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Whether it be a faculty member with a patentable concept or an ambitious student with a unique idea, universities help lay the foundation for up-and-coming business owners, fostering their entrepreneurial mindset and building connections with the broader startup ecosystem.
Wisconsin’s startup companies are solving problems in new ways and, for many of them, their innovative horsepower stems from programming and mentorship found at academic research institutions and universities around the state.
BizTimes Milwaukee reached out to area accelerators, professors and venture capitalists to build a list of “10 startups to watch” with ties to Wisconsin’s academic institutions. The list is not exhaustive, but features a mix of both early-stage and flourishing startups to highlight the critical role universities play in Wisconsin’s burgeoning startup ecosystem.
Milwaukee-based VasoGnosis offers a software as a service platform that automates the diagnosis and analysis of brain aneurysms. VasoGnosis measures the dilation of brain vasculature and analyzes the risk of rupture.
The startup uses deep learning algorithms, allowing the VasoGnosis’s diagnosis and analysis to continuously improve. As a secondary service, VasoGnosis provides “what-if” scenario simulations to neurosurgeons to assist with surgical planning.
VasoGnosis is the product of founder Dr. Ali Bakhshinejad’s research in patient-specific simulation for brain aneurysm surgery. Bakhshinejad relied on his research and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Lubar Entrepreneurship Center programming to launch his startup.
SafeLi LLC is a UW-Milwaukee-incubated startup founded by physics professors Carol Hirschmugl and Marija Gajdardziska-Josifovska. Through their research, the duo discovered a graphene-based material capable of disrupting the lithium-ion battery market.
With its patented material, SafeLi can boost the storage capacity of li-ion batteries that exceeds current graphite-based li-ion batteries on the market.
SafeLi was incubated at the Milwaukee I-Corps program, a partnership of five area universities that allows academic participants to explore commercializing their research ideas. Milwaukee I-Corps is administered by UWM and funded by the National Science Foundation.
The Shorewood-based startup recently received a $1 million federal grant to further commercialize their discovery.
Based in Madison, NovoMoto is a for-profit social enterprise that implements clean electricity systems in villages in sub-Saharan Africa. The company developed rent-to-own electrical systems with plans to bring their product into other remote locations around the world.
NovoMoto recently earned $10,000 in the third episode of “Project Pitch It” season 4 on WISN-TV Channel 12. The startup was also the winner of the 2018 Governor’s Business Plan Contest, taking home a cash prize of $190,000.
NovoMoto was founded by Aaron Olson and Mehrdad Arjmand. Olson has a doctorate from UW-Madison’s Fusion Technology Institute as a NASA Space Technology Research Fellow. Arjmand has a doctorate from UW-Madison’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Center in the field of semiconductor thin films.
Holos is a Madison-based startup that leverages developmental software and virtual reality to provide teachers and students with immersive learning experiences.
The startup is focused on the K-12 and defense markets, applying their virtual and augmented reality platform to classrooms and the U.S. Air Force.
The company was founded by UW-Madison graduates Dan Borkus and Tyler Waite. Holos was incubated in UW-Madison’s HyperX program, a multi-disciplinary, student-run organization for hands-on experience with new technologies and innovation.
Milwaukee-based genomic testing startup GenoPalate Inc. provides personalized nutrition recommendations based on DNA analysis. The startup’s team, which includes bioinformatic scientists, dieticians and analysts, uses that information to profile 38 biomarkers to provide actionable data for the customer, such as caffeine sensitivity or lactose intolerance.
Chief executive officer Sherry Zhang, who has a doctorate in molecular biology and was formerly an assistant professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin, founded GenoPalate in 2016.
GenoPalate recently raised $1 million in funding and moved its headquarters to the Technology Innovation Center at the Milwaukee County Research Park in Wauwatosa. The startup was also a member of gener8tor’s 2017 Milwaukee accelerator program.
Pyran is a UW-Madison spinoff that developed a renewable process to manufacture 1,5-pentanediol, a key chemical used to make paints and plastics. The startup’s patented process uses renewable wood and crop waste resources to make 1,5-pentanediol at lower prices than competing oil-based products.
Pyran’s technology was developed over the course of three years at UW-Madison under the supervision of professor George Huber as part of a $3.3 million U.S. Department of Energy grant.
The startup was formally established in 2017 as part of gener8tor’s gBETA program. In 2019, Pyran received $120,000 from an angel investor group. It has also received a total of $675,000 in funding from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and the Small Business Innovation Research program since its inception.
Elektrifi is a UW-Madison spinoff and student-led startup developing microgrid solutions for energy resilience and rural electrification applications. The company develops small-scale microgrids for infrastructure to reduce outages during disasters and man-made events.
Elektrifi was founded by Ashray Manur, a UW-Madison PhD student in the electrical and computer engineering department. Manur is studying how to improve microgrid stability via “smart” microgrids, which integrate communication and computing systems with traditional electricity infrastructure.
Last year, the early-stage startup was accepted into the Midwest Energy Research Consortium WERCBench Labs Accelerator program.
Promentis Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
Milwaukee-based Promentis Pharmaceuticals, Inc. is a biopharmaceutical company developing innovative therapies for neuropsychiatric disorders.
Promentis’ lead compound, SXC-2023, is used to address glutamatergic imbalance and oxidative stress – two factors that exacerbate trichotillomania.
The lead compound also has the potential to treat a wide range of adult impulse control diseases, including obsessive compulsive disorder and substance-related and addictive disorders.
The startup was founded in 2007 by David Baker, Marquette University professor and associate chair of the biomedical sciences department, and John Mantsch, associate professor and chair of the biomedical sciences department.
The company recently raised $2.5 million in funding for the continued research of a cure for trichotillomania. Promentis has now raised more than $26 million through investor funding since its Phase 1 clinical trial in December of 2018.
Prexo is a UW-Oshkosh-incubated early-stage startup that developed a mobile app to keep track of political events. The app allows people to stay current on changes in politics by sending users notifications when the president signs executive orders, for example.
Prexo was founded by UW-Oshkosh students Abbie Merrill and Ian McDonald. Last year, the startup won a $50,000 cash prize through the annual Culver’s Business Model Competition, which was hosted by the Alta Resources Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at UW-Oshkosh.
Merrill and McDonald recently completed the accelerator program at UW-Oshkosh and have been accepted into the university’s summer accelerator program. Prexo was also accepted into the Ideadvance Seed Fund, a program funded by the UW System and the WEDC.
Rent College Pads
Rent College Pads developed an online platform to help students find off-campus housing. In 2013, chief executive officer Dominic Anzalone founded Rent College Pads in an entrepreneurship class as a college student at UW-Whitewater. One of the company’s first partnerships was with Marquette University.
In 2019, Rent College pads expanded its market reach by 50%, adding 35 colleges to its website and mobile app, for a total of 106 universities across the U.S.
The startup recently partnered with more universities, adding the Milwaukee School of Engineering and UW-Milwaukee to its roster. For students, that means searching for housing on a university-branded website but using Rent College Pad’s platform and database.