Ideadvance Seed Fund awards $275,000 to 9 innovative small businesses in Wisconsin


MADISON – Up to $275,000 in grants will be awarded to nine small businesses in the latest round of awards by the fostering the entrepreneurship ecosystem across Wisconsin. 

Ideadvance is a rigorous two-stage process of seed funding and mentoring to move innovative ideas forward into feasible businesses. It is open to staff, faculty, students and alumni at all campuses except UW-Madison. Ideadvance awardees must demonstrate significant progress toward a scalable, profitable business model in order to receive increments of Ideadvance seed funds. 

Stage 1 teams are eligible for up to $25,000 in matching funds within a six-month period; mentorship focuses on helping reduce risk in their ideas by determining what features will solve real customer needs. 

The 2019 awardees are: 

  •  of Delavan, a hardware and software company designed for lake management operations;
  •  of Kenosha, which provides all-natural solutions to aggression and anxiety in cats and dogs;
  •  of Oshkosh, whose bee shield provides a better way for beekeepers to winterize their hives;
  • Public Data Block of Milwaukee, which creates an Uber-like marketplace for remote notarization;
  •  of Mayville, which designs and manufactures specialty equipment for the agricultural and off-road equipment industry;
  • RoddyMedical of Wauwatosa, which improves the safety and mobility of loved ones in the hospital with products that organize and secure their medical lines, tubes and cords; and
  •  of Stevens Point, which focuses on The Scape, a new product that uses lighting technologies to calm humans. 

Stage 2 companies are eligible for up to $50,000 in matching funds within a 12-month period by focusing on a business model that effectively delivers solutions to customers and prepares the idea for investment.  

This year’s awardees are: 

  •  of Kronenwetter, an app-based communication platform that empowers consumers to recycle right, solves critical recycling industry problems and offers retailers a new opportunity to be socially responsible corporate players;and
  •  of Milwaukee, a photo, video and fundraising software for chambers of commerce and other associations.   

“Each year, I am more impressed with the diversity of ideas and participants. Ideadvance reflects the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem developing new ideas and businesses around the state,” said Dr. Idella Yamben, Program Manager. “With the Ideadvance Seed Fund, we build on those efforts helping teams to identify growth opportunities that enrich their local communities and beyond.” 

Since 2014, Ideadvance -- a partnership between the UW System’s Center for Technology Commercialization (CTC) and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) -- has awarded $2.13 million in grantsto 64 Stage 1 teams and 19 Stage 2 teams. As of February 2019, the impact of these grants has resulted in $4.9 million in additional funding allocated to the awardees. Ideadvance is part of the WEDC’s S3 program, which is working to further incorporate startups by providing operational and financial assistance to aid in navigating commercialization barriers. 

“In order for Wisconsin to succeed, we need to foster a climate of innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Chris Schiffner, WEDC Senior Technology Investment Manager. “Ideadvance creates a foundation of support for university entrepreneurs by providing seed capital and business support so they can take their ideas and technology to commercialization and a successful company launch – right here in Wisconsin.” 

ERbin co-founders Michelle Goetsch and Charles Kijek are past and present recipients of Ideadvance funding. The sister-brother duo founded ERbin after seeing a need for improvement in the recycling industry. ERbin was merely an idea in May 2018, when they began the Ideadvance program. Today, ERbin is a legal entity and they are preparing to test the beta version of their app.  

“Ideadvance really forced us to get out of our office and go talk to the customers and industry professionals in order to really grow our idea,” Goetsch said. “We learned to trust in the Lean Startup methodology. It takes a lot of time and effort, and it’s a lot of work, but inevitably it’s very rewarding.” 

GrowthChart Emerges in 2019 Governor's Business Plan Contest

Four Center for Technology Commercialization clients earned category prizes at the 2019 .

(Dylan Bruce, Viroqua) won the “Bright New Idea” award as a first-time contestant and second place in the Information Technology category in the 17th annual contest, organized through the Wisconsin Technology Council. The company connects plant growers and their data to help breed, source and harvest the best seeds.

