The M List 2013: Future Fantastic
Over the years, Madison Magazine has celebrated our Person of the Year and Top Madisonians in a variety of ways. This month, we rebrand the editorial project “The M List,” kicking off a new Madison A-list of the people you should know. The inaugural class recognizes fifty-three entrepreneurs and technologists who’ve launched or grown their businesses this year in an emerging and exciting high-technology sector. We also call out some of these same individuals for creating twenty-first-century lifestyles through technology, workspaces and community gathering spots that build our community in new and interesting ways. A vibrant tech scene is fueling the city’s future. Let’s get to know the people behind it.
The M List Class of 2013
Chris Meyer and Heather Wentler
Click here for a feature on Chris Meyer and Heather Wentler, Madison Magazine’s People of the Year 2013.
Michael Adam, Founder and CEO
Launched: September 2013
What We Like: Having played football for Vanderbilt, Adam knows a thing or two about working as a team. He started BankMyBiz.com as a way to make it easier to match borrowers and lenders–think dating site for entrepreneurs and bankers. This new effort is Adam’s follow-up to a decade-plus career as a commercial lender.
Bragging Rights: Newsfeed, profile, messaging, followers–sound familiar? It was only a matter of time before banking got social and incorporated the lingo permeating our online lives. Adam’s easy-to-use platform is already working nationwide, with a focus on Madison, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Chicago. Could BankMyBiz be the next big financial tech company to come out of Wisconsin?
Alnisa Allgood, Founder and executive director
What We Like: Everything. And Allgood, it seems, is virtually and physically everywhere: she serves on the board of directors of Madisonium, a trade group for techies; organizes Madison Nonprofit Day and MadTech, a tech and social support group for nonprofits; shows up, engages, volunteers, rocks.
Bragging Rights: In addition to her tech consulting nonprofit, Allgood is building an online news and resource service for all area nonprofits–and we’ve got a lot of ’em. “It’s a way to centralize the data so the nonprofit community can communicate more effectively,” she says. In her spare time (ha!), she’s working with Madisonium to create a getting-started guide for the technology ecosystem.
Preston Austin and Matt Younkle, Co-founders
Matt Younkle had already invented the TurboTap, which pours beer faster with less spillage–a true Sconnie stroke of brilliance that earned him a “top product of the year” mention in Popular Science and “best invention of the year” in Time. Having solved the kegger conundrum, he moved onto another favorite pastime, music. For this he teamed up with Preston Austin, who co-founded and ran the successful multimedia company Clotho for twelve years before dabbling in a handful of other technology projects. Murfie takes your CDs off your hands, digitizes your collection and recycles the plastic case (both earth-friendly and lucrative!) for your listening pleasure. Once your collection’s in the cloud, you can trade, sell and buy music in this unique online music marketplace. National Public Radio called it “part garage sale, part iTunes.” That’s the business side. The community side is equally impressive. Murfie sublets space in their new downtown office to Horizon Coworking, which offers shared desk and counter areas, reserved desks and a conference room. With fellow entrepreneur Nate Lustig (now in Chile), Younkle co-founded Capital Entrepreneurs, then Younkle and Lustig connected with Bryan Chan (p. 67) to form Forward Technology Festival, which is quickly becoming a Midwest draw as one of the largest events of its kind in Wisconsin.
Who would have thought that a bright idea sparked by a game of pingpong at a New Year’s Eve party in 2006 could become the next great thing to happen to rec sports? Portable Scores, launched by computer engineer Bob Baddeley in 2012, is now a fully operational business. Its flagship product, the fit-in-your-backpack scoreboard DigiTally, was developed at Sector67 and is perfect for keeping track of the time and score during a rec soccer game or round of hoops at the park. Portable Scores for the win!
Marc Brakken, Co-founder
What We Like: Brakken calls himself a dreamer and a schemer, and we can see why. After working with Preston Austin of Murfie (p. 66) on projects with the local time banking organization Time for the World, Brakken joined forces with Austin and Matt Younkle, Murfie’s other half, to start Horizon Coworking. This summer, Brakken took on a large role in organizing Forward Technology Festival. He looks at Madison’s entrepreneurial scene through a community development lens.
