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Monday, February 3, 2014

Tom Still: Putting emerging companies, major firms together is goal of April 7 Tech Summit

By Tom Still
Large companies that work on a national and even international scale often travel in different business orbits than emerging firms, even if those companies are operating in the same general technology or commercial universe.

A young company that is developing a new way to help existing devices better communicate with one another in a supply chain, for example, may not know that a much larger company is looking for exactly that kind of solution to improve its business efficiency and flow.

Helping those "orbits" come together in ways that foster connections between the large and small planets in Wisconsin's business solar system is the goal of the Wisconsin Tech Summit, an event set for April 7 at the GE Healthcare Institute in Waukesha.

Produced by the Wisconsin Technology Council and partners that include the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the Tech Summit will provide an organized way for young companies and corporate giants to meet and explore likely business relationships around technology needs and innovation.

Those relationships might include research and development partnerships, direct investments, strategic partnerships as vendors or sales outlets, even merger and acquisition. With major companies on a never-ending hunt for ideas and the revenue those innovations produce, young companies are often a likely source.

Gone are the days when larger companies only worried about what other large companies were doing. Today, they're also keeping an eye on young companies they may creatively disrupt their business or industry with a new product or service.

The Tech Summit will put together some of those larger companies with emerging firms in a "speed-dating" setting that will allow a series of brief meetings in which both sides learn whether there's enough chemistry to keep talking.

Participating major companies thus far are Rockwell Automation, GE Healthcare, American Family Insurance, HP Enterprise Services, Aurora Healthcare, AT&T, IBM, Faith Technologies and TASC (Total Administrative Services Corp). Others are being invited.

The event co-chairs are Sujeet Chand, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Rockwell Automation, and Munesh Makhija, vice president for global research at GE Healthcare.

Major companies will be able to hear from emerging firms with innovative products or services tied to areas such as "big data," connected devices and data analytics in sectors ranging from health care to information systems, and from power electronics to telecommunications. Emerging companies will be able to apply to participate beginning next week through http://www.wistechsummit.com. A selection process involving major companies and the Tech Council will follow. Selected companies may meet with more than one company, depending on interest.

A broader goal of the conference is to fuel two important sectors of the Wisconsin economy – its major firms, which are often world leaders, and its early stage sector, which is a source of innovation but often disconnected from the right markets and potential users of those ideas.

While larger, more general, events can produce such business-to-business interactions, and often do, a targeted approach allows major companies and young companies alike to be efficient and not waste time.

"In some parts of the country, there are well-established ways for larger companies and emerging firms to connect," said Toni Sikes, chief executive officer of CODAworx and chair of the Tech Council. "This is a way to enhance that kind of connectivity in Wisconsin and our region. There are benefits to entrepreneurs and major companies alike."

"Speed dating" meetings on April 7 will run about 15 minutes each. Other features of the day-long event will include:

* "Office Hours" meetings and presentations, which will be available to all participants during those times in which they are not scheduled for individual meetings.

* Addresses by major speakers who will bring perspectives that will be helpful for major companies as well as emerging firms.

* An opening panel discussion that will help set the stage by affording major companies an opportunity to talk generally about their goals, needs and emerging markets.

The success of the event may well be judged on how many of the "speed dates" turn into lasting relationships, either through corporate investments or other strategic partnerships. It may not be love at first sight in every, or any, case, but all good relationships need a start.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.


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