 is affecting almost everything in the supply chain and manufacturers are getting hit especially hard, and timelines are certainly going to be pushed back on the initial production runs. But we aren’t anticipating a delay greater than six to 12 months out from what we’ve forecasted.”

Santarius noted ModuTree would likely be best for “big-game” hunters, such as deer and elk. There are about 9.2 million such hunters in the United States, and they collectively spent $12.8 billion on equipment in 2016 alone.

The Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference will take place on a virtual platform June 4, with attendees able to watch presentations by the top 12 finalists. Winners will be announced during the conference.


Anderson is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.


SpayVac provide efficient, effective vaccines to control wildlife populations

By Leonardo Barolo-Gargiulo


Wildlife management has becoming increasingly complicated. How can we manage wildlife population in a cost-effective and humane way? The answer might lie in birth control vaccines, according to the founders of SpayVac-For-Wildlife Inc.

With the constant shrinking of habitats, many wildlife species — even endangered ones — suffer with the effects of overabundance on their small territories. The overpopulation demands resources the environment often cannot supply, which can lead to not only starvation but also cases like the May 2018 death of nearly 200 horses that got stuck in mud as they were searching for water in Arizona.

Not only does overpopulation damage the overpopulated animals, but it also negatively effects the ecosystem they are part of by reducing its biodiversity, spreading diseases, monopolizing resources and more.

A common example of wildlife overpopulation in North America is deer, which can damage crops, spread diseases and cause animal-vehicle collisions. SpayVac works on controlling not only deer population, but also other animals where overpopulation is not that obvious, such as seals, elephants, burros and wild horses.

Many methods have been used before, such as culling, relocation, surgical sterilization and birth control pills, but birth control vaccines are proving to be the most efficient method.

Culling and relocation are very short-term measures, since removing animals from the population just makes the conditions even better for more reproduction, almost certainly resulting in a rebound population that will fill the gaps that the removed animals left. Culling has an ethical component to it and results in numerous carcasses that change the ecosystem balance by attracting other animals, while relocation depends on farmers to keep and manage the removed wild animals.

It is much more ethical and effective to manage a population size by reducing its birth rate. Surgical sterilization is very effective, but also very expensive and time consuming. Oral birth control is less invasive and difficult to execute, but it may interfere with other animal populations since the food source of the animal is often also part of different food chains and requires continuous and frequent doses.

Birth control vaccines, on the other hand, only affects the targeted population and requires less frequent doses. Fitchburg-based SpayVac will make those doses even less frequent.

The birth control vaccines currently in the market require annual doses of vaccine administration, which results in multiple expenses and dealing with difficult access to the animals, which is the hardest part of the whole process. SpayVac is changing that by introducing vaccines that will last for at least five years without boosters.

SpayVac is so effective due to its patented, proprietary nanoparticle delivery system – VacciMax  – which was originally developed to increase the effectiveness of human cancer vaccines. It is also very practical: it comes in frozen, ready-to-inject syringes, while the competitors require extensive on-site mixing in order to create an emulsion prior to application.

The development of SpayVac vaccine is work a team composed of Mark Fraker, a wildlife biologist who has worked on birth control vaccines since 1998; Dr. Ursula Bechert, a veterinarian and reproductive endocrinologist; Dr. Marc Mansour, the manufacturing consultant; and Tom D’Orazio, the chief executive officer.

SpayVac aims to help clients from all over the world, including the U.S. government, Native American tribes (such as Navajo and Yakima) and various state entities in Australia and India suffering from wildlife overabundance.

The company will present as part of the “Diligent Dozen” in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which is part of the June 4-5 Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Milwaukee. 

Barolo is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication

Skip & Co. Maritime navigates online training for mariners

By Kate Schmidt


More than 690 commercial and recreational boating deaths have occurred since 2015 because of collisions at sea, according to the co-founder of Skip & Co. Maritime, Robert Carsey of Fond du Lac.

Recent investigations of these collisions have revealed a large operator training gap, resulting from competing demands on modern mariners.

In the past, most mariner courses have been offered in person. This approach is difficult for mariners since course schedules do not always align with the ship’s operational schedules, Carsey said. Obtaining a license can be logistically challenging for mariners, resulting in a lack of proper training at sea.

Skip and Co. Maritime intends on removing many of these barriers through modern, e-learning technology.

“While earning my commercial maritime licenses, I faced multiple logistical challenges which made it difficult for me to complete the requirements,” Carsey said. “From my time in the Coast Guard, I found that many sailors experienced the same challenges. I realized there must be a better solution.”

The online courses will provide interactive, digital trainings that are required for students to earn or renew maritime licenses, according to Carsey. This flexible approach allows mariners to complete training virtually anytime, anywhere.

“Mariners will no longer have to travel to training providers or sacrifice day-to-day tasks to complete in-person trainings. This convenient approach will allow them to better focus on the material, ensuring they truly understand the material and meet learning goals. Ultimately, this will create safer mariners, vessels, and operating environments,” Carsey said.

Skip & Co.’s initial target market is military personnel and government agencies with waterborne components. However, the course will be open to any consumer as well.

Currently, the company has 40 military/government students and 10 commercial mariners scheduled for the first course offering to be launched in June 2019. Cost will average about $750 per student.

“Throughout the first year, we will use feedback from the first course to continually improve the overall user experience. Once we’ve ensured a positive, easy-to-use experience for our students, we will launch additional courses,” said Carsey.

In the future, Skip & Co. would like to partner with colleges to offer its courses as continuing education credits. An additional benefit of this partnership is that active duty personnel may be able to use government funded educational benefits to pay for the courses, according to Carsey. This partnership could provide vocational training to America’s veterans.

Skip & Co. Maritime will present as part of the “Diligent Dozen” in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, June 4-5 in Milwaukee, during the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference.

Schmidt graduated in May 2019 from the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

Planting seeds of market change: Seedlinked modernizing seed sales

By Tyler Fox

With a master’s in agronomy and doctorate in plant breeding, Nicolas Enjalbert was working as a plant breeder at a large American company. He knew there was a better way to do things.

“I saw the limitation in current breeding practices, and I was also very aware of market trends,” Enjalbert said.

He later started Seedlinked, an internet seed broker that employs advanced analytics and crowdsourcing technology to provide a modern buying experience powered by precise recommendations.

To build this company, Enjalbert assembled a five-person team with experience in application development, data science, production farming, and entrepreneurship. Seedlinked is a culmination of these advanced practices to modernize the seed market.

In essence, Seedlinked is a service that tailors the seed-buying experience to gardeners’ and farmers’ unique climate and soil needs.

“When you go to buy a tomato seed, you can do a quick search and find around 5,000 varieties you could buy online,” Enjalbert said. “What we do is bring information about your environment and what plants do well there, to find which tomato fits your needs.”

The company is primarily targeting small- to medium- sized farms, which are farms that are under 10 acres in size. While the average size of farms today is about 450 acres, Enjalbert noted there are many farmers below the average that offset the massive industrial-sized farms.

Another target customer group is gardeners. Enjalbert ­­­and others agree gardening is the most popular hobby in the United States, and households spend an average of $400 a year tending to their lawns and gardens. Organic farmers provide an additional revenue source for Seedlinked, and its tailored marketplace tools allow choosy farmers to select breeds that work best in their environment and are certified organic.

“Consumers want a food system that is more sustainable and transparent,” Enjalbert said. “Seedlinked will fit the needs of the diverse small farm community.”