Bragging Rights: With Brakken’s help, the 2013 iteration of Forward Tech Fest was the biggest in its three-year history, with more than twenty events ranging from panel discussions on bootstraping a company to happy hours connecting investors and ‘treps. Three cheers!
If Moxe integrates, healthfinch extends with a product called RefillWizard that manages prescription renewals more efficiently, effectively and safely. Docs and nurses save time, and by putting protocols in place, the margin for error decreases. No wonder co-founder and CEO Jonathan Baran, who holds a PhD in industrial engineering from UW-Madison, is a self-titled “Healthcare Fixer” on LinkedIn. With six employees, including a former Eppy, healthfinch launched in 2011 and brought RefillWizard to market in early 2012. In addition, Baran and Dan Wilson co-coordinate the Madison Health Tech Meetup.
Paul Barford, Co-founder and chief scientist
Launched: June 2013 What We Like: MdotLabs is to the Internet what sheriffs are to the Wild West. Paul Barford roots out non-human scofflaws, known as bots, which cultivate clicks and impressions on ads that result in charges for fake traffic. It’s a gigantic problem that’s costing billions annually. He’s also founder and CEO of a network security company acquired by a bigger fish.
Bragging Rights: A venture-backed class. Professor Barford’s UW computer sciences courses are breeding grounds for next-gen startups. So much so that Great Oaks, a New York venture capital firm, just pledged $500,000 over three years to fund an accelerator program with funding, office space and mentoring. Four startups in a spring class were the lucky recipients.
Justin Beck, Co-founder and CEO
What We Like: The mobile gaming company’s flagship game, Parallel Kingdom, was the world’s first to leverage GPS technology to create location-based role-playing. And with a total of six open-ended mobile-social games built for iOS and Android, PerBlue’s products are reaching millions.
Bragging Rights: Other than moving into Chris Meyer’s old dorm room in UW’s Chadbourne Residential College a year after the Sector67 founder lived there? Beck worked for big dogs like Google and Microsoft before launching PerBlue, all pre-graduation. PerBlue was named to the “Empact 100” list in 2012, recognizing Beck as one of the best entrepreneurs under thirty in the country. He accepted the award at the White House last fall.
“I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor could’ve easily been the soundtrack for the wild ride Rimas Buinevicius went on after the dot-com crash. Sonic Foundry, the media software company he founded with Monty Schmidt in 1997, tanked. They steadied the ship, even forsaking their own salaries for a time, and reinvented the company. In 2003, they sold the software products division to Sony, which Buinevicius ran until 2011. “To this day, what I think about a lot is our Midwestern core ethic of working hard and seeing things through,” he says. Today’s he’s focused on “filling a void in the market that’s slowly fixing itself–access to capital,” using a unique, early-stage business accelerator model that deep-dives into companies on a longer-term basis. Madcelerator is backing several projects, including this kick-butt one: a wheelchair that you pull–not push–to propel yourself forward. Invented by wheelchair user Salim Nasser, the gear reconfiguration decreases the average user strokes by thirty-one percent, reduces injury and improves posture. Brilliant.
Always ahead of his time, Bryan Chan mashed up words and their spellings to create a cool company name, SupraNet, long before the tech trend ascended into ubiquity. Still at the helm of the commercial Internet and data service, web hoster and security provider he founded in 1994, and which took over the flailing Mad City Broadband in 2012, Chan is today best known in both the nonprofit and entrepreneurial communities for his generosity of time, resources and ideas. In 2010, he co-founded the annual Forward Technology Festival, now a popular regional draw for young entrepreneurs to mix, mingle and learn. SupraNet, along with Yahara Software, is a consummate co-host of the uber-popular Pecha Kucha Night Madison, where entrepreneurs share war stories, and High-Tech Happy Hour, which drew four-hundred people to its twelfth anniversary party in August. Fun fact: Chan introduced Murfie co-founders Preston Austin and Matt Younkle.