(Brian Bednarz, Middleton) placed second in Life Sciences, (Michelle Goetsch, Kronenwetter) took third in Information Technology, and (Carol Hirschmugl, Shorewood) took third in Advanced Manufacturing.

Voximetry is an early-stage healthcare technology company working on improvements in nuclear medicine dosimetry. ERbin specializes in digital, place-based consumer recycling education. And SafeLi aims to help power the wireless world while making it a safer place for users of lithium ion batteries.

of Stoughton, which developed a time-saving hands-free voice assistant for childcare centers, took home the grand prize.

“Recording data by hand on paper ties up professionals who could be caring directly for kids,” said Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council.

GrowthChart Records, a Small Business Development Center client, also won the contest’s Information Technology category.

The Governor’s Business Plan Contest kicked off this year in late January with nearly 200 entries; more than 3,900 entries have been received since the contest began in 2004. This year’s finalists delivered seven-minute pitches on their business ideas during the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference at Venue 42 in Milwaukee’s Brewery District.

Finalists submitted full business plans for review by a panel of more than 100 judges established by the Tech Council, which is the nonprofit and nonpartisan science and technology advisor to the governor and the Legislature. Each plan described the core product or service, defined the customer base, estimated the size of the market, identified competition, described the management team and provided key financial data.

CTC clients have won and placed at the contest in the past two years: , and .

SBIR Advance opens 14th round of funding for high-tech small businesses



MADISON – The Center for Technology Commercialization (CTC) is offering a matching grant of up to $100,000 to provide additional assistance to companies in the process of completing a project in the federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) or Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. 

This is the 14th round of SBIR Advance funding dedicated by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) since SBIR Advance began in 2014. 

“SBIR Advance enters its sixth year of providing commercialization assistance to our federal SBIR grant winners and continues to see successes with those funded teams. We’ve added new programming for Phase II winners to provide them experience and education in obtaining private funds from angel and venture investors; all with the goal of maximizing the chances of our companies in their commercialization goals,” said Dr. Todd Strother, CTC Senior Technology Consultant and SBIR Advance Program Manager. 

Deadlines are quickly approaching:

To be companies must have an SBIR/STTR project in either Phase I or Phase II of funding. All companies must have a significant presence in Wisconsin to be considered for the grant. Funds can be used for business and market development, customer validation, intellectual property work or other areas needed to speed product commercialization.

Changes to eligibility include:

  • Companies that previously won more than three (previously two) Phase II SBIR/STTR awards in the last 4 years should not apply for a Phase I match grant.  
  • Phase II match applicants may apply if they have received no more than three (previously two) Phase II awards AND with a current award end date after March 1, 2019.
  • Phase II match applicants must agree to participate in up to three Investor Readiness Workshops presented by CTC as part of the SBIR Advance program.

Applicants should note these important dates:

  • Sept. 2, 2019: Companies chosen for funding will be notified by this time. 
  • Sept. 26, 2019: Phase I match awardees must be prepared to start the Lean Startup Program. The course runs through Dec. 19, 2019, and is administered by the CTC. It teaches companies how to incorporate their technologies into a validated business model and defines the best possible target markets. 

For more details on the SBIR Advance program, contact Strother at .

SBIR Advance is part of a Start-Seed-Scale (S3) initiative WEDC is pursuing with the help of the UW System and other business leaders throughout the state to remove barriers to high-tech commercialization. Under the S3 umbrella, WEDC and its economic development partners are implementing financial and operational assistance programs designed specifically to address Wisconsin’s business startup and seed-funding challenges. One such initiative — also a collaborative effort between WEDC and the UW System — is the , also managed by the CTC. Selected SBIR Advance participants undergo Lean Startup training to assist with their SBIR Phase II applications.


About Center for Technology Commercialization

The Center for Technology Commercialization is part of the University of Wisconsin System Administration’s Institute for Business & Entrepreneurship. CTC provides one-on-one expert consulting to early-stage emerging technology businesses throughout Wisconsin. CTC has collaborated in acquiring more than $100 million in federal and other funding for clients. Learn more at ; follow on Twitter.

About Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) leads economic development efforts for the state by advancing and maximizing opportunities in Wisconsin for businesses, communities and people to thrive in a globally competitive environment. Working with more than 600 regional and local partners, WEDC develops and delivers solutions representative of a highly responsive and coordinated economic development network. Learn more at ; follow on Twitter.

NIFA Invests Over $2 Million in Antimicrobial Resistance Research

USDA Award Announcements

NIFA Invests Over $2 Million in Antimicrobial Resistance Research

NIFA recently announced that will lead to a better understanding of antimicrobial resistance in food and agricultural systems. This knowledge will identify opportunities and strategies to make agricultural antimicrobial resistance less persistent; identify innovative alternatives to control farm animal diseases, which could also affect humans; and help understand how drug resistance occurs. These grants are a part of NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).

Wondering what else USDA funds?  Find out on our May 30th webinar featuring USDA Program Specialist, Elden Hawkes.  Learn more and register .

Will it work? What is Feasibility?

Feasibility is often a loosely defined term that might be difficult to pin down.  Phase I proposals are designed to ‘prove feasibility;’ i.e. show that your idea actually could work. Showing feasibility lays the groundwork necessary to be successful with a Phase II proposal and ultimately commercializing a product. The extent of proving feasibility will certainly vary depending on your project, your goals, how far along your technology is, and what key technical problems remain to be solved.

In we help guide you in determining what makes a good Phase I project to demonstrate your idea is feasible.  Fortunately, you are in control of how feasibility is defined. In your proposal, you can clearly state that the proposed efforts will show feasibility. 

How do I figure out how to show feasibility?  Work backwards from your intended commercial product.  If you know what your product is supposed to look like, you should ask what you need to accomplish in a Phase II proposal to get to commercialization.  With the Phase II project in mind, you should ask yourself what you need to do in order to be prepared to complete this.  The efforts necessary to be prepared for a Phase II project are what you can propose for your Phase I feasibility work. 

Details and discussion on determining a Phase I feasibility study will be a key component of the program.

Ideadvance Testimonials

'Why ?' 

That's what we asked past awardees -- the UW System faculty, staff, students and alumni who found it "critical" to advancing their businesses. The following videos are their answers. 


- "Thoughtfully build your business with Ideadvance"

Karen Iverson Riggers and her husband Eric started a food startup in Appleton, , that connects consumers with the unique flavors and health benefits of fermented foods. The Ideadvance teaching team challenged the Riggers to focus on a singular path of growth and come up with a defined profitability scheme in order to ensure success.


- "You don't know what you don't know"


Jeff Dikes, of , designed an innovative electronic compass to help firefighters maintain their orientation in zero visibility conditions. Since he wasn’t knowledgeable on the business of running a company, Ideadvance came to help. Dikes was pushed out of his comfort zone and learned, with guidance from Idella Yamben and the Ideadvance team, how to conduct research and talk to customers to develop a lean business model for success!


ERbin - "What did we learn through the process? .... A LOT"

Michelle Goetsch and Charles Kijek, are the dynamic duo who came up with Erbin: an organization guiding consumers to recycle right and recycle more. With the direction of Ideadvance, they talked with industry professionals and used mentorship as the means to develop a minimum viable product. Learning how to effectively pitch their ideas and to trust in the lean startup methodology were keys to success in the Ideadvance program.


Arbuda - Ideadvance "helped us think through the business in its entireity"

Vivek Deshpande founded : a medical platform that connects cancer patients and their physicians in India to world class resources and research hospitals from the US. Ideadvance helped him design a questionnaire to discover consumer pain-points and think through the entire business to develop a high quality application.


- "Ideadvance was critical for my business" - UW-River Falls faculty testimonial

Matt Vonk, a professor of Physics at UW-River Falls and, cofounder of – a platform to host videos of events and phenomena, combined with interactive measurement tools allowing students to explore, observe and analyze real events. Vonk found it difficult to make the transition from a grant-supported idea to a business where users will pay for access to the materials but Thanks to the finance focused education and mentorship from Ideadvance, Pivot is now equipped to face any future challenges!