Seedlinked’s business model is two-sided in its approach: It serves growers, where it provides a diverse market for easy access to a range of producers – but it also serves producers and distributors, where it provides analytics and a unified marketplace to access paying customers. The company can benefit and modernize the experience for both parties, and it aims to do this with its advanced information processing.

“On Facebook, if you ‘like’ certain things, you’ll be shown more of that,” Enjalbert explained. “We use a similar model for plant breeding, with more variables.”

The company provides a recommendation system driven by machine learning. Customer feedback is used to gauge information about specific preferences, and they combine this with other seed reviews and geographical information. This information is used to choose plant breeds that users prefer, while also providing the highest yield for their environment.

The company is funded primarily through the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative and the Small Business Innovation Research grants. To ensure access to Phase 2 of the SBIR grant, the company seeks a matching investor. The company has 510 users on their beta platform, and projects sales from a few thousand in the next year to 50,000 by 2022.

With these sales targets, the company aims to have positive cash flow by 2023. Next steps for the company involve expanding their beta program to more users, which will bolster the wealth of information that Seedlinked already has to process.

Enjalbert said the company is overwhelmed with interest in the platform, and that they are working hard to meet this interest.

Their competitors are mostly large-scale seed producers and distributors such as Bayer, Corteva and Syngenta – though Seedlinked differentiates themselves with their recommendation-driven marketplace, instead of their competitors’ catalog model that makes decision-making difficult for customers.

And even though those three companies control 60 percent of the market, Enjalbert compares the market to when microbreweries first began to take hold in the beer industry. These breweries grew in popularity and now collectively share between 20 and 30 percent of the market.

Given that the seed-selling market is valued at $50 billion globally, according to Grand View Research, 20 to 30 percent could be a significant portion.

Viroqua’s Enjalbert will present as part of the “Diligent Dozen” in the 2019 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which will culminate June 4-5 at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Milwaukee.

Tyler Fox graduated in May 2019 from the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.  

‘GrowthChart’ aims to replace busy work for childcare providers

By Tori Carter-Story


Parents expect child-care providers to focus on the ever-changing needs of their children. What they do not know is that providers are often distracted by record-keeping.

Child care providers are now able to document children’s daily report using a hands-free technology software called GrowthChart.

Patricia Wooldridge, co-founder of GrowthChart and owner and director at Mariposa Learning Center, has created a voice-recognition device for teachers to record and document students’ progress.

GrowthChart is a hands-free documentation tool for in-home, childcare and preschool teachers that uses the Google platform.

Mariposa Learning Center is a nationally accredited bilingual child-care center in Stoughton. Wooldridge noticed the school’s teachers spending a lot of time on documenting student progress during school and after school hours.

Wooldridge, along with her husband, used their 19 years of combined child-care experience to come up with a solution for faster documentation.

“We could not find a program for my own school, so we decided to build our own product,” said Wooldridge. “One of the founders saw an Alexa commercial on TV and that was the company’s “Ah-ha” moment.”

GrowthChart can document how each child spent his or her day and is able to communicate that with the parents. It is a form of software used on the Google Home platform that translates the voice message onto the website where the information is logged.

“We are just using the Google platform right now so once you say, ‘Hey Google’, it will ask you what you would like to do, and you respond with the child’s name, the category and what the event was. Essentially you would say something like ‘Dylan diaper wet’. It will log and timestamp it so that it is done at that exact moment,” Wooldridge said.

Research suggests that documented plans, records of children’s assessments and evaluations can be effective ways to support and extend children’s thinking, learning and development.

Teachers take a lot of work home in the child-care industry. Typically, teachers can spend eight to nine hours per day with the children and even with these long hours, teachers have to do all of the documentations after work, according to Wooldridge. “We want to alleviate some of that pressure. We want to solve the time management component,” she said.

Time management difficulties are present in all types of child care facilities regardless of size.

“In-home providers are some of our biggest clients and also preschools and childcare centers,” she said.

The size of the facility is an important factor to consider when the price of the software is concerned.

“We priced GrowthChart a little bit lower than what our competitors are at,” said Wooldridge. “We want it to be affordable…So we have priced our monthly subscription at $2 per child per month” A facility with eight children would cost the child care providers $16 per month, for example.

Even for larger facilities with 30 students, GrowthChart is still very affordable. This software saves on paper, ink and time used to log the info.

With plans to expand in the future, only a small number of customers can attest to the GrowthChart software.

“Right now, we have 22 paying customers and depending on how we’re growing we’d like to be around 100 to 150,” she said. Achieving this goal is somewhat difficult given that the company is small, and all four employees work full-time jobs. With the help of investors, the company will be able to expand and hire more people to fulfill the company’s needs.

Currently, GrowthChart is seeking $500,000 to provide 18 months’ runway to increase marketing, cover operating expenses and to build a team.

“GrowthChart is currently operated by four founders with other full-time jobs plus four night and weekend employees. The primary use of seed money will be to build the team and bring the following individuals on full-time: CEO, CTO, CSO, sales associate and two additional full-time programmers towards the end of the year,” said Wooldridge.

Down the line, GrowthChart’s main goal is to become the first electronic education record.

“We want something that carries from the time they are born with all of that information on how they are developing and how it will translate in their current age into adulthood said Wooldridge. “We want this to be something that can show the trajectory of that growth of that child into adulthood.”

GrowthChart will present as part of the “Diligent Dozen” during the 2019 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, part of the June 4-5 Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Milwaukee.

Carter-Story is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

Drift & Row aims to inspire the value of play

By Bailey Bowe  


Flashing lights, bright colors and loud noises… When you walk down the aisle of a toy store, this is what you will see and hear.

Heavily-stimulated toys are currently dominating the toy market. While these toys are great entertainment for children, they are not the best at supporting language development and learning. A Wisconsin business is working to change this norm, one toy at a time.

Drift & Row LLC is a Milwaukee-based business, focused on designing and creating handmade toys that support language and learning in children. It was founded in 2018 by sole-owner Brenna Davis, a speech language pathologist.

“The meaning of ‘Drift & Row’ is a reminder about what play should be. ‘Drift,’ meaning freedom and unstructured time. ‘Row,’ meaning children need to work and fail in order for it to be play,” Davis said.  

After working to support children and parents in her professional career, Davis saw the lack of toys parents could buy for their children that supported play for executive functioning and social skills.   

 “As a speech language pathologist, I was struggling with this disconnect as to good work happening in my therapy room and schools, and what was being translated into the home,” Davis said.

Rigorous multidisciplinary research confirms that play is an integral part of a child’s social-emotional, cognitive, language, problem-solving and self-regulatory development. However, many parents have become focused on developing their child’s academic and rote skills, such as counting, letters and shapes – skills that only target future school success.

Davis began handmaking the toys herself, specializing in three types of toys: felt dolls, puzzles and activity matts. All washable and travel-ready, these toys encourage childrens’ engagement in creative, symbolic and collaborative play.

In 2018, Toys ‘R Us closed its stores.  To many observers, this was an indication both from a selection and a shopping environment standpoint that the needs and desires of toy consumers had shifted.

Current market trends show that toy stores offering the widest selection of toys is not enough for businesses to succeed. The selection has to be coupled with a “special factor,” whether that is expertise, eco-friendliness, inclusion, ease of selection, or enjoyable in-person shopping.

“In my experience, consumers are willing to buy the toy and not the brand. That leaves space for small toy makers like me to make an impact with great products,” David said.