James Dias, founder and CEO
With the fee-for-service health-care model dying on the vine, wellbe.me is among the groundswell of startups tackling the new, value-based way our health care is delivered. Launched in ’08 and the sixth startup for James Dias, wellbe.me is an interactive tool for patients and families. Let’s say you’re having major surgery. You know how hard it is to navigate your way through the intricacies of the health care system and maintain your sanity at the same time. wellbe.me to the rescue with a step-by-step treatmant plan–sort of like an electronic personal assistant–for the dozens of steps it takes to complete the journey. The vitual platform offers everything from checklists and forms and reminders to videoconferencing with your doc (Dias’s web casting and distance learning know-how from his years at Sonic Foundry paying off here). Watch educational videos, attend chats, read patient stories and more. Dias markets the product to health-care providers, who integrate it into their systems. “We think outsiders–none of us have clinical backgrounds–may be able to provide a fresh perspective and can help drive and deliver new thinking,” Dias says. We do, too.
Dominic DiMarco, co-founder
Dominic DiMarco is no stranger to Techstars, having worked for the accelerator as a technical resource for other startups in the summer of 2011, just before he and MobileIgniter co-founder Tim Nott launched their own biz. The pair are IT veterans, having worked on initial iterations of Madison.com in their days together at Capital Newspapers in the early aughts. Now with MobileIgniter, which also went through gener8tor’s inaugural class in 2012, they are helping businesses seamlessly migrate content onto their Android and iOS apps without having to write any code, cutting down on the sometimes-exorbitant costs of mobile app development.
Dale Emmons, CEO
In a tech world that is rapidly advancing toward cloud-based software, Vidmaker stands at the forefront in its field. Vidmaker ingeniously combines online-based video editing software with a social media component that allows users from around the world to collaborate and share their content on any device. It’s video where you want it, how you want it. And CEO Dale Emmons knows a thing or two about moving pictures. After graduating with a computer science degree from UW, he spent a year and a half as a software engineer for Sony Creative Software.
Liz Eversoll, Founder and CEO
Launched: May 2011
What We Like: With twenty-plus years in the IT industry, Eversoll took her talents to create one of the fastest (and award-winning) growing mobile technologies in the Midwest. Combining the aspects of (SO)cial, (LO)cal and (MO)bile, her B2B company uses the cloud to organize the exchange of a customer’s identity information–with permission, of course–for value in the form of coupons or discounts from a brand or retailer. Good for business and good for consumers. How cool is that?
Bragging Rights: Eversoll is a serial entrepreneur, having launched her first startup in 1998 before the burst of the dot-com bubble. She has worked for large tech companies as well, including as a top exec at technology solutions powerhouse CDW Corp. in Illinois.
How do human resources directors around the world spell relief? ScheduleSoft. It’s a suite of products and services that makes workforce management a snap. Employees can remotely change their hours, block off vacation time, and request overtime shifts, while employers can give a head’s up on schedule changes–all in real time. A new product expands the company’s scope to timekeeping and attendance and exporting timesheets directly to payroll. One software program leads to another, they integrate and, boom, workplace indigestion cured. It’s a pitch-perfect product for the mobile revolution. Fortunately for founder and CEO Gregory Flessas, he was way ready for it. Founded in 1996, the company boasts an impressive, three-hundred-plus client roster in both the public and private sectors–household names like Nestle and MillerCoors. Yet another successful, continuing-to-grow UW-Madison spinoff, thank you very much.
Mark Gehring, Co-founder and president
Propeller Health (formerly Asthmapolis)
Launched: September 2010
What We Like: Armed with mobile sensors snapped onto rescue inhalers that sync with their smartphones, millions who suffer from asthma have a shot at a better life. Where you are during an episode is key information, and the GPS device gives docs new and better tools and data, which prevents expensive visits to the hospital and even life-threatening attacks.
Bragging Rights: Backed by one of the most advanced clinical trials–500 patients–it’s one of the first mobile health apps to get FDA clearance. Serial entrepreneur Gehring has helmed three other startups in 3-D radiation treatment planning (Geometrics), medical imaging (UltraVisual) and software platforms for non-programmers (Sharendipity).
Dave Grandin, President and CEO
What We Like: He’s got two decades of experience in leading teams and most recently founded Kayo Technologies, which specializes in physical therapy technology that helps track rehabilitation. Grandin’s always been into sports. He founded Avid Sports in 1996, not to mention he lettered in swimming at UW.
