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Five finalists in Governor’s Business Plan Contest have UW-Madison ties

June 7, 2017 By David Tenenbaum

A young business that makes an assist device to orient firefighters in smoky fire scenes won the overall prize at the 2017 Governor’s Business Plan Contest.

The winner, Northern Star Fire, was selected from 171 entrants, it was announced today at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs Conference in Madison.

Northern Star Fire makes an eight-directional electronic compass that is mounted inside a firefighter’s breathing apparatus to help maintain and/or regain their orientation in low-visibility conditions. Company founder Jeff Dykes, of Eau Claire, has 20 years of experience in firefighting.

“One hundred firefighters die in the line of work each year in the United States,” Dykes says. “Our goal is to help them know where they are, and which direction they can go to rescue themselves. And more important, so they can rescue you.”

Upon learning he’d won the grand prize, Dykes said, “When I go inside your house, I don’t know your floor plan.  When I am oriented, I can save you.  That’s the calling of the firefighter. I am ecstatic to win.”

The contest links upcoming entrepreneurs with a statewide network of community resources, expert advice, high-quality education, management talent and possible sources of capital.

Five of the 13 finalists had roots at UW–Madison.

  • Cellular Logistics: A spinoff from research by Eric Schmuck, Amish Raval and others at the Wisconsin Institutes of Medical Research, Cellular Logistics is advancing two heart-care products. One is a non-cell therapy, that, according to animal studies, restores the heart’s pumping function. The planned compound will be available on the shelf, ready to restore muscular function after heart attack. The second product is designed to aid stem-cell therapy to replace diseased heart muscle. Stem cells are typically washed out of the heart before they have time to produce muscle cells. Both products are designed to replace or augment stenting and/or heart drugs.
  • Cardigan: Business cards are 400 years old, but the technology industry has not produced a digital solution, until now, says Matt Younkle, a UW–Madison graduate and serial entrepreneur. “Paper cards are tired,” he says. “When you pass out a card, you are handing someone data-entry work to get it into the contact list. We know there is poor follow-up, missed opportunities.” Younkle’s startup, Cardigan, is a smartphone app that enables the instant exchange of the information typically held on a business card. The app even enables data transfer when only one user has it. “We are tightly focused on face-to-face, we are not making a multi- purpose app,” Younkle says. “Meeting in person is what we are trying to solve.”
  • EWPanel: A solution for dead batteries in personal fitness trackers – Fitbits and the like – could be at hand in a “nanogeneration” device that creates small electric currents from a thin film. The device is based on an invention by Xudong Wang, associate professor of material science at UW–Madison, and Ph.D. student Chunhua Yao. The 60 million fitness trackers sold each year could be powered by batteries that would be recharged with a membrane housed in the shoe.
  • ThirdSpace: Scott Kohl, who has an economics degree and an MBA from UW–Madison, founded ThirdSpace to foster and document “business culture.” Culture, Kohl says, “Is the hottest topic in business; some say it causes $750 billion in losses. I’ve
    Scott Kohl

    Scott Kohl

    worked in a lot of places with horrific culture. I’ve seen people who are completely lost, isolated, walking the halls, wasting their lives for a paycheck. But I’ve also been in amazing workplace cultures and wished there was a way to preserve it.” The three modules in ThirdSpace are aimed at the process of onboarding, creating relationships and empathy, and archiving institutional knowledge (in a module called “the brain.”) The company is targeting businesses with between 30 and 500 employees.

  • Synesis: To maintain health in people who rely on tube feeding, often due to swallowing difficulty related to cancer, neurological disease, surgery or developmental delay. Synesis LLC of Wisconsin Rapids is developing a plant derivative that boosts immune protection from pathogens in the gastrointestinal tract. These symptoms,
    Christian Krueger

    Christian Krueger

    including bloating, cramping and gastrointestinal infection, can range from painful to life-threatening. In mouse experiments, the patented compound has improved key markers for immune response, suggesting that it could help people on enteral feeding. “We believe about 450,000 people in the United States rely on tube feeding and live at home,” says Christian Krueger, a company co-founder and scientist in the department of animal science at UW–Madison. The company’s product is classified as a “medical food” by the Food and Drug Administration, and therefore less difficult to approve than a pharmaceutical.