20 Wisconsin startups to watch in 2020

Marija Gajdardziska-Josifovska

 Marija Gajdardziska-Josifovska, dean of the graduate school for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who is also a professor and inventor

Each year, Wisconsin Inno, a sister firm to the Milwaukee Business Journal, hits the pause button to look ahead at the companies poised to make headlines in the year to come.

On our annual Startups to Watch list, we outline a handful of Wisconsin startup companies that we feel could make big moves in the next year, whether that’s raising sizeable funding rounds, making acquisitions, accomplishing fast growth or simply continuing work on challenging problems. From Madison to Milwaukee and beyond, there are plenty of
early-stage Wisconsin startups on the rise.

Since we began reporting on Wisconsin’s tech and startup ecosystem in 2018, we’ve had our finger on the pulse of all the innovative ideas, significant funding rounds and big expansion plans coming out of the state’s startups.

But to help us compile this year’s Startups to Watch list, we reached out to Wisconsin venture capitalists, tech leaders and accelerator managers to narrow down 20 early-stage startups to keep an eye on in 2020. On this list you won’t find familiar names like Bright Cellars, Understory or EatStreet. Instead, our Startups to Watch list aims to spotlight the lesser-known companies that will be the headline makers of tomorrow.

The companies listed below range from those who’ve raised Series A funding rounds to those that have zero capital. Some have been around for the last five years, while others launched just this year. The one thing they all have in common, though, is that they are poised for growth in the next year.

Here are the 20 Wisconsin startups to watch in 2020.

AmebaGone: Madison-based AmebaGone has developed a series of products designed to fight against the bacterial pathogen that plague farmers’ crops and pose an annual threat to potatoes, apples and other produce across Wisconsin. Founded by Marcin Filutowicz, AmebaGone’s products aim to address antibiotic resistance, which is a worldwide problem that crops up in agriculture. The startup got its start with The Wisconsin Idea, a program offered at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that links college resources with real world solutions.

Arbré Technologies: The Milwaukee and Stevens Point-based startup is using radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to revolutionize asset management for tree nurseries and other horticulturebased businesses. Using hardware RFID tags equipped with cable ties, designed to expand with the tree as it grows, along with software that collects data on every tree and plant on a farm, Arbré can provide growers with more information about their inventory. Arbré, founded in 2016, has dozens of customers across North America, including growers in Texas, Maryland and Toronto. Arbré has also raised a $600,000 seed round of funding from the Winnebago Seed Fund and Brightstar Wisconsin.

Blexx Technology: Founded by Erin Tenderholt, Blexx is a Madison-based medical waste disposal startup. The company makes a small medical device that sterilizes and disintegrates hypodermic needles on-site. About the size of a water bottle, users simply insert a needle into a small opening at the top of the device, and the needle disintegrates within seconds. Users can then dispose of the remaining plastic syringe in the trash. Last year, Tenderholt, a current student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, won a Madison-area pitch competition for her product.

Carepool: Madison-based Carepool is a software platform that connects riders with disabilities and older adults to specialized transportation services. The company works with Managed Care Organizations and private payers to automate and facilitate transportation booking. The company compares its software to flight and hotel booking company Expedia, combined with real-time text notifications similar to Uber. Earlier this year, Carepool raised $150,000 in seed capital from Jumpstart Foundry, an accelerator-turned-healthcare innovation fund in Nashville.

Colorful Connections: The social impact startup, based in Milwaukee, works to close diversity gaps within the communications and creative industries by matching companies with talent from diverse backgrounds. The startup, founded by Morgan Phelps, also assists workers in navigating and advancing their careers.

Field to Freezer: Milwaukee-based Field to Freezer has developed an app to match hunters with nearby game processors. The app helps hunters determine store hours and meat processing capabilities with the ease of their phone. The startup was founded by Matt McCoy, an entrepreneur and the owner of Brookfield-based web development firm Lanex. The startup just launched in beta in November and already has a database of more than 1,500 meat processors across the country. The startup is also currently enrolled in gener8tor’s gBETA
Milwaukee startup accelerator.

Fiveable: Founded in 2018, Fiveable is a platform where teachers can broadcast live test-prep sessions for APlevel classes. The startup, which participated in gener8tor’s 2019 Madison cohort, received a $10,000 investment from Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis at the 5 Lakes Pitch Competition at Summerfest Tech earlier this year and announced it was relocating to Milwaukee. The startup has hosted hundreds of livestreams and connected tens of thousands of students and teachers. Additionally, Fiveable founder and CEO Amanda DoAmaral was one of Wisconsin Inno’s 50 on Fire honorees this year.