Lean Startup Doesn’t Work

Did I get you?! 

Lean Startup has been part of the business lexicon for several years. The other day, I was explaining the basics to our intern who was obviously bored and quickly commented that he knew all about it. I think that is the challenge and opportunity with Lean Startup. It’s become a common idea where its execution is defined simply by business model canvas, MVP and pivot. Unfortunately, these key WORDS mask the nuance and sometimes difficulty of the key ACTIONS.

What is Lean Startup? The general idea is that you consider assumptions or key ideas about your business.  Instead of focusing on execution, you focus on feedback & experimentation to inform HOW you execute.

Feedback and experimentation is developed through customer discovery and minimum viable products (MVPs).  You release some low fidelity, but functioning version of the product to gain insight from the market. But often, the outcomes of your Lean Startup activity are muddied as teams get hung up on the words vs. actions.

Words vs Action Mishaps:

Customer Discovery:  The word customer is not limited to the person(s) who buy the product. It’s a chance to explore the ecosystem, channel partners and EVEN key barriers that might include policy and regulation. 

MVP:  MVP suggests you always have some tangible product for a customer.  But often, putting out a product can impact the IP strategy, competitive advantage or just may be prohibited because of regulation.  But the action of MVP learning can still happen at most stages.  While it might not be a product to buy, there is very often some version of value you can test with customers, ecosystem partners, regulatory entities and so on.  Leverage your team of trusted advisors to help your company identify actionable learning steps.

Pivot: I think I dislike pivot most of all as it is often overused. Lean Startup tends to celebrate the pivot and thus most teams glorify a quick change.  But the action of a pivot is a result of learning that could take years. Quick changes may result in your company missing key insights.  While we may champion “failing fast,” I think the aim is to learn and learn effectively.

Learning: Learning is the ultimate action of Lean Startup. Sometimes, learning in Lean Startup is limited to a finite time. Oh, we already took a Lean Startup course. I think of Lean Startup learning as a skill you continue to develop with time. Similar to a musician, the basics are only the beginning. It takes skill to see detail and harmony when your learning is diverse, disjointed and qualitative. I think the action of learning is the hardest part about Lean Startup, but I’ll save that for another post. 

All-in-all, I champion Lean Startup because it gives access, process and customization for anyone to engage in the entrepreneurial ecosystem whether they are experienced or not.  With a trusted team of advisors, mentors and a willingness to be curious maybe your startup grows using Lean Startup actions.

If you are in Wisconsin, consider learning more about Lean Startup through the   Applications are being accepted now for the April 19, 2019 deadline.  Contact to learn more. 


Written by Idella Yamben, CTC Business Development Consultant


Why Ideadvance?

Thanks to continued support from WEDC and UW System, the Ideadvance Seed Fund is in its 3rd round of funding supporting Wisconsin innovations through 2020.  Each year, applicants are thrilled for the prospect of up to $25,000 in grants to support their new or growing idea.  But less obvious is the impact of the training. 
Past participants are answering the question, Why Ideadvance? 
If you want to understand how the program can help, consider the following quotes:

  • Ideadvance was helpful in preparing IFT for real world business dynamics.Unless the startups come from a business background, you end up having a longer growth curve to overcome without the aid of Ideadvance.  ­– Dan McGuire, Innovative Foundry Technologies
  • Ideadvance was a stepping stone in our company….it is a tool that you can use to take the idea to the next level.  But it is up to the person/team to utilize this tool to achieve success. Tom Burden, CEO,
  • Without Ideadvance, we would have never been able to start this company.Since launching, we have impacted tens of thousands of children across the U.S. – Jordan Rhodes, CEO,
  • This program is one of the best experiences of my career.The techniques I learned to scope opportunities, evaluate markets, and refine problems statements through customer discovery are skills I use each and every day as I work to build a new startup. –
    , Tali Payments
  • This has been an incredible learning experience.The guidance and process make starting a business less risky and terrifying.  – , Mobile Transit Solutions
  • If you think your startup or idea would benefit from programming and accountability Ideadvance offers, please reach out today to discuss how to prepare a competitive application for the April 19 deadline.

