Transforming innovative UW System ideas into new businesses: $200,000 awarded by Ideadvance Seed Fund

MADISON – Up to $200,000 in grants will be awarded to five small businesses in the latest round of awards in the Ideadvance program fostering the entrepreneurship ecosystem across Wisconsin.

Ideadvance is a rigorous two-stage process of seed funding and mentoring to move innovative ideas forward into feasible businesses. It is open to UW System staff, faculty, students and alumni at all campuses except UW-Madison. Ideadvance awardees must demonstrate significant progress toward a scalable, profitable business model in order to receive increments of Ideadvance seed funds.

Stage 1 teams are eligible for up to $25,000, earned by meeting goals over a six-month period of mentorship and work focused on customer validation.

The 2017 awardees are:

  • Forsythe & Storms Technologies of Oak Creek, which devised an innovative, less-lethal self-defense device for law enforcement and corrections.
  • VetNEX of River Falls, which assists veterans and advocates in the VA Service Connected Disability Claims process by providing validated medical documents to support the link to service.

Stage 2 companies are eligible for up to $50,000 in matching funds within a 12-month period by capturing follow-on funding and developing and executing a customer acquisition strategy.

This year’s awardees are:

  • High 5 Academics of Oshkosh, which developed TTL, a cloud-based series of integrated tools helping K-8 school principals collaborate with literacy teachers to improve mastery of their craft.
  • Pivot Interactives of River Falls, which makes innovative educational activities that teach scientific reasoning and critical thinking skills essential to today’s learners through interacting with a customizable video interface design.
  • Northern Star Fire of Eau Claire, which developed an eight-directional compass to aid firefighters through disorienting conditions.

“We’re allocating resources and making investments in companies that have a positive impact on the economies and communities of Wisconsin,” said Dr. Idella Yamben, program manager. “We also aim to train entrepreneurs in a Lean Startup approach to building their business.  Ideadvance’s performance-based funding supports innovative and risky ideas, while also saving money should the entrepreneur pivot away from ideas that no longer make business sense.”

Since 2014, Ideadvance, a partnership between the UW-Extension’s Center for Technology Commercialization (CTC) and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), has awarded $1.5 million in grants. The impact of these grants has resulted in $2.65 million in additional funding allocated to the awardees, as of February 2017. Ideadvance is part of the WEDC’s S3 program which is working to further incorporate start-ups by providing operational and financial assistance to aid in navigating commercialization barriers.

Interest in the program was strong in 2017. Stage 1 saw applications rise to 23, up from 14 last year and its most since launching in 2014. Stage 2 drew seven applications, and all three awardees had already completed Stage 1, though it is not a requirement.

This year was the first time that Ideadvance was opened to UW System alumni.

Twenty-year veteran firefighter Captain Jeff Dykes is a 2017 recipient of Stage 2 funding. The UW-Parkside and UW-Stout graduate is the founder of Northern Star Fire, which won the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Award this month. Dykes’ product, The Northern Star, is a compass that attaches to a firefighter’s mask and highlights the direction a firefighter is facing when activated.

“Ideadvance has provided Northern Star Fire with both the funding and resources to successfully launch our company. We worked the lean business canvas model through Stage 1 and were able learn the key components to make our company a success,” Dykes said.

While the next round of applications won’t be open until spring 2018, Yamben encourages innovators to act now on their inspiration and help improve their eligibility for an Ideadvance application. “It’s never too early to think about your idea and pull in a team to start working.”

“By helping entrepreneurs turn their ideas into new businesses, Ideadvance is a high-impact component of Wisconsin’s innovation climate,” said Aaron Hagar, WEDC’s vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation and a member of the Ideadvance selection committee. “Through the collaboration and resources of WEDC and the UW System, we’re committed to help these young companies successfully launch and grow in Wisconsin.”

About The Center for Technology Commercialization

The Center for Technology Commercialization is a unit in the University of Wisconsin-Extension’s Division for Business & Entrepreneurship. CTC provides one-on-one expert consulting to early-stage emerging technology businesses throughout Wisconsin. CTC has collaborated in acquiring more than $100 million in federal and other funding for clients. Learn more at; follow @WisconsinCTC on Twitter.

About The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) leads economic development efforts for the state by advancing and maximizing opportunities in Wisconsin for businesses, communities and people to thrive in a globally competitive environment. Working with more than 600 regional and local partners, WEDC develops and delivers solutions representative of a highly responsive and coordinated economic development network. Learn more at; follow @InWisconsin on Twitter.

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