The opening session at the 2018 Wisconsin Tech Summit, with speakers Sujeet Chand of Rockwell Automation, Vivek Bhatt of GE Healthcare, and Tom Still of the Wisconsin Technology Council

The Wisconsin Tech Summit brought together 18 major companies (including such names as Johnson Controls, Rockwell Automation, GE Healthcare, Promega, Exact Sciences and Foxconn) with several dozen emerging companies to discuss how the larger companies could potentially make use of technologies developed by smaller firms.

Too often, large companies and small companies that are trying to solve the same problems “don’t really have occasion to connect,” said Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council–hence the need for a summit to bring them together.

This year’s event, which was organized by the Wisconsin Technology Council and sponsored in part by WEDC, had a record number of organized meetings–more than 230–that each brought together one large company and one small company in a setting similar to “speed dating,” in which the companies had a limited period of time (15 minutes) to explore possible areas of collaboration. At the end of the 15 minutes, both parties move on to a different meeting, but exchange information to follow up later if desired.

These conversations might lead to a research and development partnership, direct investment, a strategic partnerships as a vendor or sales outlet, or even a merger or acquisition, event organizers said.

The summit allows both types of companies to benefit from one another’s strengths–innovation, in the case of the emerging firms, and scaling to reach a wide audience, in the case of the established firms–said event co-chair Sujeet Chand, senior vice president at Rockwell Automation.

“We believe manufacturing is going to change more in the next five years than it has in the last 50,” Chand said–and connecting companies, large and small, to maximize the impact of new technologies will help Wisconsin be at the leading edge of these changes, he said.

If not scheduled for meetings during a given time slot, attendees could listen in on presentations relevant to technology-based businesses.

Byron Franz, a special agent with the FBI’s Milwaukee office, gave a presentation on cybersecurity, including how to prevent the theft of personal information and trade secrets, as well as how to ward off security threats that can disable a company’s infrastructure or even broad-based public infrastructure.

Erik Iverson, managing director of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), outlined the foundation’s unique history, including its instrumental role in getting laws changed so the federal government no longer owns technology coming out of public universities by default, as well as current efforts to further strengthen its ties in the community beyond UW-Madison, and encouraged businesses to connect with WARF to stay informed about technologies being developed at UW-Madison.

Joey Frayne, technology investment manager for WEDC, in the WEDC booth at the 2018 Wisconsin Tech Summit

Still, along with Steve Lyons of Husch Blackwell, gave an update on legislation passed and pending in the current session that affects technology-based companies, and Joey Frayne, technology investment manager at WEDC, gave an overview of the agency’s programs for technology-based startups. Dave Linz, client services director for the Center for Technology Commercialization, gave details on federal SBIR/STTR funding as well as the SBIR Advance matching grant program that covers some additional expense types not eligible for reimbursement under the federal grants.

Jackie Steinmetz and Jenny Weeden of Milwaukee-based Accelity Marketing delivered “No-Nonsense B2B Tips for Getting the Right Audience on Social Platforms,” and Liz Schrum of the boutique executive search firm Talentfoot spoke on “Building Your Empire: Five Steps to Attracting and Evaluating Talent.”

In the closing session, attendees received updates from Phyllis King, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at UW-Milwaukee, and state Rep. Adam Neylon, who chairs the Assembly Committee on Jobs and the Economy.

Neylon spoke about legislative initiatives relating to self-driving cars and the use of drones for commercial applications, as well as the integration of the K-12 education system with post-secondary education and the needs of employers. “We need more kids that are engineers,” he said. “We need more kids that are computer programmers.”

King, too, was focused on aligning educational curriculum and practices at all levels with employers’ needs. She spoke about assets including UW-Milwaukee’s Innovation Campus, the Lubar Entrepreneurship Center and the Connected Systems Institute, and she encouraged employers to engage with their local institutions of higher education, as well as initiatives such as the Inspire platform, which connects high school students to employers for internship opportunities and career-based learning activities.

“We need employers to be part of the process,” King said, “and that means informing the curriculum.”