THU AM News: Milwaukee businesses seeking startup proposals for industry challenges; Researchers improving prostate cancer analysis with AI

— Milwaukee-area businesses are seeking innovative proposals to solve a wide array of industry challenges such as improving health literacy, maintaining company culture with a remote workforce, automating product identification and more. 

Company representatives described the problems they need solutions for during the fourth annual Reverse Pitch Milwaukee event, held yesterday as part of Milwaukee Tech Week. The competition gives entrepreneurs a pathway for growing a startup aimed at providing these specific solutions. 

“We recognize that we have some really critical business needs that don’t necessarily make sense for us to develop ourselves,” said Gwenn Peters, innovation leader at Rockwell Automation. “Investing in the development and maintenance of that internally would be really slower and more expensive than if we were to partner with a startup company to do that.” 

One of the challenges posed by Rockwell Automation and Plymouth-based Sargento Foods relates to using raw material data to optimize certain manufacturing processes. The companies are asking for proposals on ways to combine operator knowledge with “historical and real-time raw material attributes” in order to better predict performance and improve machine operations. 

Rockwell is also seeking a solution for quickly identifying products being used in the field for upgrade and replacement to improve sales and avoid delays. Peters said current identification tools miss out on thousands of queries each year by failing to determine an equivalent product to a competitor part. 

“If a mere 10 percent of the failed queries were matched and converted to a push-button sale, it would generate $4.5 million dollars,” she said, adding that most image recognition tools in the market are used for entertainment and other purposes. “The industrial space is largely untapped.” 

Several of the business challenges presented were related to the insurance industry. Northwestern Mutual is looking for a startup to solve the challenge of tracking social media usage by employees and other affiliated individuals to avoid communication-related regulatory compliance issues. The company is also seeking a solution to ensure its workforce culture is preserved while some employees continue to work remotely. 

Meanwhile, West Bend Mutual Insurance Company is looking for a solution that can analyze the risk of ordering property inspections for new clients based on a number of variables, digitize inspection reports and analyze collected data to improve future decision-making. 

In order to improve engagement and access in the health care space, the Froedtert and Medical College of Wisconsin health system is looking for a solution to “proactively engage with individuals and communities” to build trust and health literacy. 

Laura Dean, a patient education specialist at Froedtert Hospital, says solutions should find ways to understand how people learn about health and not rely on a “one-size-fits-all” model. She says that approach “would really empower people to feel engaged in their health but also be an active member of their health care team.” 

Entrepreneurs interested in tackling these challenges are first being asked to register for mentorship before Nov. 17, and application materials will be available by Nov. 24. Companies will select teams for pitching solution proposals by the first week of January and a “Pitch Back” event will be held in February. Selected startups will be announced in March. 

See more on the competition here: 

— Radiology researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin are using AI to improve the process of prostate cancer analysis. 

Peter LaViolette, an associate professor of radiology and biomedical engineering at MCW, says specially trained artificial intelligence software can help determine the risk of cancer recurrence in patients who’ve undergone a prostatectomy. He spoke yesterday during a webinar hosted as part of Milwaukee Tech Week. 

He explained that prostate cancer is typically graded after surgery or through biopsies using the Gleason pattern scale, which predicts how likely the patient is to have aggressive recurring cancer that spreads to other parts of the body. By applying an AI system to digitized samples collected after surgery, LaViolette said his team has been able to increase the accuracy of that analysis. 

“What we found in a large cohort of 100 patients is that these features, when we combine them with AI classifiers, it allows us to predict better which patients recur after prostatectomy surgery,” he said, adding that the system “predicts at over 90 percent accuracy, which is really exciting.” 

Since 2014, he said his team has recruited over 270 patients to provide their medical imaging information that forms the basis of its data set. By training the AI algorithms on the patient data, the software can be used to annotate imaging slides automatically, which he said can “ease the amount of burden” on pathologists. 

“It does a really good job of picking out those areas of high-grade cancer,” he said. 

By combining this information with MRI data acquired from patients prior to surgery, he said additional AI models can be trained that “we can then use to predictively map prostate cancer presence on the MRI alone.” 