Gregor Diagnostics: This Madison startup founded by Tobias Zutz is working to more easily test men for prostate cancer. Gregor Diagnostics says its system can test men for prostate cancer through seminal fluid as opposed to blood or urine. The method allows patients to collect a sample at home and ship it to Gregor’s lab for testing, rather than having to visit a healthcare facility. It is also more accurate, the company says. Founded three years ago, Gregor Diagnostics was a 2016 participant in gener8tor’s gBeta program and raised a $1 million seed round to grow the team.

Intellivisit: Based in Madison, the startup is developing an artificial intelligence-powered smartphone app for the healthcare industry that can analyze answers from a survey and descriptions of symptoms to provide users a preliminary diagnosis. The startup is currently fundraising a Series A round, aiming to close on $2.49 million. Through Intellivisit’s app, patients can build treatment plans, schedule visits with their doctor and receive prescriptions.

Lift Dane: The Madison-based social impact startup uses technology to provide legal assistance to people that have committed civil offenses. Lift Dane has created a technology platform that allows people to get their records expunged or receive their driver’s license if it’s been suspended after a civil offense. Earlier this year, Life Dane received $1 million from Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic organization led by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

MoreTalent: Founded by CEO Oliver Degnan, a former IBM executive, MoreTalent offers artificial intelligencebased services to companies to help boost revenue. When the Pewaukee company first launched in 2018, it set out to offer AI-based hiring services, using data to measure a candidate’s fit for a company. But earlier this year, the company pivoted and now focuses on building services around specific metrics in areas where companies want to innovate. In September, Bill Mitchell, the former vice president of business operations for Foxconn Technology Group, joined the company as its chief operating officer.

Octavian Technology Group: Founded by high-profile, local techie Brad Zepecki, the former CEO of software consulting firm SafeNet, Octavian offers artificial intelligence and data science intelligence to companies. Founded in February, the startup’s team also includes three technologists who worked in analytics and data science at Northwestern Mutual, including Dave Pahl, Carolyn Olsen and Chris Turner.

Otologic Technologies: The Madison-based health tech startup is looking to revolutionize the ear disease diagnosis process. The early-stage startup has developed an artificial intelligence system to help doctors better diagnose ear disease through its patent-pending tech. It works like this: Using a digital otoscope, a doctor captures a short 5-second video clip of a patient’s ear. The doctor then loads the images into Otologic’s database of ear anomalies. The system then identifies and analyzes the physical features of the patient’s ear, and presents three to five similarly diagnosed cases with a “percent-match” suggestion for the clinician to take into consideration.

Paxafe: Originally founded by Ashok Seetharam and Ilya Preston in Minnesota, Paxafe relocated to Milwaukee after participating in gener8tor’s 12-week accelerator program. The startup, launched in 2018, develops software to protect the shipment of high-value items from being lost or stolen through an internet-of-things smart packaging system. To date, the startup has raised $915,000, according to Crunchbase.

Pythonic AI: Milwaukee-based Pythonic AI has created a solution to automate the medical records process using open source AI tools. In April, the startup won Northwestern Mutual’s second “Reverse Pitch MKE” event, earning a seed investment of up to $85,000.

SafeLi: Founded in 2016 in Shorewood, SafeLi is developing patented material that boosts energy storage capacity in lithium-ion batteries. Launched by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professors Carol Hirschmugl and Marija Gajdardziska-Josifovska, the company received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy in October. The financing is being used to commercialize the material, grow the company’s staff and fuel efforts to fundraise.

SciArt Software: The Madison startup makes generative design software for engineers. Founded in 2012 by Krishnan Suresh, SciArt’s software allows mechanical engineers to virtually design objects that meet all their weight and size requirements. By using the software to design automotive and engine parts that fit ideal dimensions, it saves engineers the time and money it takes to build something first and then test it to see if it will work. Last year, SciArt raised more than $500,000 from the Idea Fund of La Crosse. The startup has also raised $75,000 from the Small Business Innovation Research Advance program to commercialize its technology.

Sift Healthcare: Founded by CEO Justin Nicols, Sift Healthcare offers patient-specific data analytics to healthcare providers and insurance companies to help optimize the healthcare industry. Launched in Milwaukee in 2017, Sift was previously known as SiftMD. Last year, the startup received a $1 million investment form the Winnebago Seed Fund and Wind River Financial.

VasoGnosis: The Milwaukee startup is building an AI-powered diagnostic and surgical planning software to help physicians treat cerebrovascular diseases, like stroke, brain aneurysms and other conditions. The startup participated in gener8tor’s gBETA program last year.

Xena: Founded this year by Ana Kraft, Xena has designed a stylish, steel-toed work boot for women. The $170 ankle boot has about a 2-inch heel, and comes in black and cognac brown. Xena’s boots are resistant to impact, compression, heat and chemicals. Additionally, they feature an anti-microbial insole and are made from leather certified by the Leather Working Group. Xena, which was in Madison-based gener8tor’s gBETA program this year, raised $750,000 in a funding round led by Ezra Galston, the founding partner of Chicago-based venture capital fund Starting Line.


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