Bragging Rights: With new investors including Wisconsin native and former pro golfer Andy North and Orange Shoe Personal Fitness founder Josh Martin, among others, Grandin says 2013 has been a foundational year for Kayo. “We’ve raised the money and we really have gone from startup concept to a real company employing ten people.”
Leora Greenburg, Founder and CEO
What We Like: You know those blinking pagers restaurants use to let you know when your table’s ready? Annoying. And expensive for the restaurant. DineInTime offers a software system for organizing restaurants’ waitlists. Among other helpful functions, the system texts diners when their table is ready. The Old Fashioned, famous for its waits, has been using DineInTime for three months.
Bragging Rights: Greenburg, a former dancer-slash-Elmo-impersonator with Sesame Street Live!, was a member of gener8tor’s winter 2013 cohort. She was tapped to speak at the Chamber of Commerce annual dinner this fall as an example of someone who has utilized the local startup community to launch a new business.
Brad Grzesiak, Co-founder and principal
What We Like: Bendyworks, a software consultancy that uses the Ruby on Rails program framework for web and iOS apps, abides by the two-is-better-than-one rule. Developers partner up to code side-by-side, catching errors and increasing the potential for creative solutions.
Bragging Rights: The former ORBITEC aerospace engineer (read: rocket scientist) is now a nationally-recognized iOS testing expert. He speaks at conferences across the country and has gotten even deeper into the Madison Ruby community, not to mention the greater technologist scene here. Grzesiak also founded a nonprofit called Madisonium that has taken on creating a downtown “web district” as one of its projects.
Matt Howard, Co-founder and CEO
What We Like: EatStreet is one of those companies, and Matt Howard is one of those people, that makes you feel a little self-conscious about your own accomplishments. Howard and co-founders Eric Martell and Alex Wyler started EatStreet, originally BadgerBites, while undergrads at UW. Three years and nearly two-hundred Madison restaurant clients later, they’ve expanded their online food delivery service to more than forty cities (and counting) across the country.
Bragging Rights: The meteoric rise of EatStreet includes wins in multiple business plan competitions and a successful round of Series A funding that netted them more than $2 million. EatStreet on Easy Street? Only time–and money–will tell.
Scott Kohl, Founder and CEO
Ronin Studios and Consulting
Launched: February 2012
What We Like: The audacious name–“ronin” is a wandering samurai who has no master. And Kohl’s bringing that bravado to bear designing and building web and mobile games for corporate audiences. His specialty is game-based learning for solving business issues and challenges such as employee engagement, talent development and brand building, all in the name of fun–ronin-type fun.
Bragging Rights: An MBA from the Wisconsin School of Business set the tone for a career path in executive management for pioneering gaming developer Activision (think Atari 2600) through its local Raven Software division and later as COO with Filament Games.
His bio easily reveals the path of a beautiful mind: biomedical engineering degree from Marquette, neuroscience and medical device internships at the Department of Defense and the FDA, built a log home with his dad and brother, traveled through Europe for nine months before landing at Epic building software systems and leading implementation teams. After that, Reggie Luedtke becomes a business analyst for a local IT consulting firm and then strikes out on his own in December 2011, co-founding, along with fellow Eppy Ted Gurman, BlueTree. Simply put, they created a platform to identify top health tech professionals and connect them to each other and to high-level contract work and industry careers. Techies do what they love; BlueTree’s clients get “innovative, outside-the-box solutions to their toughest problems,” says Luedke. To boot, they share downtown offices with the collaborative co-working space 100state, upping their creativity quotient even more.
Mark McGuire, Co-founder and CEO
Launched: Any day now …
What We Like: A slew of recent studies have pointed out that the more time we spend on social media sites, the worse we feel. After all, we are staring at everyone else’s highlights reel, a cherry-picked version of real-life experiences. Nextt aims to be the social media site you use to get offline and make connections in person, something we could all use a little more of.
Bragging Rights: McGuire and former business partner Brian Wiegand sold their first joint effort, Jellyfish.com, to Microsoft for a hefty chunk of change. That and other prior successes in the startup world have allowed McGuire and his Nextt team to secure venture capital dollars from top finance dogs from the East Coast, something notoriously tricky to do as a yet-to-launch Midwestern company.
