Startups set to present innovative ideas at Early Stage Symposium

What started off as a therapeutic device has turned into an innovative product, offering an alternative to invasive cardiac rhythm management for people who suffer from heart failure or cardiac arrhythmia.

Kobara Medical Inc., a Minnesota-based medical device company, has developed cardiac leads that pace the heart from the outside. The company was profiled as part of an ongoing business series done this fall by UW-Madison students.

Unlike traditional pacemakers, Kobara’s device is minimally invasive and does not penetrate any blood vessels or require multiple leads to be implanted.

This is a competitive alternative to the existing methods of pace-making, creating new possibilities for growing children and those who are prone to infection.

Venkat Tholakanahalli, a cardiac electrophysiologist at Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center and co-founder of Kobara Medical, noticed the heart could be paced from the transverse pericardial sinus, a passageway that gives full access to all the heart’s chambers from the outside of the heart.

Instead of placing multiple leads into different areas of the heart, doctors can combine multiple leads into one and do multi-chamber pacing from the outside, according to Tholakanahalli, who is also an associate professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota.

“He looked at it and said, ‘Wow, I can’t believe no one is thinking about doing pacing with access from the outside,’” said Andreas Pfahnl, president, CEO and co-founder of Kobara Medical.

In a poster presentation given at the Heart Rhythm Society, a leading resource on cardiac pacing, there was a lot of interest from the pediatric side, according to Pfahnl.

Pediatricians have the challenge of working with children whose hearts are still growing. Current treatments for children are very invasively applied, and require multiple leads, according to Pfahnl.

“Coming up with a good solution that adapts to a growing heart is still very difficult. They were really excited to see a minimally invasive approach that would be adaptable for children,” said Pfahnl.

A minimally invasive approach would also be beneficial for adults that are prone to blood-borne infection, such as patients who go through hemodialysis.

To get this product into the medical device market, they have performed acute animal studies showing the heart could be paced from the outside. Kubara representatives also presented this information to the Heart Rhythm Society.

Kobara Medical will be presenting at this week’s Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium hoping to tap into the “…strong early stage investment community in Wisconsin,” according to Pfahnl.

The company is currently raising money to make a custom prototype lead and will continue with lab testing.

“We would do a two- to three-month study to demonstrate that the lead stability and pacing threshold are acceptable over a longer period of time,” Pfahnl said.

Pfahnl added that creating a product like this is not a “quick and dirty process” and it requires time to build their product and perform thorough testing.

“What we are working on is solving current needs, but potentially the foundations for advanced neuromodulation research.”

By Julia Rennert
Rennert is a Life Sciences Communication major and Global Health minor at the UW-Madison.

Jessica Bell has seen the wine world from barrel to bar stool. After working at a winery in Spain, as a sommelier in New York City, and as a wine school owner in Milwaukee and Chicago, Bell’s portfolio put her in position to be a successful wine entrepreneur.

She uncorked HaloVino after recognizing a need for a smart, fun and affordable wine tumbler for consumers on-the-go. Her company was profiled as part of an ongoing business series done this fall by UW-Madison students.

About 950 million gallons of wine were consumed in the United States in 2016. Despite those numbers, wine drinkers who prefer a real glass have been limited in where they can enjoy their alcoholic beverage of choice. Many venues such as theaters, fairs, stadiums, and festivals have strict no-glass policies. Bell’s solution: Move over, Red Solo Cup; enter HaloVino.

HaloVino has created the first stackable, shatterproof, stemless wine glass. It is disposable, but also dishwasher safe. This enables wine drinkers to enjoy their merlot everywhere from picnics to Packer games.

With its rounded shape, full body and narrow top, this product allows for the full aroma of wine to come through – unlike the standard plastic party cup for wine usually sold in at these outdoor venues. Consumers now not only spill less while walking with this cup, but also can swirl their wine around to help release full body flavor.

The Milwaukee company has seen success thus far, as its product was recently introduced into Miller Park for the Milwaukee Brewers’ games and other events. It’s also being used at the Wisconsin State Fair.

“HaloVino has been great for us! We started using HaloVino last season on our club level,” said Andrew Pollard, food and beverage manager at Miller Park.

Wine drinking has received increased popularity in recent years with the boom of Millennials hitting legal drinking age, and HaloVino is trying to tap into this growing market. About 42 percent of the wine sold in the United States in 2015 was to Millennials. Further, Millennials are more likely to prefer more expensive wine.