Some of Drift & Row’s competitors that play off that “special factor,” taking over the toy market include Lola & Lark. Lola & Lark is primarily an online store that sources from all artisan makers, giving their toys an heirloom quality to their hand-crafted products. Another competitor includes Clover & Birch, which specializes in making wood toys, beautiful crafted and provide open-ended play. Both Lola & Lark and Clover & Birch are national brands.

In Wisconsin, Drift & Row is working to dominate the hand-crafted toy market, utilizing craft events and boutique retailers to sell her products. “Speech pathologists love talking! That’s why I like being at shows, and smaller events, because I can talk to my customers in person. This gives me great market research to see what parents and children are interested in,” Davis said.

Drift & Row’s average customer tends to be parents with children ranging from the ages of 2-12, searching for toys that offer engaging play opportunities for children both with and without disabilities.

“I haven’t met a parent that doesn’t want the best for their child,” Davis said. “Drift & Row is an attempt to remind parents about the importance of play for executive functioning and social skills.”

From in-person sales, Drift & Row is on track to reach $38,000 at the end of the year based on better than expected first quarter sales. Davis hopes to put this money back into her business by using it towards resources that provide more efficient production for her products. By May 2019, Davis hopes to launch an online marketplace with the goal of generating most of her sales online on.

Drift & Row is among the top 25 contestants in the 2019 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which will culminate June 4-5 at the Wisconsin Entrepreneur’s Conference in Milwaukee.

“(The contest is) an incredible opportunity to not only raise awareness about my business, but also connect with people who have similar goals, dreams and experiences,” Davis said.

For more information on Drift & Row, visit or contact Brenna Davis at

Bowe graduated in May 2019 from the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

‘DarkAero’ creating better ways to fly with personal aircraft design

By Andy Moy

 The history of aviation began with two famous brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright. They were able to build and fly the first successful motorized aircraft. The next chapter may be written by three Wisconsin brothers.

DarkAero Inc is a team of three brothers (Ryley, River, and Keegan Karl) who have invented a two-seat kit aircraft designed to carry up to 750 pounds. It is shipped to the customer as a set of parts that are assembled in the space of a two-car garage. The complete cost for the DarkAero 1 kit comes is $140,000.

It’s a design that gives buyers the ability to conveniently fly fast enough to beat the door-to-door times of commercial domestic flights and to fly far enough to reach either coast nonstop.

“We think of it as the ultimate vehicle for exploring the planet,” said River Karl, one of three brothers born in western Wisconsin.

Each member of the team brings a mix of skills to the project:

  • Ryley Karl, president, UW-Madison 2008 graduate in Engineering Mechanics. He is a pilot and kit aircraft builder with nine years of industry experience in manufacturing
  • Keegan Karl, vice president, UW-Madison 2010 graduate in Mechanical Engineering. He has two years of industry experience in engineering product development and four years in engineering management
  • River Karl, vice president, UW-Madison 2012 graduate in Electrical Engineering. He has a year’s industry experience in industrial automation and four years in software development

What makes the DarkAero 1 different from other self-build aircraft is the performance and build experience. The brothers developed a new airframe structural approach called Hollow Grid, which maintains normal airframe strength while at a reduced weight.

Having less weight allows the aircraft to fly faster and farther than competitors without the expense of a costlier engine. The parts of the DarkAero 1 are also constructed using precision-machined molds, in contrast to other competitors who use hand-sculpted molds. This results in eliminating many hours of hand-sanding and sculpting to achieve the perfect final part.

DarkAero’s closest competitors are other high-performance kit-aircraft companies such as Lancair, which offers the Barracuda: a two-seat aircraft kit with a 1,381-mile range and 219 miles per hour maximum cruise speed; and Van’s Aircraft, which offers the RV-7A: a two-seat aircraft kit with a 938-mile range and 195 mph maximum cruise speed.

Currently, there are more than 27,000 active registered kits licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration with a growth rate of 1.3 percent annually.

DarkAero Inc. is seeking $100,000 in capital to begin production. These funds would be used in the first year of production to move into a bigger facility ($30,000) and thus improve the efficiency of manufacturing production. The team would also purchase equipment ($10,000) for refining the production process and improve part quality. Much of the money will go towards marketing the aircraft, by hiring a part-time marketing expert to help bring more awareness on social media and videography for YouTube ($40,000). The rest of the money will purchase new testing equipment to further optimize and improve the product to lower future revisions.

The company is a member of the “Diligent Dozen” in the 2019 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan contest and will present June 4-5 at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Milwaukee.

 Moy is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

Blexx Technology creates efficient, portable means of hypodermic needle sterilization and disposal

By Nate Mach

Needle disposal has long been a source of frustration for users, especially at the institutional level.

Individuals or institutions traditionally collect and store used hypodermic needles in “Sharps” disposal containers and require those containers to be transported offsite, where heat is used to sterilize the biohazard and destroy the needle. This procedure can take weeks between pickup and sterilization, costing needle users an average of 20 cents per needle.

Blexx Technology seeks to simplify this process with a portable device that rapidly grinds and disintegrates hypodermic needles on-site immediately after use. This method of sterilization eliminates the need for storage and transportation and leaves the user with a plastic syringe that is safe for disposal in a standard trash bin.

The on-site grinding process also raises safety and environmental standards within the $1.36 billion needle disposal market by limiting the number of individuals exposed to potentially hazardous needles and erasing the carbon footprint of needle storage and transportation.

Erin Tenderholt founded Blexx Technology at age 19, early in her college career at UW – Madison in 2016. A UW Business School graduate in May 2019, Tenderholt is looking to continue her role in the company, with an official fundraising round for Blexx Technology set for summer 2019.

“The first semester of my senior year was when investors began reaching out and when this project really became larger than myself,” Tenderholt said.

Through angel or venture funding, Blexx Technology is seeking to raise $300,000 to assist in legal costs, regulatory approvals and further product development. Blexx Technology intends to file patents internationally by the end of the calendar year and begin sales by January 2020.

“There are so many markets for this product and in the long run, I want every single hypodermic needle user to benefit from this device,” Tenderholt said. “We need to prove our success and viability before going into hospitals,” she explained.

With assistance from the university’s Design to Igniter program, Tenderholt identified nursing homes and traveling home health nurses as the ideal starting market due to its struggles with the expense and safety hazards of Sharps disposal containers, as well as its potential to scale and smoothly transition into hospitals. She anticipates Blexx Technology to be able to undercut current costs by more than 20 percent.

Tenderholt is also assisted by a small advisory board of entrepreneurial and medical industry professionals, who provide feedback and insight to the collegiate entrepreneur.

“I considered dropping out of college, but I really couldn’t have created Blexx without being a college student – so many professionals and programs have helped me along the way,” Tenderholt said.

Blexx Technology has already garnered significant interest, winning first place and the “People’s Choice Award” in November 2018 at the Wisconsin Technology Council’s “Elevator Pitch Olympics,” as well as being featured on the front page of the Wisconsin State Journal.

Tenderholt hopes to leverage that interest and attention to help recruit a partner with industry and business development experience, in addition to someone with engineering and regulatory experience.

“I recognize that I’m only 22, and as much as my internships and classes have been valuable, it’s important to bring someone in with more senior experience,” Tenderholt said.

Blexx Technology is among the “Diligent Dozen” presenters in the 2019 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which will culminate June 4-5 at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Milwaukee.