Claus Moberg, CEO
The accolades for SnowShoe just keep rolling in. It was recently named the number one under-the-radar tech startup to watch by Mashable, and tech website CRN dubbed it one of the top ten cloud startups. Claus Moberg describes SnowShoe’s flagship stamp as a small piece of plastic that authenticates transactions on a smartphone. The applications of this technology are endless, from digital coupons to door locks to financial transactions. You’re going to want to keep tabs on this one.
While Networked Insights has relocated its headquarters to Chicago, this big-time, big
data and analytics marketing firm launched here in ’06 and is seeded by local venture capitalists at the Kegonsa Fund, so founder and CEO Dan Neely is grandfathered into our list. With 150 workers in Madison, Chicago, New York and L.A., NI collects and analyzes real-time customer data, tracks the trends over time, and tells companies like MillerCoors, Revlon and Samsung what key audiences to target, how and when, which effectively takes the guesswork out of where to put their marketing dollars. Companies save money and increase profits thanks to Networked Insights’ microscopic study of audience preferences and behaviors via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube and even blog content on WordPress and Tumblr. In 2012, Fast Company named them one of the world’s “50 Most Innovative Companies,” and this September, Neely told Forbes.com his goal is to be “the Oracle of marketing.” We knew him when …
Jignesh Patel, founder and CEO
Twitter. You’ve heard of it? The pithy social media site came knocking on Patel’s door this August, and as a result his five-year-old start-up Locomatix became a part of Twitter–a full circle ending to Locomatix’s early ties with the microblogging site. The details of the deal weren’t disclosed, but we can see why Twitter wanted in. The Locomatix platform, which powers real-time data-driven mobile services for businesses, has been used to set up “geofences” within a, say, two-block radius of a business, enticing anyone with a smartphone within that geofence to visit a particular biz via pop-up notification announcing discounts or specials. The tech world hadn’t seen anything like it. Lucky for us, Patel, who is an award-winning and über-smart computer science professor at UW, is staying put in Madison.
Kyle Pfister, Founder
Ninjas for Health
Launched: January 2013
What We Like: Pfister’s the pied piper of prevention. A traveling lab of ideas, he treks all over the country training health experts on storytelling, communications and tech tools to promote healthy lifestyles and prevent obesity and tobacco use. “We help public health agencies stay on top of modern trends and embrace innovation,” he says. A man on a mission, Pfister’s determined to “network the next generation of public health revolutionaries.”
Bragging Rights: As Tobacco Policy Coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Pfister led the implementation of the the state’s 2010 smoke-free workplace law as well as its first grassroots, farm-to-school campaign called MakeFarm2SchoolHappen.org.
Jen Remsik, Founder and CEO
Launched: October 2010
What We Like: Jen caught the event-planning bug after helping organize a tech conference in Florida in 2009. She started Sapling Events to help programming experts build events around their expertise. Together with husband Jim, himself a lauded techie, Jen organized the first Madison Ruby Conference three years ago, then added UXMad (a user experience conference), Snow*Mobile (a two-day conference on all things mobile) and Design Madison: Make Sh!t to Sapling’s list.
Bragging Rights: Jen knows her stuff when it comes to planning events, and Madison Media Institute took note. She is now developing curriculum for an entertainment and media business program at the school.
Jim Remsik, Conference chair
Madison Ruby Conference, UXMad
Launched: 2011, 2012
What We Like: Remsik is a big shot in Ruby and Ruby on Rails. He’s presented at conferences across the U.S. and even in Europe, but returned to his home state to launch the Madison Ruby Conference with wife Jen. The Remsiks are big on showcasing Madison itself as much as the technical stuff.
Bragging Rights: The New York Times featured Remsik and his preferred “pair programming” style in a 2009 article. The former Bendyworks (p. 64) principal made the case that this two-person, side-by-side work style is a more efficient and effective way to program. We agree–two geeks are better than one!
Scott Resnick and Forrest Woolworth
Startup ecosystems like the ones beginning to flourish in Madison typically have an epicenter. In Chicago, for example, it is 1871, the mega co-working space in the Merchandise Mart. Madison’s epicenter, at least initially, will be StartingBlock, eighty-thousand square feet of space in the re-developed Kleuter Warehouse building, including a new addition on the former Mautz Paint property in the 900 block of East Washington Avenue.
