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.


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.