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.


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.

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.