The location is smack dab in the heart of the Capital East business district that’s emerging as a new hotbed for young companies and the employees who follow. The housing market has quickened its pace and is ready for the expected demand. Case in point: The shiny new Constellation apartment highrise sits right across the street with three hundred new residents, many of them Epic employees. Apartments were filled before its opening last August, and its commercial space is a hot commodity. Google is expanding its footprint there.
Tenants in StartingBlock will include makerspace Sector67, business accelerator gener8tor, gaming software purveyor PerBlue, and a separate accelerator space for health-care IT startups (likely Epic spinoffs). A number of other up-and-running companies in the thirty-five-to-sixty-employee range are already expressing interest as well. The Mautz Paint addition will house the elevator, a conference room and an auditorium. Sector67 will have its own space to keep the relatively noisy makers from the quieter co-workers.
Development plans are still being worked out, as is the right organizational structure. The StartingBlock steering committee–which includes Sector67 founder Chris Meyer, gener8tor co-founder Troy Vosseller, Madison city alder and Hardin Design & Development COO Scott Resnick, (second from left in above image), and Capital Entrepreneurs co-founder and PerBlue COO Forrest Woolworth, (second from right)–hired George Austin, (far left) as project facilitator. Having guided iconic Madison developments like Monona Terrace, Overture Center and the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, Austin lends a level of credibility to the StartingBlock project.
“For George to think that this is intriguing and interesting is amazing,” says Meyer. “It’s upped the responsibility, to have someone like this pushing us along.”
StartingBlock is going to be a game changer in Madison, giving the sense of place to a high-tech startup sector that is becoming such an important complement to the region’s bio-medical and science entrepreneurs. – Neil Heinen
Rod Runnheim, Co-founder and lead developer
Launched: September 2009
What We Like: The former child coder (he’s been writing computer games since age twelve) has extensive experience when it comes to software development. Having worked an assortment of jobs, most recently at the Weather Channel, Runnheim says he’s generally happiest pushing pixels and performance, which shows through in his work.
Bragging Rights: One year ago his independent gaming studio released top selling sci-fi and science game, XenoMiner, which has been called a breakout in the world of indie gaming and has been featured around the web. In 2013, Gristmill Studios took first place in the IT division of the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest.
Henry Schwartz, Co-founder and CEO
Launched: June 2013
What We Like: Started his own business–Bored to Death Skateshop–at age fifteen, majored in entrepreneurship at UW-Whitewater (go Warhawks!) and hasn’t taken his foot of the gas pedal since.
Bragging Rights: He and his team were the first ones to think of the awesome idea to crowdsource favorite beer recipes through social popularity contests and craftbrew them for commercial distribution. Took second place in the 2012 Startup Weekend Milwaukee competition that launched fourteen other companies. Clever beer names: Honey Nut Cheersio, Bock to the Future, d’RYE’ven Me Crazy, Beergiving Cranberry Trippel … aren’t you thirsty?
In the ’80s and ’90s, Sikes made a name for herself in the art and architecture world with Guild Sourcebooks, directories for design-build firms looking for artists who do commissioned work. When the Internet took off, she deftly followed suit, becoming a global leader in online art sales as a consumer retailer direct from artists’ studios all over North America. As an entrepreneur, you often learn the hard way. Sikes sold Guild.com to an online luxury products retailer, surprisingly bought it back, then smartly merged it with the smaller but more profitable sourcebooks. “The old traditional publishing company saved the e-commerce company,” she says. “We would’ve been just like every other company invested in during the dotcom years–dead in the water.” The new company was rebranded to Artful Home in 2004. Sikes left in 2008, and under new CEO Lisa Bayne the company is profitable and growing in its Madison headquarters. In 2012 Sikes co-founded another e-venture, The Arts Commission, that’s, in a way, bringing her back to her gilded roots connecting the work of artists to those who can commission them. The company now employs seventeen people. And in the spirit of paying it forward, Sikes is also connecting early stage IT companies with investors as a general partner in the Calumet Venture Fund and is the new chair of the Wisconsin Technology Council.
