Tech Summit brings emerging and established companies to same table

Companies young and old gathered in Waukesha for the Wisconsin Technology Council’s Tech Summit, bringing diverse perspectives together with the goal of collaboratively solving problems in the technology sphere.

Nearly 50 emerging companies met with more established names, including GE Healthcare, Rockwell Automation, Aurora Healthcare, Johnson Controls and Exact Sciences, at the GE Healthcare Institute Monday — interactions meant to benefit not just the new businesses, but the older ones too.

Sujeet Chand, CTO for Rockwell Automation, says the company’s current vision is to connect data from production and manufacturing departments with supply chain and customer demand information, all to optimize production in what he calls “a connected enterprise.”

“To realize that vision, there are many, many areas where significant breakthroughs in innovation will be needed,” Chand said, adding that emerging companies like the ones in attendance could help with those breakthroughs.

While those companies offer a number of services and products, more than one-third are innovating in health-connected spaces. One such company, Kiio, has a clinical software platform with therapeutic exercises, a patented force sensor and mobile applications that patients can use.

“So this environment creates the ability to meet people, creates the ability to see some of that synergy,” Kiio CEO Dave Grandin said about the summit. “And then if [emerging companies] are patient and diligent, like with anything else, it potentially bears fruit.”

The summit was initially launched in 2014, and features 15-minute “speed-dating” sessions, where representatives of emerging companies get the chance to meet and chat with bigger players, potentially partner up, or simply open up the door to possible future investment.

“We had this realization that even though they may be in the same sectors, broadly speaking — healthcare, software, some other sectors — the major companies and the emerging companies don’t necessarily know that much about one another, and so those kind of connections are needed,” said Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council.

Grandin expressed a similar sentiment, saying a meeting later that day would be a good opportunity to connect, “though in 15 minutes, you can’t really tell your whole story… but you get to make the connections so you can follow up.”

Representatives from UW-Milwaukee, which received R1 research classification this year, presented on various ways the UWM Research Foundation is working with tech-related industries to turn intellectual property into money-making businesses.

“I want to leave you with the message that the IP does not do us any good sitting on the shelf, and we are very much predisposed to figure out how we can work with companies or startups in a way that advances these things in the greatest way,” said Brian Thompson, president of the UWM Research Foundation.

Bringing these ideas to market often requires venture capital investment, something Dan Einhorn, general partner at Capital Midwest Venture Capital Fund, knows very well.

“Intellectual property is something that, in my opinion, is going to be very important at the end of the day, after we’ve made the investment, when we are ready to sell the company,” Einhorn said at the summit, but added IP doesn’t come into play right off the bat.

“We assist our companies, post-investment, in ramping up that IP portfolio, because at the end of the day, it’s extremely important,” he said.

Representative Adam Neylon, chair of the Assembly Committee on Jobs and the Economy, also made an appearance, saying state politicians cannot effectively legislate on technology-related issues such as self-driving cars, drones and cyber-security without the input of knowledgeable involved parties.

“I’m optimistic about our future here in Wisconsin; we have a lot of fantastic things going on in economic development that doesn’t come from the government, quite frankly,” Neylon said. “That comes from people like you… it comes from advocates for their companies, for their industries.”

–By Alex Moe