This year’s Wisconsin Innovation Awards were entirely virtual, but the event’s commitment to celebrating and inspiring innovation remained the same.
More than 380 startups and entrepreneurs from across the state were nominated for the 2020 awards. This year’s ceremony showcased that despite a global pandemic, the health of Wisconsin’s entrepreneurial ecosystem remains solid.
The list of 10 finalists—Pinpoint Software (Madison), OnLume Surgical (Madison), SafeLi (Shorewood), Madison Reading Project (Madison), Match Grade Medical (Neenah), Motivo (Burlington), Pyran (Madison), Strong Microbials (Milwaukee), Safelumin (Oconomowoc) and Arbre Technologies (Stevens Point)—speaks to the strength of the technology, medical, energy and education sectors within this ecosystem.
After introducing the finalists and announcing the winners, the event included a live panel discussion among emcee Denise Thomas, Pinpoint CEO Andrew Hoeft, OnLume Chief Technology Officer Adam Uselmann, SafeLi co-founder Dr. Carol Hirschmugl and Madison Reading Project Executive Director Rowan Childs.
The night’s first award went to Pinpoint Software, which helps grocers proactively manage tasks like stock rotation and cleaning checklists in order to prevent expired inventory and improve operational consistency. The company has spent much of this year helping its customers adapt to new demands placed on them by COVID-19, but according to CEO Andrew Hoeft, Pinpoint hopes to expand its service offerings in the health care industry over the next year. The company is a graduate of gener8tor’s 2012 Milwaukee cohort and has also been able to take advantage of the Wisconsin Technology Council’s Early Stage Symposium.
Founded by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, OnLume Surgical has developed a novel fluorescence imaging technique that allows surgeons to observe tissue function in real time under ambient light. Assistance from the university’s Center for Technology Commercialization and WEDC’s Qualified New Business Venture Program has help the company secure FDA approval and its technology is currently undergoing clinical trials.
Winner SafeLi is working to commercialize a new carbon-based nanomaterial that will allow for the development of faster-charging and longer-lasting lithium ion batteries. Another startup incubated at the University of Wisconsin, SafeLi was co-founded by Hirschmugl and Marija Gajdardziska-Josifovska, both physics professors at the university’s Milwaukee campus. Hirschmugl contributes much of the company’s success so far to continued university support and the synergy provided by the region’s strong energy sector.
Madison Reading Project
The nonprofit Madison Reading Project won the People’s Choice Award for its work distributing free books to children in underserved areas. Although it has been using its Big Red Reading Bus to distribute books directly to kids at school, COVID-19 forced the organization to rethink its operations. For now, volunteers are delivering books to local food pantries to be distributed to families along with their groceries. Despite the upheaval, the Madison Reading Project continues to grow and will be expanding to a larger facility in 2021.
We’re All Innovating
Tuesday’s event also took a moment to highlight the work of several Wisconsin businesses pivoting to address the COVID-19 challenge, including Promega, SMARTcare and Exact Sciences, which was also an event sponsor. WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes promoted the We’re All Innovating contest, which will award a total of $3 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding. The contest is open to Wisconsin companies developing technical innovations to directly combat COVID-19 and to small businesses that have found creative ways of adapting to the disruption caused by the pandemic. To learn more, sign up to be a contest judge or apply, visit the We’re All Innovating website.