 “It wasn’t even until college that I realized you could make positive social impact through business,” Tenderholt explained. “People always think I’m passionate about the healthcare industry, but really I’m passionate about helping people, and this is the avenue I chose.”

 Mach graduated in May 2019 from the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

Melius Outcomes: Nursing ‘app’ aims to improve quality care in hospitals

By Ysabella Bhagroo

Ditching the skin-tight suit and Vibranium shield for a lab coat and scrubs, today’s superheroes are saving lives through the magic of application technology.

AkkeNeel Talsma, UW-Madison’s Walter Schraeder Chair for Nursing, has worked around the Midwest as a nurse in quality improvement for more than 20 years. Growing tired of collecting data on yellow pads, excel spread sheets, running pivot tables to generate reports, she felt hospitals were spending too much time collecting data and not enough on implementing changes.

Quality reporting describes the information clinicians need to become informed about a hospital’s quality of care. This could include costs, patient information and data analyses. For example, if a patient develops an infection, questions that might arise include: Did this patient get the right antibiotic? Was the skin cleaned before incision? Was the air filtering appropriate?

The duty of quality reporting is falling on nurses, which steals time from patients. Nurses chase after data, running from department to department, and usually running short of time to fix quality problems.

“Having insights on how we “dropped the ball” is critical to improving a hospital’s internal processes. So many clinicians do excellent work but we never see it, nor are we able to easily spot problems and fix them before they get too large,” Talsma said.

“Often nurses can’t access the data they need. Even with access, some don’t know what to do with that data and are sitting there at 9 p.m. Googling answers just like the rest of us. You do not want to run your quality department like that.”

Determined to bring change, Talsma established Melius Outcomes in July 2015, with two Ph.D. operating room nurses, Melissa Bathish and Cathy Kleiner, joining in 2016.

Melius Outcomes is developed as “software as a service” business in which the data analytics and quality reporting take place in the internet cloud and are released to user devices such as PCs, tablets, and smart phones through an app.

Just as a “Fitbit” may tell you to drink more water or get your steps to maintain your health, Melius Outcomes can spot problems in real time and provide on-the-spot solutions and online resources without the guesswork.

“From COO’s to OR Directors and nurses, we make everyone’s jobs easier while improving patient outcomes and the hospital’s reputation by dramatically affecting the bottom line,” Talsma said.

Melius Outcomes has evidence of being able to affect that bottom line.

In 2015, it launched a 25-hospital pilot program. Users receive either daily, weekly or monthly updated measures and benchmarks that are linked with specific quality improvement resources. These include recommendations to address lagging performance, immediate access to pertinent references and websites, sample policy language, and QI tools to implement specific strategies.

The pilot resulted in a 50 percent decrease in life-threatening bacterial infections such as sepsis and another 20 percent in other surgical site infections. Also, another 30 percent reduction in pressure ulcers, and 30 percent reduction in patient mortality rates.

Perhaps the most rewarding achievement is the program’s affect on patient outcomes. Hospitals reported a significant reduction in infection, readmissions, and mortality in patients. Among employees, the pilot study reported better job satisfaction and less burnout.

Talsma hopes to have the prototype installed in three hospitals in 2018 and open it to the full market the following year.

Talsma’s team is also participating in the 2018 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, with Melius Outcomes ranking in the top 25 businesses.

“The business plan contest has been great,” she said. “The support from the Wisconsin Technology Council is superb, very friendly, accessible and knowledgeable. It has been an exciting process and I’m looking forward to attending the conference in June.”

When asked to comment on her success, Talsma encourages other entrepreneurs to take advantage of any community resources to identify a problem and solution.

“The impact on me has been an extremely valuable learning experience. The community is so supportive, great insights and encouraging.  Coming from nursing and academe, it was a long road to develop a concept to a business.  Everyone is very encouraging and positive and that has been wonderful,” she said.

Talsma hopes to pay back others for that support.

“I’m one of few women with a startup, out of even fewer nurses. Nurses are very innovative and creative in the workplace and I’m pleased to share my story with students and other women and nurses developing their startup,” she said.

Ysabella Bhagroo recently graduated from the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

Impact Sports: Calvarum Blitz helmet seeks to win over parents who worry about concussions

By Kelli Bates

What began as a tender, cringe-worthy sight lit a light bulb in Dr. Joshua Cleveland and his wife and business partner, Dr. Gina Cleveland. As they witnessed a young boy receive his third concussion from participating in football and hockey, they wanted to make a change.

Concussions in young athletes (roughly 8-18 years old) can become detrimental to their health and affect brain development. Dr. Cleveland and his wife are the founders of Impact Sports LLC. They saw this as an opportunity to help minimize concussions by designing a special helmet. This helmet, The Calvarum Blitz, will be designed in a way that cushions the cranial skull. The design is meant to reduce linear and rotational forces, such as being tackled, hitting your head on the ground, and more.

Named for the Latin root word “calvaria,” which refers to the part of the skull, The Calvarum Blitz is modeled after the infant skull. It redirects, yields and absorbs force simultaneously, slowing potentially damaging forces entering the skull.

The need for this type of helmet is necessary in today’s competitive and athletic world. Athletes are starting sports at a very young age and they are becoming stronger earlier. In addition, blows to the head are inevitable when athletes play sports such as football, hockey and more. Dr. Cleveland said he believes the outcomes that have arisen from playing physical impact sports is deteriorating to the brain at such a young age. His team wanted to come up with selling not only a helmet, but almost a “peace of mind.”

As the company’s target audience is directed towards young athletes, it will need commitment and trust from the parents of the young athletes that its product will help curtail the forces that happen frequently during practice and competition. The Calvarum Blitz, also known as The Cal One, will be positioned by the Clevelands to establish itself in a competitive market amongst other large brands such as Riddell and Schutt.

Dr. Cleveland was asked how the company plans to market The Cal One in a market dominated by big names.

“We aren’t just selling a helmet. We are providing confidence for parents that contact sports can be safer by making helmets that move the way we do,” he said. “The unique geometry and the mechanics of our helmet position us to stand out from Riddell and Schutt.”

Key players Dr. Cleveland has recruited to his team include his wife, Gina, who will handle the financial components and help manage the business. Their lead engineer in helping design the structure of the helmet is Alek Taslagyan, who will build prototypes. He has worked in protective headgear space for several companies and is familiar with the technicalities that can come with making the perfect design for the head. Troy Emmans, who is the owner of Ingenuity Concepts, can assist with problem solving for scalability. Kristin Pechacek will help with the digital marketing by promoting the sales and marketing platforms.

Impact Sports, based in River Falls, is a finalist in the 2018 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which culminates June 5-6 at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference, Union South, Madison.

Bates recently graduated from the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

AmebaGone uses benign organisms to attack pathogens in production crops

By Hannah Fricke

Protecting production crops against bacterial invasion has been a struggle for agriculture since its beginning.

Antibiotics can’t address everything that poses a threat, and many pathogens have evolved to become resistant to antibiotics. Novel ways to address bacterial pathogens must be developed to keep crops safe and available for consumption.

In 2010, a group of five people had the idea of creating something that could compete against the bacterial pathogens that plague plants, specifically within the agricultural field. AmebaGone has gone on to develop products to accomplish this, and has now set its sights set on Fire Blight in apple blossoms and Soft Rot in potato tubers.

The concept behind AmebaGone is a simple one: The best way to combat an antagonistic microorganism is with a benign microorganism. In that way, Dicty, a safe, free-living amoeba that consumes pathogenic bacteria, was developed. Now, AmebaGone can address multiple threats to a range of plant species through the long-acting Dicty amoeba.