  Contact the to discuss your idea.

NSF Project Pitch

NSF Project Pitch

The required Project Pitch allows startups and small businesses to get quick feedback at the start of their application for Phase I funding from America’s Seed Fund powered by NSF.

Startups or entrepreneurs who submit a three-page Project Pitch* will know within three weeks if they meet the program’s objectives to support innovative technologies that show promise of commercial and/or societal impact and involve a level of technical risk. They will also get additional guidance and feedback from NSF staff.

If your Project Pitch is a good fit for the program, you will receive an official invitation from NSF to submit a full proposal. If you’re not invited to submit, you’ll be told why your project is not appropriate for the program.

Along with your company information, you’ll have to outline four key elements in your Project Pitch:

1. The Technology Innovation. (Up to 500 words)

Describe the technical innovation that would be the focus of a Phase I project, including a brief discussion of the origins of the innovation as well as explanation as to why it meets the program’s mandate to focus on supporting research and development (R&D) of unproven, high-impact innovations.

What is the problem being addressed? 

What is your solution?

What approaches have been used before?  How is it done today?  What alternatives have been tried before?

What are the shortfalls of state of the art and other alternative approaches?

How do you overcome the shortfalls?

What makes your approach unique, different?

What is your secret sauce, what is the innovation that makes your approach workable?

How do you know it will work?

What is the benefit of your approach, qualitative and quantitative?

What are the key technical for your technology that must be overcome to demonstrate both technical and commercial feasibility?

2. The Technical Objectives and Challenges. (Up to 500 words)

Describe the R&D or technical work to be done in a Phase I project, including a discussion of how and why the proposed work will help prove that the product or service is technically feasible and/or significantly reduce technical risk. Discuss how, ultimately, this work could contribute to making the new product, service, or process commercially viable and impactful. This section should also convey that the proposed work meets the definition of R&D, rather than straightforward engineering or incremental product development tasks.

What are the outstanding issues today that must be researched, developed and demonstrated to show this is feasible?

What are the 2-3 key questions that must be answered in Phase 1 to show feasibility?

What are the performance requirements for Phase 2 that are necessary for technical and commercial success?

How will you study the 3 key questions in Phase 1?  What is your technical approach?  What is your test plan?  How do you know your test plan will adequately address the 3 key questions in a demonstrably measurable way?  What facilities and expertise do you need to adequately answer the questions?

If Phase 1 successfully demonstrates feasibility, what will be necessary to do in phase 2 to develop and test a "near commercial" version of the technology?

3. The Market Opportunity. (Up to 250 words)

Describe the customer profile and pain point(s) that will be the near-term commercial focus related to this technical project.

What are the shortfalls of state of the art and other alternative approaches?

What is the size of the problem and opportunity?

What makes your approach unique, different?  In what measurable way does your technology product meet an unmet customer need better than the competition?

What is the benefit of your approach, qualitative and quantitative?

What is the value to the user/customer?  Quantify when it is commercialized broadly, what will be total impact for users, for military? For USA economy (5 E's - economy, employment, energy, environment, exports)?

Who are the actual users/customers and where/how do they buy the current solution?

Who are potential users that will be major customers and could be reviewers now and test sites in Phase 2?

4. The Company and Team. (Up to 250 words)

Describe the background and current status of the applicant small business, including key team members who will lead the technical and/or commercial efforts discussed in this Project Pitch.

Who is the principal investigator?  Research team?  Test facilities?  Technical advisers?  Commercial advisers?

What are their key roles and qualifications to fulfill these roles in the proposed project?

Visit the online form to submit your Project Pitch or to preview the required fields. More details about the NSF’s new process and eligibility requirements are on our Apply page.

*Each small business can only submit one Project Pitch at a time and up to two Project Pitches per submission window. (The submission windows for 2019 are March 4-June 13 and June 14-December 12). Any small business with a pending Project Pitch must wait for a response before submitting another Project Pitch. Any small business that has received an invitation to submit a full proposal must wait for a resolution of the full proposal before submitting a new or revised Project Pitch.



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