Milwaukee Biz Blog: Calling all early stage companies!

Conference can help firms connect with investors

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The longest-running investor pitch event in Wisconsin is the annual Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium.

By one name or another since the 1980s, this conference has been giving entrepreneurs and young companies a chance to tell their stories to investors. It has helped fuel some remarkable success stories, with companies such as Promega, TomoTherapy, Virent, Mirus Corp., Sonic Foundry, Prodesse, NimbleGen, Nerites, Idle Free Systems, Third Wave Technologies, Stratatech, Sologear, PanVera, Soft Switching Technologies and many more taking the stage over time.

This year’s conference, to be held Nov. 16-17 in Madison, will offer young companies three chances to stand out.

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They include two pitch tracks – the Tech Council Investor Network track and the Elevator Pitch Olympics – as well as a new segment, “Investor Intros,” which will allow selected companies brief, one-on-one meetings with targeted angel and venture investors. Companies can register by Sept. 28 and apply for the chance to take part in one of the tracks – or all three.

The Tech Council Investors Network track will feature about two-dozen companies from the Midwest representing an array of industries, such as advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, health care, information technology, medical device and mobile application sectors.

These are featured, five-minute presentations for companies looking to land professional financing rounds.

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Companies selected for this track will have other opportunities to interest investors beyond the formal pitch. They include networking receptions, an executive summary published in the investor-only program and an opportunity to exhibit where investors may speak directly to presenting companies. Selected companies will also be invited to participate in a pre-conference practice session with a group of mentors.

Companies or entrepreneurs selected for the Elevator Pitch Olympics will give a 90-second pitch in front of conference attendees and a panel of investors.

The investors will score the presenter on a scale of 1 to 5, focusing on whether the pitch was compelling enough to arrange a follow-up meeting, and will offer immediate feedback.

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About 15 companies will be selected for the Elevator Pitch Olympics. In past years, these have been companies just forming, seeking a smaller investment round or planning to do so within the next year. It’s a fast-moving event designed for entrepreneurs who are just starting down the path to company formation – even if they have little more than a good idea.

New this year are the Investor Intros. Companies selected for the Investor Intros will have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with investors from Wisconsin and beyond. So far, 17 angel networks and funds have agreed to take part and more are expected.

Investor Intros will feature scheduled, 5- to 7-minute strategic meetings between investors and emerging companies. This format will resemble a “speed dating” exercise, allowing both parties to learn more about each other and explore potential relationships.

Nearly 600 companies have pitched at the Early Stage Symposium over time. Investment trends may come and go as innovation transforms the economy, but one constant is the notion that a well-honed pitch to interested investors is more a start than a finish.

While it’s nearly impossible to assign a dollar value to the deals that have flowed through, in and around the conference, it is relatively easy to chart what the event has meant to the high-growth economy over time. A significant percentage of emerging firms land angel or venture capital dollars. Those firms survive longer, either to the point of being acquired or growing on their own.

The application deadline is coming up, so don’t miss a chance to expose your idea or company to some of the region’s top investors. Visit to sign up.

Tom Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council.

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