Many wine connoisseurs are apprehensive to using plastic glasses, due to the potential metallic, plastic aromas these materials can create. HaloVino has managed to bypass this problem.

“It does smell normal, it doesn’t smell plastic-y,” said one news media reviewer of the product.

HaloVino was selected to present to a group of potential investors at the Wisconsin Technology Council’s Early Stage Symposium in Madison November 15-16.

By Emma Lankey
Lankey is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

Brain surgery is a tedious and daunting job. With one slip of the hand or miscalculation, a neurosurgeon can easily do great damage.

Seven years ago, Terrence Oakes was doing research when he came across an idea he believed could revolutionize the art of brain surgery and make complex surgeries easier for

Oakes, CEO of TherVoyant, has developed a software application that can produce real-time
images of brain tissue that surgeons can use during brain surgery procedures. The company was profiled as part of a business series done this fall by UW-Madison students.

Oakes and his team of neurosurgeons and developers have created a software application,
GuideRT; it produces images on an MRI scanner that can be customized to the
needs of each patient. This will help surgeons get more complex images, as well as receive
them in a fraction of the normal time.

Some key features GuideRT exhibits include rapid positioning of surgical devices,
customization of real-time imaging for specific locations, and being able to monitor drug
therapy injections to determine the adequate dosages.

On a basic level, GuideRT takes control of the MRI scanner.

“We are able to ask the scanner quickly to present us with an image,” Oakes said. The
software makes the MRI scanner produce real-time images at a faster rate.

Surgeons can also program GuideRT to take control of the MRI scanner to get scans of
specific locations and orientations of the brain.

“We can focus in on the area that we want to see very quickly, and we can
get different images to show different tissue types,” Oakes said.

Surgeons have stated they prefer MRI images because of the superior and detailed
information they receive from them, yet have noted how scanners are not user-friendly.
For neurosurgeons, MRIs are crucial in understanding the spatial resolution and tissue
contrast to perform a surgery correctly.

Normal scans done on an MRI machine can take between five to 10 minutes to develop a
clear image.

“In the brain, if you want to see the contrast of an MRI it can take up to an hour,” Oakes

“You need a way to see what you’re doing,” Oakes said. Referring to brain surgery, “you
have to be able to see where you are going to be able to place an object very accurately.”

Another instance that GuideRT comes in handy is with drug therapy.

“We are able to monitor drug injection in real time,” Oakes said. “Especially in brain
tumors, we are able to see if the desired dosage is the same as what is needed.”

Oakes explained that one of the main goals of TherVoyant is to “provide a better outcome
for the patient, and better experience for the surgeon.”

TherVoyant’s team is hopeful that the software will enable surgeons to perform new
procedures that could not otherwise be done without these technologies.

By shortening the time needed to complete these procedures, it would also be a huge cost
savings for the patient.

Madison-based TherVoyant has already conducted 50 trials of software, all
successful. Currently Oakes looking for additional funding to get FDA approval for
new projects.

TherVoyant will present to investors at the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium
Nov. 15-16 in Madison.

By Alyssa Mohr
Mohr is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

Be it individuals, families, students or businesses, it seems everyone has an endless “to-do” list. Without writing down the tasks one needs to complete to get through the day, most people can’t keep track of all the things they need to finish.

Some still take the pen and paper approach, and countless list-making apps can be found on smartphone home-screens. Within businesses, where many tasks require careful collaboration among team members, these methods can sometimes allow important tasks to fall by the wayside.

Mark McEahern and Philip Crawford put it at the top of their own “to-do” list to solve the problem of streamlining checklists and making them more efficient in business and personal settings.

“It all started when Mark read ‘The Checklist Manifesto’ by Atul Gawande,” Crawford said. The book inspired both to examine how the power of checklists can be harnessed to effectively improve people’s lives.

Their company, Manifestly, has developed a product that aims to do precisely that. The company was profiled as part of a business series done this fall by UW-Madison students.

Unlike other checklist apps, the Manifestly app focuses on recurring workflows, standard operating procedures, and most of all, collaboration. Many tasks within businesses often happen multiple times, and Manifestly can help businesses track these workflows, streamlining repetitive processes.

The app can not only keep track of these tasks, but also distribute them, create workflows, standardize processes, meet compliance and more. These tasks are also accessible to all involved, increasing accountability and decreasing the risk that an important task accidentally goes undone.