AmebaGone was launched in Wisconsin and is focused on important Wisconsin crops. Every year, Wisconsin produces 50 million pounds (worth more than $24 million) of apples, as well as 3.26 billion pounds (worth about $353 million) of potatoes. Bacterial pathogens pose a serious threat to industries essential to the state, and AmebaGone is using its technology to address the biggest threats to these crops: Fire Blight in apples and Soft Rot in potato tubers.

One of the strongest assets of AmebaGone is the organic element of Dicty. As a natural amoeba, it provides an effective alternative to antibiotics, which cannot be used on organic operations.

Though AmebaGone is applicable and valuable to conventional operations, the sights were originally set on organic farms, which didn’t have an effective alternative to antibiotics until the introduction of Dicty. Fire Blight was the original target for AmebaGone, but now it is expanding its application to Soft Rot, which currently has no preventative treatment.

The importance of an alternative to antibiotic treatments is fundamental. Bacterial pathogens are developing immunity to antibiotics at an alarming rate, lowering the efficacy of antibiotic treatments for these devastating plant diseases.

The beauty of Dicty specifically is its natural origins. Unlike the other alternatives available in the market right now, Dicty does not carry the risk of bacterial resistance. The current treatment options – biologicals, fungicides and copper products – carry the risk of bacterial resistance, have a low efficacy, or negatively impact the crop itself. Because of this, Dicty holds an edge against traditional plant treatments and provides a natural, safe alternative for agriculture.

AmebaGone is preparing for Environmental Protection Agency registration of its first products in the summer of 2019 and will pursue state registrations next, but has not yet begun this process. There are not any anticipated regulatory issues in this area.

AmebaGone is one of 25 finalists selected in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which will conclude June 5-6 at Union South on the UW-Madison campus during the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference.

Hannah Fricke recently graduated as a student in Life Sciences Communication and Dairy Science at the UW—Madison.

Shockray Self-Defense aims to improve ‘danger’ situations for officers

By Claire Holesovsky

With police brutality being a highly discussed topic due to violent cases that has attracted national attention, law enforcement, corrections and security officers are looking for alternative weapons when confronted by potentially dangerous situations.

Forsythe & Storms Technologies, a finalist in the 2018 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, has developed the Shockray Self-Defense device as a solution for officers.

Not only are they provided with an alternative to lethal weapons, officers are able to carry fewer items in their belt, not have to draw conducted electrical weapons and pepper-spray separately, and cut down on the cost of electrical weapons.

The Shockray is a combination non-flammable and CEW-compatible pepper-spray pistol for long distance self-defense along with an electrical stun gun for close-quarter defense. This can provide customers with a tactical advantage, belt “real-estate” consolidation, riot and crowd control use and breathing room left in budgets, compared to existing products.

Ideadvance participants across 80 nations and interviews from police, corrections and private security give the Shockray defense a 70 percent approval rating for the need of a low-cost, multi-functional and portable self-defense device.

Retired Detective Ronald McNair, New York Police Department Firearms and Tactics Section, said: “I endorse this product whole heartedly. It seems that its genius is revealed in its simplicity and efficiency… in my humble opinion, this is an exceptional answer to many questions around ‘what can be done?’ ”

President and founder Lorne Forsythe, Oak Creek, is a military veteran who wanted to create a product that could provide various performance upgrades and improve tactical advantage. This is due to the user not having to draw two separate devices, lower injury and liability risk, reduce the numbers of items carried and be significantly more affordable.

One of the biggest hurdles self-defense technologies face is they require all staff to undergo product certification training. The Shockray team is in the process of developing training for law enforcement, corrections and private security organizations to utilize.

Having the training certification come directly from the company is the best way for officers to become extremely knowledgeable about a product. Guidelines from the manufacturers guarantee the mastery of the device and the company can ensure that its product is being properly applied.

The global market for non-lethal weapons is estimated at $8.5 billion according to the Global Non-Lethal Weapons Sales Market Report (2017) and is expected to grow to $9.6 billion by 2022. The same report projects that the global non-lethal biochemical weapons segment will reach $2.23 billion by 2024.

Forsythe & Storms Technologies’ mission is to provide “Protection Through Innovation.” It aims to be a world-class leader in high-quality and innovative self-defense technologies for law enforcement, corrections and private security officers.

With an ever-adapting police and security force, the industry is looking for innovative products and companies that distance them from the competition. The Shockray Self-Defense device may be just what the industry is looking for with its ground-breaking, non-lethal weapon technology.

Forsythe & Storms Technologies was one of 25 entries to advance to the final round of the 15th annual Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest. Twelve of those finalists, including Shockray, will give live presentations at the annual Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference on June 5 and 6 at Union South in Madison.

Holesovsky recently graduated from the Department of Life Sciences Communication at the UW-Madison.

AquaMetals has eco-friendly way to prevent toxic discharge into waterways

By Gabriel Merkow

Accurate, continuous, real-time data is what AquaMetals LLC is bringing to the metal waste prevention industry.

The Wisconsin-based advanced manufacturing company has made it possible for businesses to control chemical treatment of toxic metals in real time, while monitoring the risk for pollution. President Bruce Bathurst and partner Tom Dougherty created the company in 2016 to help control and measure the concentration of heavy metals in flowing water.

Businesses that discharge heavy metals into public waterways are required to meet government-regulated environmental standards to avoid legal and financial repercussions.

Companies often rely on taking samples of discharge water and analyzing them with expensive lab equipment. These results are not measured in real time, and as a result discharge water could have already enter public waterways.

AquaMetals aims to improve that process. Bathurst explained his technology, created with the help of four UW-Milwaukee graduate students and two UW-Milwaukee professors.

“This makes it possible to control industrial processes in real-time with maximum efficiency and minimum risk,” Bathurst said. “The measurement technology has the potential to save global industries billions of dollars in treatment costs and at the same time improve the quality of the environment with continuous monitoring.”

Bathurst also commented on the durability and reliability of the analyzers’ sensors, saying “the sensors last about six months before accuracy degrades, depending on the application.  Sensor films are then replaced by the user in the field as part of scheduled maintenance.”

The bottom line is that with this first-of-its-kind technology, a company can control the chemical treatment of toxic discharge more efficiently than they ever could. The online analyzer can reduce treatment costs by 50 percent and reduce the risk of a pollution event by 90 percent.


AquaMetals have introduced its analyzer to more than 25 potential users in the Midwest. These users, who understand the cost benefit of accurate on-line metal measurement, are very excited to evaluate AquaMetals product in real world conditions.


Prototypes will be installed for trial in February 2019, with products being sold in the United States in early 2020 and globally by 2022.

Additionally, AquaMetals plans to sell 25 measurement systems in 2019 to Midwest-based companies. The average price for a measurement system will be $10,000, which compares to the current waste-measuring instrument costs of about $30,000 with labor costs bringing the price up to about $80,000 per year.

AquaMetals LLC has been selected as one of 25 finalists in the Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which will conclude June 5-6 at Union South in Madison, Wisconsin. It will be among 12 presenting companies in the “Diligent Dozen” section of the conference.

Merkow recently graduated after studying Life Sciences Communication and Environmental Studies at the UW-Madison. 

‘Sidejob Wizard’ took side roads of its own to build service idea

By Talen Mumford

Some ideas appear out of thin air. Some ideas are carefully developed over time. Other ideas start out as one thing and blossom into something even bigger and better.

This is the case for Sidejob Wizard, one of 25 finalists in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan.

Founder Mike Terry’s first inclination was to develop something akin to Angie’s List, where people such as independent contractors could go to find good help. There were two issues with this approach. First, Terry didn’t feel as though his idea had enough distinction to separate himself from the saturated market of competitors such as Angie’s List and Home Advisor. Second, after talking to his brother, who works as an independent contractor, he realized where the real need existed.

“My brother told me, ‘I am so busy. I don’t need more business, I need more time. I have enough people who need (my services) but having time to write my proposals, and do my billing, and have time for myself…’”

Terry and his associate, Phil Bohnenkamp, began to develop a service to assist contractors and tradespeople with tasks such as generating proposals and invoices, a live answering service and scheduling assistant, email marketing campaigns and service reminders.

“It’s a little tricky because, it’s very unique and it’s not something you can really do with a software service. If it’s a software service, you’re still at some point going to have to fill things out,” Terry said.

To achieve the idea Sidejob Wizard enlisted the help of developer Pete Alfors to design a website that could be utilized nationwide. Here, customers can choose from different subscription levels of service to fill their needs. With different plans ranging from bronze to gold subscriptions, their clients have the freedom to pick a plan that is within their price range. The gold subscription essentially would take the place of a part-time administrator.

When asked what he thinks the best part of the contest has been Terry responds, “Deadlines. Having the, ‘Hey you’re in the semi-final round and we need this thing by 5:30 on Monday.‘ I’m like okay, it needs to be done by then.”

Sidejob Wizard has now been in development for about a year, but it’s not the first time Terry has entered the business plan contest. “I have a younger son who is very inquisitive and comes up with inventions and ideas. He came up with an idea about two or three years ago for a ‘carrot fork.’ Take a carrot, cut it into a fork, and you can eat it when you’re done. And I thought that was really fun. I entered with his idea,” Terry says. “He did not advance,” he mutters with a chuckle, “But I wanted to keep him interested in wanting to try things like that.”

Entering with his son’s idea meant Terry remained on the mailing list for the Governor’s Business Plan Contest. These reminders inspired him to enter with an idea of his own.

After being asked who has been the biggest assistance to Terry during this process, his wife calls from the back: “Me.” Terry chuckles before agreeing, saying they both have put in long hours. His wife has read, and re-read his edits from the beginning.

Between collaborating with his friends and colleagues, advice from his brother, help from his wife, and the initial push to enter the contest years ago from his son, Sidejob Wizard is the culmination of a lot of group effort with high potential.

Terry is one of 25 finalists in the Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which will culminate June 5-6 at Union South. The winners will be announced at the June 6th luncheon.


Mumford recently graduated from the UW-Madison in the Department of Life Sciences Communication.

ReNeuroGen focuses on improving aftermath for stroke victims

By Jacob Otto


ReNeuroGen, a virtual pharmaceutical company with the potential to help stroke victims, has been selected as one of 25 finalists in the Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which will culminate June 5-6 at Union South on the UW-Madison Campus.


Led by Stephen Naylor and Kirkwood Pritchard, ReNeuroGen began as an academic program at the Medical College of Wisconsin and transitioned into a vibrant start-up company that is poised to enter pre-clinical trials for its combination drug therapy, which goes by “KYC+KXX.”


KYC+XX is a combination, neuroprotective drug mix of tripeptides used in the adjuvant treatment of stroke. It is not used for the removal of a clot. Instead, it prevents the aftermath damage of stroke, which can result in significant brain damage and severe patient disability problems.


The tripeptide combination readily traverses the blood brain barrier and will be administered to the patient immediately after the removal of the clot in an ischemic stroke or after cessation of bleeding in a hemorrhagic stroke.


ReNeuroGen has demonstrated efficacy in a well-defined animal stroke model with a roughly 60 percent shrinkage of lesion size. The company has three issued patents and are about to submit two more.


There have been more than 1,000 compounds tested for neuroprotective action in stroke and all have failed. This failure rate is due to the fact that two principle modes of damage occur after stroke, the “neutrophil mediated damage” and the “Ischemic cascade.” All previous compounds have only attempted to ameliorate the Ischemic cascade, thus only treating “half the problem.”


KYC+XXX is designed to stop both mechanisms of causal damage, and ReNeuroGen’s data shows that the combination stands as first in class, in terms of safety, efficacy and mechanisms of action.


Worldwide, there have been 114 trials completed for neuroprotective drugs in stroke and more than 1,000 compounds evaluated. All candidates have failed with the exception of Edaravone, which was only approved for neuroprotection in Japan. Currently, there are no neuroprotective therapies for stroke approved in the United States or Europe.


Every year, 6 million people die worldwide and 5 million are left permanently disabled by stroke. It is the second leading cause of disability. These disabled traits are primarily caused by brain damage occurring after the initial stroke.


The current cost of stroke on the U.S. economy alone is $70 billion a year and it is expected to increase to $300 billion by 2030. Minimizing brain damage has the potential to cut stroke costs by 30-50 percent.


Because stroke is a major disease that affects a large number of people, and because there is a large market opportunity treating the brain damage resulting from stroke, a drug like KYC+KXX is attractive to Big Pharma.


Pharmaceutical companies are under pressure to cut costs and improve the efficiency of their drug development processes. To achieve this, they rely on small pharmaceutical companies such as ReNeuroGen to supply them with a pipeline of drugs.


Upon successful completion of the necessary clinical trials, ReNeuroGen plans to negotiate with a large pharmaceutical company for either acquisition or licensing rights to KYC+XXX.


ReNeuroGen is currently seeking funding for each stage of discovery and development which includes a preclinical evaluation and at least two clinical trials.


Otto recently graduated from the UW-Madison with a focus in Life Sciences Communications and Molecular Biology.

The Little Food Company aims for big challenge to baby food market

By Annamaria Say


APPLETON, Wis. – What began as “do-it-yourself” baby food project has quickly turned into a startup company offering health-conscious consumers an alternative to the preservative-filled baby food products that flood the market.


Little Food Company, a mom-owned baby food startup, provides its customers with fresh, organic and locally-sourced baby food purees. Amanda Santoro, full-time nurse practitioner and CEO of Little Food Co., created the company in reaction to the disappointing baby food selection she noticed after the birth of her fourth child.


“I am a mother of four children and always made my own baby food at home for the first three. With my last child I was trying to simplify my life and looking for an alternate resource for homemade baby food. I couldn’t find any fresh local baby food options,” Santoro explained.


She created Little Food Co. in hopes providing that simple solution that she had been hoping to find for her own children.


“I just knew the world around me was eating more organically,” Santoro said. “But there is a gap when it comes to baby food. That gap inspired me.”


Homemade baby food has been on the rise, but not all parents have the time or culinary capacity to take it on themselves, so leave it to Little Food Co. to do it for you. “We are the only business in the state that provides baby food that is preservative free, gluten free and vegan,” Santoro said.


Every batch of baby food is prepared in her state-licensed and inspected, FDA-approved commercial kitchen in Appleton. Santoro asserts that none of her products contain raw foods.


“The bananas I roast, the avocados are roasted. The berries, even the watermelon I roast. What it does is enriches the flavors, breaks down some of the enzymes so it is easier on babies’ tummies,” she said.


After the foods are roasted, they are pureed, packed into vacuum-sealed bags and frozen, each lasting up to six months in your freezer. “Baby food has gotten a bad rap over the years because it is tasteless, bland and nutrient deprived, but not when you make it this way,” Santoro said.


Although her method preserves the quality of flavor, nutrients and color, it must be frozen to ensure freshness without utilizing preservatives. “As Little Food Co. grows, I hope to transfer to chilled products through the use of HPP technology,” said Santoro.


HPP, or High-Pressure Processing, technology is a natural, environmentally friendly process of preserving food that maintains both flavor and nutrients, unlike the commonly used method of thermal pasteurization used by many of Santoro’s competition. HPP involves exposing the packaged products to up to 87,000 pounds of pressure, an environment that harmful microorganisms cannot survive in.


“This process provides an alternative to using chemicals and heat to preserve my baby food, a method all other baby foods on the shelf are currently put through.” This HPP process will also extend the refrigerated shelf life of Little Food Co. purees up to 90 days, allowing her to expand her presence in the market in a way that differentiates her purees from competitors.


Little Food Co. is now being sold at the Free Market in Appleton, but with orders coming from across the Midwest, Santoro provides shipping to anywhere in Wisconsin, as well as neighboring states, for flat rate shipping of $5.


With the help of HPP technology, Amanda Santoro and her Little Food Co. will aim to corner the market for the healthiest and most environmentally friendly homemade baby food products that solve both the fuss and the trust many busy families face when feeding their children.


Say recently graduated from UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

Pyran: Chemical engineering innovation on tap for plastic and paint production

By Margaret Seybold


In an industry dominated by a few massive companies, local chemical startup Pyran aims to change the landscape of plastic production by providing eco-friendly chemicals and allowing more opportunities for plastic manufacturing companies to afford crucial materials.


Pyran, created by a small UW-Madison laboratory, is one of the 25 finalists in the Governor’s Business Plan Contest that will be advancing to the next stage of the competition at Union South June 5-6. It will be one of 12 “Diligent Dozen” presenters.


“It started out of the Chemical Engineering Department here at UW in Professor George Huber’s research group,” said co-founder Kevin Barnett, who started Pyran three years ago. “Our research group received a $3.3 million research grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to attempt to make high-value chemicals from renewable biomass resources.”


Their product, 1,5-pentanediol (1,5-PDO), is a commonly-used chemical that, when produced with Pyran’s technology, has notable advantages.


Pyran’s diol product is a better and more cost-effective alternative to the current widely-used diols 1,6-HDO, 1,5-PDO and 1,4-BDO. Huge companies such as PPG Industries, Sherwin-Williams and Valspar rely on these chemicals to create a wide array of common products such as plastic, paint, coating and adhesive. Currently, producing 1,5-PDO from oil is expensive compared to the other diols.


Unlike these leading oil-derived diols, Pyran’s formula utilizes renewable resources, making it not only a cheaper alternative but also a greener one, while simultaneously helping to lower the plastic industry’s dependence on oil.


Using products derived from biomass resources can help ease the plastic industry’s contribution to climate change. “We’re replacing some of the non-renewable oil we take out of the ground and decreasing carbon dioxide emissions associated with oil,” Barnett said.


The biomass utilized in Barnett’s Pyran process include wood and crop waste such as corn cobs, but creates a diol chemically identical to the diols that depend on using up oil.


“Biomass is renewable and carbon-neutral. It absorbs as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (through photosynthesis) as it puts back into the atmosphere,” he said.


As an engineer, Barnett was able to discover and patent a chemical reaction route through a few different kinds of chemical intermediates. One such intermediate is reflected in the company’s namesake.


After three years of developing the “green” diol technology under the supervision of Huber and the U.S. Department of Energy grant, Barnett’s group is ready for their diol product to enter a $7 billion annual market that is growing 7 percent per year.


“I was able to find a new chemical route to make 1,5-PDO and was able to develop good and cheap catalysts, leading to our good economics,” he said.


It is this financial advantage that will make the Pyran diol appealing to plastic production factories, make plastic manufacturing more affordable for smaller companies, and poses a promising future for Pyran’s growth as an independent business.


Within 10 years, Pyran’s team members are confident they will have secured a place in the plastic-production market and be operating at two 1,5-PDO plants.



Seybold recently graduated from the UW-Madison with a focus on genetics and Life Sciences Communication.

Fast Forward Forensics brings new approach to saving genetic samples

By Megan Stefkovich


In a world where DNA testing is changing how law enforcement solves crimes, determining ancestry, and predicting patients’ risk of acquiring certain diseases, quality and efficient biological sample collection is paramount.


Fast Forward Forensics, founded in 2012 by Randy Nagy, is creating solutions to collect biological samples more quickly while reducing contamination with its newest product, the SwabSaver.


Nagy is an expert in room temperature biological sample collection and has helped to develop most of the room temperature collection devices used in DNA forensics today. His company is a finalist in the 2018 Governor’s Wisconsin Business Plan Competition and will present June 5 at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference.


SwabSaver has applications in the military, law enforcement, genetic disease screening, and in commercial laboratories that provide consumers’ ancestry and wellness information. When Fast Forward Forensics created the SwabSaver, there was a recognized need in the biological sample industry for better collection practices.


“Cops were collecting things to put into paper bags and a high percentage of the evidence coming into the lab was useless because it was not correctly preserved,” said Nagy. “I thought there was a need to standardize how we collect swabs.”


The SwabSaver is designed so that anyone, anywhere, can collect a biological sample. Sample collection is simple. After swabbing the sample, the user inserts the swab into the tube where a swab breaker in the mouth snaps the shaft of the swab, leaving only the sample inside.


Inside the tube, a desiccant contained in the cap dries the sample, preserving it for years. The same tube is used throughout collection and processing, which saves times and reduces risk of contamination because the sample is never transferred.


With typical collection kits, law enforcement agents collect wet samples that need to air dry, or make swabs wet to collect a dry sample. Either way, air drying is required, which is time-consuming and increases the risk of contamination. SwabSaver avoids these problems because the swab begins drying as soon as it is sealed in the tube, simultaneously protecting the sample, and eliminating the need for it to air dry.


The need for faster processing is demonstrated by the backlog of sexual assault kits that remain untested, in part because laboratories receive so many. Typical sexual assault kits require the sample to be air dried before a swab box is assembled and the swab placed inside. At the lab, the swab must then be removed from the box and the head cut off before processing can occur.


With the SwabSaver, the sample is ready for processing as soon as the swab is sealed in the tube and dries. This saves time in the lab, allowing more kits to be tested, and more victims to see justice.


Fast Forward Forensics now provides all the sexual assault collection kits to the State of Wisconsin. It also provides the collection kits for samples entered into the FBI database at Ohio State, and the kits used to collect samples from new recruits in the U.S. Army. Sales in 2017 were $170,000 and current sales average more than $40,000 a month.


Fast Forward Forensics’ future customers will include commercial laboratories that provide consumer ancestry information, and following approval from the Food and Drug Administration, they will also be able to provide kits for screening of genetic diseases.


Stefkovich recently graduated from the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

Clock’d punches time and efficiency buttons for bars, restaurants

By Lexi Tead

How does one go about finding open shifts to fill at local bars and restaurants to make some extra cash? This was the question asked by one of the founders of a new staffing service while sitting home on his couch.

Marc LaPierre, a UW- Madison alumus, realized there was no easy way for workers in the service industry to pick up extra shifts to fill out their work schedules. After conducting his own research visiting countless establishments and consulting his now co-founder, this question sparked a realistic business plan.