LaViolette is the director of MCW’s Quantitative Imaging Laboratory, and his research is supported by grant funding from the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute. 

See more on the work conducted by his lab: 

— Gov. Tony Evers has announced $2 million to support mental and behavioral services for underserved communities, including Hmong and southeast Asian Wisconsinites.

The money will go to the Wisconsin United Coalition of Mutual Assistance Association Inc., a coalition of groups that supports community development in underserved populations. It will be contracted to provide various services including training around suicide and mental health needs. The guv’s office said the group also will adopt culturally responsible training and curriculum for health care providers.

The effort will be funded with federal ARPA funds.

See the release: 

— The latest figures from the Department of Workforce Development show preliminary unemployment rates for September decreased in every county over the month and year. 

In August, just two of the state’s 72 counties had unemployment rates below 3 percent, the DWD report shows. In September, nearly half of Wisconsin counties had unemployment rates below 3 percent. The rates range from 2.2 percent in Lafayette County to 8 percent in Menominee County. 

Unemployment rates for the state’s 34 largest cities and in Wisconsin’s 12 metropolitan areas also saw improvement over the month and year, the report shows. 

See the release: 

— The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. is accepting applications from public school districts for the latest round of its Fabrication Laboratories Grant Program. 

The program, now in its sixth year, will provide grants of up to $25,000 to public school districts or up to $50,000 to consortiums of two or more districts for creating or expanding an existing fab lab. Recipients must provide matching funds of at least 50 percent of the amount provided through the program. 

Funding can be used to purchase equipment for these technology workshops, which can give students experience working with machinery such as laser engravers, 3D printers and more. They can be used by elementary, middle, junior high or high school students. 

WEDC says it has awarded more than $3.4 million in these grants to 95 districts so far. The agency is allocating $500,000 to the program for this fiscal year and plans to award 20 grants, recipients of which will be announced in the spring. The application deadline is Jan. 7. 

See program details:

See the release: 

— The Ashland Area Development Corporation says it will be getting 79 percent of its electricity from a new rooftop solar array. 

A total of 317 solar panels are being installed on the AADC’s roof, which were donated by two organizations: RENEW Wisconsin’s Solar for Good program, which donates solar panels to qualifying nonprofits and faith-based groups; and Nokomis Energy, a Minneapolis-based clean energy developer. 

Solar for Good is providing 150 panels while the other 167 are coming from Nokomis Energy, a release shows. The Wisconsin program is funded by the Madison-based Couillard Foundation, and Nokomis Energy donated excess solar panels leftover from buying bulk orders for larger community solar projects in Minnesota. 

The solar system will be connected to Xcel Energy’s energy grid. AADC is providing capital for electric wiring, additional equipment and the installation, with support from a low-interest loan being provided through the city and the Wisconsin Board of Commissioners of Public Lands. 

See more on the project here: 


# State Senate passes Wisconsin ag export bill

# Madison and Milwaukee identified as keys links in an expanded rail network across the Midwest

# Debtle, Badger Dental Products win top prize at local Healthcare Innovation Pitch Competition



– Cost share funds available for organic farms

– More Wisconsin horses infected with EEE


– Report: Local hiring for solar farms keeps economic benefits in state


– University of Wisconsin System will follow federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate


– COVID-19 booster shots for Moderna, Johnson & Johnson begin in Wisconsin. First dose for young children could be next


– Northwestern Mutual says 2022 dividend payout will be its largest ever


– How Harley-Davidson revved sales, earnings despite supply-chain challenges

– Harley-Davidson had its best third quarter in a long time


– Green Bay Packers switch Milwaukee radio home from WTMJ-AM to iHeartMedia sports station

– Packers to change Milwaukee radio affiliate next season


– GOP-controlled Legislature sends abortion bills to Gov. Tony Evers who will likely veto them

– Wisconsin lawmakers send anti-abortion bills to governor


– Major Milwaukee-area affordable housing projects awarded Federal Home Loan Bank funding


– Mayor Barrett joins Visit Milwaukee CEO in D.C. touting city for Republican National Convention

– Eau Claire sets terms for city contributions to new event center


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