You know it's a real, honest-to-goodness Wisconsin business plan contest when two finalists have come up with better ways to catch fish.
Others have figured out innovations in producing micro-tools, electromagnets for motors and more energy-efficient glass for windows – all next-generation versions of historic state products.
Still others have developed ways to improve your health, manage your information, pick your college dorm room and even buy your clothes.
Those are some of the finalists in the 2012 Wisconsin Governor's Business Plan Contest, which wraps up June 5-6 at the Wisconsin Entrepreneur's Conference in Milwaukee. Narrowed from nearly 250 entries, the top 25 plans represent a cross-section of innovation in a state with an increasingly diverse portfolio of startup companies.
Since the first statewide contest in 2004, some 2,100 people from 235 different communities in Wisconsin have entered the competition in one of four categories: Advanced manufacturing, business services, information technology and life sciences. About three-quarters of past finalists are still in business, according to a 2012 survey, and nearly six in 10 finalists have raised angel or venture capital to help grow their companies.
This year's crop of finalists was judged by more than 60 experts from related fields, including other entrepreneurs, investors, researchers and service professionals who deal with tech-based startups. In the end, the companies that cracked the top 25 list looked a lot like Wisconsin's economy – right down to its recreational fishing industry.
Strategic Fishing Systems has used patent-pending innovations in Geographic Information Systems to develop Contour Elite, which can accurately predict fish location. It does so by quickly searching depth ranges, sunlight exposure, underwater structure, proximity to food and cover and other factors. It integrates with all major GPS devices and includes a 3D viewer.
Fishidy is an online community that maximizes an angler's time on the water by presenting and cultivating critical location-based data. The platform also breaks down communication barriers that exist among anglers – specifically, their legendary reluctance to share information. Fishidy breaks down that barrier through sharing and social network controls.
Examples of plans that leverage technology and manufacturing include NCD Technologies, which develops and markets nanocrystalline diamond coatings for the micro-tools markets; V-Glass LLC, which has developed a glazing design that will deliver better performance than conventional technologies for the same manufacturing cost; C-Motive Technologies LLC, which displaces costly rare earth magnets by adapting traditional electric motors to use wirelessly powered electromagnets; and RoWheels, which is developing wheelchair wheels that propel a chair forward by using a pulling motion rather than the traditional pushing motion.
A number of plans use information technology to solve problems – including some you probably never knew you had. Print Command has come up with a way to secure printers and print networks from hackers. Pilot Training System uses a historic weather database to help improve existing flight simulation software. Simple Campus streamlines the university housing application process through its software. StyleShuffler is a mobile application for clothing retailers that helps shoppers mix and match apparel and accessories.
Still others seek to improve health care. Reza-Band has developed a non-invasive treatment, worn around the neck, to help people with acid reflux disease. Vibetech Inc. has developed a vibration rehabilitation product for immobile and functionally impaired patients. NitricGen Inc. has developed a device that pulls gaseous nitric oxide from room air to treat chronic diabetic foot ulcers. Imbed Biosciences has developed a better way to imbed bioactive molecules in wound dressings and surgical implants.
Others are tied to farming and natural resources. Local Grown provides farmers with web-based tools to market and sell food directly to local restaurants, grocers and manufacturers. Soil and Sediment Cleanup offers a green alternative to remediation of contaminated soils, dirt and sediment in harbors, water ways, Superfund sites and brownfields.
For a full list of 2012 finalists, go to http://www.wisconsintechnologycouncil.com and attend the Entrepreneurs' Conference in Milwaukee to watch the top 12 battle for cash and other prizes from sponsors that include MasterCard, Microsoft, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and dozens more. From the best fishing holes to the more efficient electric motors, innovation in Wisconsin is following many paths.
-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.