Alec Slocum, Co-founder and CEO
Launched: February 2012
What We Like: Like many of us, Slocum knows a thing or two about moving. And frankly, it sucks. So he developed a no-nonsense, map-based apartment search. One of the best parts? ABODO lets you take notes and save lists of your favorite pads. Gone are the days of twenty open tabs in your browser.
Bragging Rights: Within its first year, more than fifty-thousand renters in the Madison area used ABODO in their apartment search, allowing the gener8tor graduate to expand its reach to the Milwaukee and Green Bay areas. The company landed more than $300,000 in angel funding this year–one of those angels being Rent.com co-founder Michael Taus.
Ben Sperry, co-founder and CEO
Drifty is a cloud-based software company that produces basic but effective tools for building your own mobile apps and websites. Their products are game changers in an era where “there’s an app for that” (or “there should be an app for that”) pervades business-speak. Co-founders and childhood best friends Ben Sperry and Max Lynch started Codiqa, one of Drifty’s products, their first year after graduating from UW-Madison and have since developed two others: Jetstrap and ionic. Drifty’s products are used by hundreds of thousands of developers in more than forty countries, and Codiqa was named one of the one hundred startups to watch in 2013 by tech blog ReadWrite.
Becky Splitt, CEO
What We Like: Kids these days. Always whipping out a smartphone or tablet, even when it comes to studying. And that’s why StudyBlue is so ingenious. The “digital backpack” website and mobile app makes studying on the go easy and accessible for high school and college students, who can upload course materials like class notes, study guides and flashcards to the site. The result is a giant, crowd-sourced library with the purpose of helping students study together. And if an education startup has a board member like former UW chancellor John Wiley, you know it’s the real deal. We give StudyBlue an A-plus for effort and execution.
Bragging Rights: In January, StudyBlue announced it had netted $9 million in Series A-1 funding, led by Great Oaks Venture Capital out of NYC with participation from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and existing investors. Splitt–who has more than fifteen years of IT experience, including as a Microsoft exec–says the funds will go toward expanding StudyBlue’s reach even further. With a user base that’s already 2.5 million students strong, we imagine nothing but blue skies ahead.
Matt Storms, Founder and CEO
AlphaTech Counsel, S.C.
What We Like: Storms put in thirteen years as partner at a major law firm on top of his decade-plus in the military. This combination makes him not only a strategic thinker, but also a great leader, steering companies in the right direction. That’s what he’s doing with AlphaTech, a boutique law firm working exclusively with startups on the ever-confusing legalese that’s inherent in building a successful business. When it comes to acquisitions, venture capital transactions, licensing arrangements and the like, Storms is your man.
Bragging Rights: AlphaTech has worked with everyone from ginormous Epic to growing strong TermSync. A UW grad, Storms looks for ways to pass on what he’s learned to others. Over the years he’s blogged for the Wisconsin Technology Network, served as a mentor in the Victor Spark accelerator for veteran entrepreneurs, and was president of the board of directors of the Atwood Community Center (now the Goodman Community Center).
Co-working spaces are an important part of the entrepreneurial startup culture that is only growing in breadth and influence in Madison. Examples have sprouted up around the country and several are taking root here as well. In their simplest form, these are places where people want to be because they provide access to other people doing similar work. They are open, comfortable and conducive to conversation and shared ideas. 100state, on top of Ian’s Pizza at that address, currently has seventy members who pay fifty dollars a month to bring their laptops to a table and hang with whoever is there. What separates 100state from other co-working spaces is first, an application process, and second, an expectation of participation in community problem-solving discussions. “We are conscious of who we let in,” says CEO Joe Sweeney. “This is for people who want to give back.” He describes the venture, which opened in June, as a combination co-working space, accelerator and think tank. Members have already hosted problem-solving soirees for the city of Madison, public health workers and educators, in addition to spawning a potential new business or two. “Madison is now ready for this,” says Sweeney, who hopes 100state becomes a powerful magnet for attracting today’s young professionals to the Madison market. – Neil Heinen
Natasha Vora, co-founder and CEO
What do competitive athletes do when they fail? They bootstrap it and try again. So do entrepreneurs. Natasha Vora is both, having competed in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and now vying for the top spot in the e-commerce eyewear market. We place our bet on Vora, who’s parlayed careers at Rayovac, Lands’ End and Indocara–the high-end home furnishings boutique she owned for five years–into a premium frames and accessories business using that latest 3-D technology for virtual shopping. Successful early-stage fundraising of $500,000 launched Iristocracy in September. Her next frontier is retail kiosks, where optometrists fill prescriptions for her frames and send fashionable customers home safe–a recent study revealed almost half of all online Rx orders are filled innacurately–and satisfied.