“What we have are collaborative checklists for organizations. Very few tools target that niche,” Crawford said. While Manifestly is looking to fill the gaps left by other popular checklist apps, it is also finding success collaborating with apps already in popular use within companies.

“Slack has been a very important integration for us,” said Crawford. “Slack is currently the number one way we get new accounts.”

Manifestly’s app is built to seamlessly integrate with Slack, a communications platform gaining traction with many companies for its ability to bring team members together. Manifestly is looking to continue to take advantage of Slack to gear the product towards improving task management programs that may not sufficiently cover the needs of a team.

The road to the successes being enjoyed by Manifestly has been full of the twists and turns expected of a startup. By being creative and dedicated, Crawford and McEahern have tried to look at each challenge in a positive light.

“We’re bootstrapped 100 percent, and the disadvantage you have is you don’t have money to pay to get a lot of things done. It’s difficult,” Crawford said. “But the pro side of that is when you’re bootstrapped, you don’t have the pressure. You can actually take (more time) to figure out the product market fit.”

Crawford sees Manifestly being a strong market fit with the future of task management.

“The future will be a connected web that includes a lot of (artificial intelligence),” Crawford said, “and we want to be a tool where these workflows are done by a combination of both people and AI/software systems.”

By Rachael Andrew
Andrew is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

A 2007 report by the United Nations Environment Programme forecast the complete destruction of Indonesia’s forests by 2022 due to deforestation for palm oil, an edible vegetable oil often used in biodiesel.

This rapid deforestation brings a slew of environmental issues such as greenhouse gas emission and habitat destruction. Thomas Kelleher, CEO of Xylome Corporation, believes that destruction could be slowed by renewably sourcing palm oil from certain industrial waste streams.

Xylome Corporation, an early-stage startup based in Madison, has developed novel fermentation technology that can produce high-value byproducts such as ethanol or palm oil from existing organic waste-material streams using unconventional yeasts. The company was profiled as part of an ongoing business series done this fall by UW-Madison students.

For centuries, one species of yeast has gifted the food industry with bread and beer through a process called fermentation, where sugars and starches are converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide.

“There’s only half-a-dozen types of yeast currently used for all manufacturing everywhere,” said Kelleher. “We’ve realized that there are thousands of yeasts which have each evolved from their own environments.”

With decades of accumulated industry expertise, Xylome’s scientists have developed a method to mix and match genes from these unusual yeasts to create customized species that can “get more mileage” out of an ethanol plant’s grain purchases.

Ethanol plants already utilize common yeast’s fermentation capabilities in systems to produce large volumes of pure ethanol from the energy-rich glucose sugars and simple saccharide starches found in plant-based feedstocks.

However, these conventional yeast cells can’t break down the complex sugar contents of the plant feedstocks like glycerol and cellulosic materials typically lost in a plant’s waste stream.
“That’s where our microbial systems take over,” said Kelleher.

The company has primarily focused initial efforts on adoption into the ethanol industry, but its complex, multistep fermentation systems have similar revenue-generating applications in a wide range of industries.

“Almost every food processing industry has a waste stream,” Kelleher said. “We can find yeast or generate microbial systems to convert any of those waste streams into something more valuable.”

The Xylome team is helping clients with aseptic design and pure-culture process consulting, but implementing its microbial platforms in large-scale manufacturing settings is the main pursuit.

Kelleher plans to work closely with ethanol plants to improve Xylome’s process, demonstrate yields, and develop a compelling case for on-site factory construction with partners who understand fermentation and yeast.

Xylome seeks to demonstrate its capabilities and begin to amass a sales force to pull the company into the industry. Revenue from royalties on intellectual property will be pumped back into the creation of more renewable resource channels, according to Kelleher.

Current work at Xylome Corporation is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Wisconsin SBIR Advance Program. They will be presenting at the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium, which starts today.

Eventually moving forward from ethanol and palm oil production, Kelleher suggested a logical next step for Xylome is government work in the fish oil business producing omega-3 fatty acids to grow salmon in fish farms.

Despite the colossal scope of accessible markets, Xylome’s mission remains simple – “Renewing tomorrow today” by creating revenue generating solutions for organic waste.

“We are solving real-world problems and striving to create compelling value for our clients and customers,” he said.

By Liam Selfors
Selfors will graduate in December from the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

See more on the Early Stage Symposium: