Madison Startup BluDiagnostics Wins Trip To Woo Silicon Valley Investors

By Judy Newman The Wisconsin State Journal.

BluDiagnostics co-founder Katie Brenner will be on her way to Silicon Valley in October to see if West Coast investors are as enamored with her young company's Fertility Finder as Midwesterners seem to be.

BluDiagnostics won the Pressure Chamber competition Tuesday evening, inching past five other businesses to win an all-expenses-paid trip to California to meet with well-heeled Silicon Valley venture capitalists and a consultation with Madison ad agency Lindsay, Stone & Briggs.

Six Madison startups each had five minutes to make a presentation and five minutes to field questions from the five judges.

BluDiagnostics is developing a device that checks a woman's hormone levels using a saliva test. For the 25 percent of women who struggle to get pregnant, it can tell them as soon as four days in advance when they will be most fertile, Brenner said.

"Our mission is to help women understand their bodies and take control of their fertility," she said.

One judge, Mikkel Svane, CEO and co-founder of Zendesk, was clearly impressed. "I love it," he said. "It's almost like magic."

The other contenders were: * Redox Engine, whose technology helps health-tech apps connect with health organizations' electronic records systems * Swallow Solutions, with a medical device and beverages being developed to help patients with swallowing problems * Fetch Rewards, whose app provides customized coupons to grocery shoppers and speeds their shopping trips * SmartUQ, whose technology improves the efficiency of product simulations for manufacturers * Health eFilings, which helps health care providers file documents required by Medicare.

Some of the startups, launched in the past year or two, already have scored major gains.

Redox co-founder Niko Skievaski said his company is about to finalize a $3 million investment round and already has turned down an $8 million offer to buy Redox.

Swallow Solutions' SwallowSTRONG device is used by one-third of the Veterans Administration medical centers across the U.S., CEO Eric Horler said.

Fetch Rewards has 36 employees and has Kraft Heinz employees in its office two days a week, testing promotions, CEO Wes Schroll said.

Brenner said she was "very surprised" bluDiagnostics won. "All of the other companies in this are so strong. Many of them have been funded and already have revenue. I feel incredibly honored just to be among this group."

It was the second victory in three months for bluDiagnostics, which also took the grand prize in the Wisconsin Governor's Business Plan contest in June.

Pressure Chamber was part of the daylong neXXpo: Business in Fast Forward event held by the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce at Monona Terrace.

The other four judges were venture capitalists from Chicago, Houston and Fargo, North Dakota. An audience of about 500 also voted, using a mobile app.

Chamber president Zach Brandon said four more companies will join bluDiagnostics on the Silicon Valley trip -- and they could include some of the other Pressure Chamber contenders.

"What we saw tonight was both the depth and breadth of the talent that's happening in greater Madison," Brandon said.

He said bluDiagnostics is at the intersection of bioscience, health and data. "That's going to be our sweet spot, where we can differentiate ourselves from other tech communities," he said.

NeXXpo was held this year in conjunction with the Madison Forward Festival, which runs through Thursday.

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