Troy Vosseller, Jon Eckhardt, Brian Curliss and Kelda Helen Roys
For a feature on gener8tor, click here.
If you grew up before technology revolutionized education, it’s dizzying to think about how different it is to learn in today’s classroom. Thanks to computer geeks like Dan White, founder and executive producer of the forty-employee Filament Games that launched in ’06, middle school students can study wave theory by manipulating earth’s orbit around the sun with the click of a mouse–awesome in seventh-grade parlance. They can learn how viruses and bacteria transmit diseases by designing their own pathogens and infecting human hosts–gross awesome. Eagle Scout White is a leading expert on the business and science of learning games and works with the likes of National Geographic. Filament’s games for Sandra Day O’Connor’s iCivics project have been played more than ten million times. He’s also a do-gooder, volunteering his time and expertise for Games for Change, which basically advances games for good, not evil.
Brian Wiegand, Founder and CEO
Launched: October 2012
What We Like: New word: crossvesting. Six years after selling Jellyfish to Microsoft for a reported $50 million, he and co-founder Mark McGuire are investing in each other’s latest ventures. Wiegand’s angel investing in other young companies as well. Also cool: Two former Jellyfishers, Mark Wilson and Aaron Everson, launched their own, TermSync and Shoutlet, respectively. “Once you have a couple successes it really spawns more successes,” says Wiegand.
Bragging Rights: His fourth venture, Alice.com, isn’t one of them, having shuttered in August. But here’s the thing: On average, only one out of ten startups succeed, so statistically speaking four out of five says, yeah, he struck out at his last at-bat, but he’ll likely still land in the Startup Hall of Fame.
Wouldn’t it be smart if patient data from Madison startup Propeller Health’s exciting new app to help docs treat asthma could be integrated into their patients’ electronic health records? Yeah, no. At least not yet because it’s A) hard and B) expensive. This is where Moxe Health comes in. Co-founder and CEO and former Eppy Dan Wilson is working on what he calls the “unsexy infrastructure” of data exchange between health record platforms and innovative applications. Citing a surge in software to manage health issues, Wilson’s goal is to help physicians incorporate them into their course of treatment. Launched in 2012, Moxe Health is running a pilot program on health risk assessment software that Wilson says is ready to help customers connect with Epic as well as other health record platforms. And speaking of connectivity, Wilson co-coordinates Madison’s 250-member Health Tech Meetup, a networking group with the righteous goal of establishing Madison as the health tech hub of the US of A.
Mark Wilson, Founder and CEO
What We Like: Wilson’s held finance roles at Jellyfish.com and Sonic Foundry, and saw a need for improvement in business finances. So he created TermSync, a cloud-based platform which helps companies track and pay invoices, with the goal of improving communication and relationships. With no direct competition, he’s been able to woo investors.
Bragging Rights: Wilson knows what he’s doing. He’s got serial entrepreneur Brian Wiegand and Mark Burish, chairman of the board at Sonic Foundry, serving as TermSync board members. He’s made more than a hundred-thousand business points of contact. And he’s secured more than $2 million in angel funding in the last year alone.
Ron Zhu, Founder and CEO
Launched: March 2005
What We Like: A very high-level hybrid of high-tech and biotech, BioInfoRx amps up Madison’s well-established reputation as a big player in bioscience with specialized software solutions for scientific research labs here and across the country. Zhu’s tools help tackle everything from big data analysis for next-generation sequencing to file sharing designed specifically for the lab environment.
Bragging Rights: “We are unique,” says Zhu. “There aren’t many companies doing this.” Which is why Zhu counts eight-thousand researchers inside and outside academia among his customer base for a growing number of product lines and services. And sales? They’ve doubled every year for the last three years.
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