Aiming to fill temporary gaps in service industry staffing, co-founders Marc LaPierre and Ian Buchanan created a service called Clock’d. This online system links up businesses and employees in the service industry. On the business side, Clock’d allows owners to find qualified staff for vacant shifts, without the hassle of officially hiring temporary help.

The business is charged an hourly rate, per employee Clock’d provides. Local establishments can also use the service to test out employees or have a “trial period” before formally hiring them. On the flip side, Clock’d also provides local service workers an opportunity to pick up shifts to make that extra buck (no charge to use the service). All of this with no employment strings attached.

Having both worked in the service industry, LaPierre and Buchanan know the unpredictability of this particular workplace due to the practice of weekly scheduling. This industry is known for its turnover rate (about 70 percent per year – the highest of all industries), so Clock’d aims to alleviate this burden by providing owners with a reliable alternative to conventional staffing.

At the moment, the service is focused solely in the downtown Madison area and has six businesses as current customers. When asked why Clock’d launched in Madison, LaPierre said “Madison has some of the best bars and restaurants in the country, making downtown a hub of service industry professionals. Combine that with an amazingly collaborative startup community, it only made sense to start here.”

Since its initiation in August 2017, Clock’d has helped fill more than 300 shifts in the downtown area. One local restaurant owner noted: “Clock’d helped to keep us open while we built up our permanent staff. With them we are able to get the reliable staff we needed fast and easy.”

All Clock’d employees are vetted and experienced in the service industry. The online service also handles employees’ payment, benefits, W2 and more, so business owners do not have to worry about initiating payroll for the fill-in staffer.

The founders of Clock’d entered the program in the Governor’s Business Plan Contest run by the Wisconsin Technology Council and are one of 25 finalists in the competition. They are also hoping to launch a Clock’d app in the near future, which would make the program even more convenient for both businesses and employees. The founder’s eventual goal is to bring Clock’d to towns and cities nationwide. If successful, this service will ultimately change the practice of service industry staffing and employment. Learn more at

Tead is a recent graduate of the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

Tixora is helping to steer the bus when it comes to mass transit innovation

By Elizabeth Woidat

Technological advancements surrounding the multi-billion-dollar public transportation industry have continued to bring changes to urban bus and metro systems across the United States. It could radically transform and improve the commuting experience for riders.

Tech-based startup Tixora, one of 25 finalists in this year’s Governor’s Business Plan Contest, is hoping to bring this reinvention of public transportation to Wisconsin with the development of mobile app technologies that enable bus riders to easily understand and use public transportation.

Headquartered in Milwaukee, Tixora was established in 2015 with a mission to address the need for innovative technologies in the public transportation industry.

“Our first project together was actually creating an app for UW-Madison students called UW Bus,” said Tixora CEO and co-founder, Aaron Redlich. “There weren’t any great apps to help us track our buses and we were stuck in the cold, so we came up with UW Bus as a solution for students.”

To date, UW Bus has more than 40,000 downloads, as well as 5,000 daily active users, and a 5-star rating on the App Store. 

As a younger generation of riders continue to seek an effortless public transit experience, public transit companies have been actively seeking a mobile app solution that can modernize their fleets and attract new riders.

“There are still high barriers to entry for using public transit,” Redlich said. “It’s too hard for people to figure out their routes and track buses in real time. But with Tixora, our apps do all the work for them.”

Tixora’s mobile application technologies offer a cost-efficient solution for public transit organizations with the introduction of a user-friendly app that enables riders to purchase bus fare directly on their phones. The technology also collects data for public transit companies so they can gain insights on user movement through their buses, view real-time search queries, and other valuable statistics.

The most recent deployment of Tixora’s technology was for the city of Milwaukee with the launch of the app, Ride MCTS stems from a partnership made between Tixora and the Milwaukee County Transit System last November.

The app enables riders to not only purchase their bus fare directly on their smartphone, but to plan their trips and track their buses in real time, making Ride MCTS the first app in Wisconsin to offer bus tracking, ride planning, and e-ticket purchases all on one platform. Ride MCTS is also the first app to accommodate riders with severe visual impairments as the technology can audibly announce bus stops and incoming buses to riders.

Since its launch, Ride MCTS has been downloaded more than 4,000 times and is the highest rated mobile ticketing app in the US.

The app’s success has ultimately encouraged Redlich and his co-founders, who met while students at the UW-Madison, to work to expand the Tixora platform to transit organizations across the state of Wisconsin, the Midwest, and eventually coast to coast.

“We envision having a single transit app solution for every single state,” Redlich said.

The Governor’s Business Plan Contest will culminate June 5-6 at Union South in Madison.

Elizabeth Woidat recently graduated from the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

10 Newtons: Madison startup looks to stymie the power of breast cancer

By Alison Wedig

In today’s world, almost everyone knows someone with breast cancer. As cancer patient numbers increase so do cancer survival rates, yet more can always be done to find cancer earlier and beat the disease before it strikes someone close to you.

The National Breast Cancer Foundation confirms that breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women in the United States, with 252,710 women diagnosed each year. Research continues on ways to mitigate breast cancer effects through early detection. In fact, survival rates from 15 percent to 90 percent with early detection efforts.

Dr. Carla Pugh saw this problem as a surgeon and has spent the past 17 years working to develop technology for medical and surgical education to work to create simulation for clinical skills assessment. The need for this technology to diagnosis breast cancer sooner encouraged her to found her company, 10 Newtons.

10 Newtons is the first company to perfect the measure, analysis, and understanding of the science of touch for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes.

“As a company we connect healthcare professionals, patients and simulators with innovative technology to better understand every part of a medical procedure or other human interaction,” said Shane Kennedy, chief marketing officer for 10 Newtons.

The first product 10 Newton’s has placed on the market is a new training device that quantifies the mastery of breast exam skills in physicians. BEST (Breast Exam Sensory Training) Touch enables physicians to get quantitative feedback on their clinical exam skills to ensure the highest quality of care for their patients.

The company name 10 Newtons highlights the amount of pressure needed to find and identify a mass in the breast.

“This is a lot more pressure than someone might understand, which can create physician error when completing the breast exam test on patients. Twenty-five percent of experienced physicians don’t press hard enough to actually identify a mass in a breast early on,” Kennedy said.

With 10 Newton’s device, BEST Touch, physicians can be trained and retested in order to catch masses early. This provides impressive benefits as early detection of breast cancer drastically increases survival rates from 15 percent to 90 percent.

“Today as we meet with vendors, they value the data we have for clinical use of breast exams, but are looking for more data for how hospitals see the value of this. Therefore, 10 Newtons is working to create pilot sites to implement the BEST Touch into large hospitals to see how it works,” Kennedy said.

Founders at 10 Newtons are looking to fund these pilot programs. As it looks to grow, 10 Newtons has also been recognized as one of the top 25 finalists in the 2018 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest. This contest will culminate June 5-6 at Union South on the UW-Madison campus.

“The long-term the goal of 10 Newtons is much bigger than this product, we are looking at the ability to collect data, analyze touch, and generate feedback on medical procedures. Overall, 10 Newtons sees the ability in the future to work directly with patients to teach them how to give themselves high-quality exams with the goal to shorten the length of time between early detection to diagnosis,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said the BEST Touch is considered a training device and is, therefore, not subject to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulatory process.

Wedig is a graduating student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communications.