By Judy Newman
The Wisconsin State Journal.
A Madison startup whose device is aimed at helping women struggling with infertility took the grand prize in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan contest.
“It’s an incredible opportunity,” said Katie Brenner, a post-doctoral fellow in biochemistry at UW-Madison and co-founder of bluDiagnostics.
Announcement of the contest winners climaxed the closing luncheon of the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference on Wednesday at the Alliant Energy Center.
“It’s an incredible honor to be here among all of you,” Brenner said. “I’m proud to be part of this ecosystem of people who are supporting each other and trying to get ideas off the ground.”
BluDiagnostics is developing a Fertility Finder, a device that looks like a basal thermometer. A woman puts it in her mouth for one minute and a disposable paper strip inserted into the device grabs a saliva sample and measures the presence of two hormones: estradiol and progesterone. The results are sent to her cellphone through a mobile app, and can go to her physician, as well.
Brenner, 35, is a Madison native who grew up in Urbana, Illinois. A mother of three, she said the idea came because after her first two children, she had trouble getting pregnant again.
“I’m a bioengineer and a biochemist, somebody who should be able to solve this problem, and I was stumped,” Brenner said in an interview afterward.
The current alternatives are over-the-counter, urine-based test kits that are hard to read or blood tests at a doctor’s office that are often inaccurate, she said.
Brenner has been working on the project for two years in the lab of UW associate professor of biochemistry Doug Weibel, who is co-founder of bluDiagnostics.
She said the young company needs to raise $1.5 million, with $500,000 by Sept. 1, to manufacture the prototype. She said she hopes to apply for Food and Drug Administration approval for the Fertility Finder by late 2016, and said if all goes well, it could be on the market in mid-2017.
It would cost an estimated $200 for the initial kit with a two-month supply of strips and use of the app.
“We could help a lot of women,” Brenner said. “I’m so encouraged to have heard feedback from people who say, ‘I get what you’re doing, and it will make a huge difference.
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‘ It gives us the energy to push this forward.”
BluDiagnostics was the first-place winner in the life sciences category.
The other first-place winners were: Intelligent Composites, Okauchee, in advanced manufacturing; 65 Incorporated, Mequon, in information technology; and Hunt Butler, Rio, in business services.
The winners share a pot of cash and business services.
Also at the entrepreneurs’ conference, Elizabeth Hlavacka, a La Crosse eighth grader, won the Wisconsin YES! (Youth Entrepreneurs in Science) student business plan contest, and Jim Berbee, founder of Berbee Information Networks Corp., a Fitchburg company sold to CDW, of Vernon Hills, Illinois, in 2006, received the Ken Hendricks Memorial “Seize the Day” award.
About 525 people registered to attend the two-day conference put on by the Wisconsin Technology Council.