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Five remaining firms vie for Tech Transfer award

Companies sporting cutting edge tools for genetic research, nanotechnology, farm waste management and produce storage have emerged as the finalists in the first-ever Governor's Small Business Technology Transfer Award.

Judges for the contest have winnowed the field to five finalists from a group of 12 semifinalists. The $5,000 grand prize will be presented to the winner June 7 at this year's Wisconsin Entrepreneurs Conference in Milwaukee.

The finalists are:

GHD Inc., Chilton, a company that designs and installs anaerobic digestion systems for dairy farms that converts manure and other organic wastes into electricity, biosolids for cow bedding and non-odorous liquid fertilizer

Imago Scientific Instruments, Madison, a manufacturer of nanotechnology sector products such as atom probe microscopes and 3-D visualization software
Lucigen Corp., Middleton, a supplier of gene cloning kits, reagents and enzymes

Nutra-Park Inc., Middleton, creator of a natural treatment for fruits that accelerates uniform ripening and extend shelf life

PhysioGenix, Wauwatosa, a Medical College of Wisconsin spinoff that specializes in pre-clinical animal testing models for drug development.

PhysioGenix President and CEO John Seman noted that he joined the 12-person company after 25 years of experience at large pharmaceutical companies such as Johnson & Johnson because he was excited about the drug development process. PhysioGenix believes it can arm drug developers with more effective drug screening tools, such as T2DN, a proprietary rat model that closely mimics the development of human diabetic nephropathy – the end-stage renal disease so often seen in Type 2 adult onset diabetes patients.

Seman said the burgeoning obesity problem in the United States has given rise to an increase in Type 2 diabetes and a growing desire for drugs to stave of end-stage renal failure. Drug researchers tackling Type 2 diabetes can use T2DN to more reliably screen prospective drugs to determine if they are effective in slowing or reversing end-stage renal disease.

"We wanted to participate [in the contest] because we're proud of what we've been able to do," Seman said.

Timothy Stultz, president and CEO of Imago, said his personal objective in entering the contest is to boost the awareness and visibility of high-tech industry in Madison and across the state.

"When we heard about it, we felt it was a very good fit to what we are as a company," said Stultz, who has been with Imago for about two years. The company started in 1998 after licensing local electrode atom probe (LEAP) technology from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. That technology made possible the creation of Imago's flagship product, the LEAP microscope, which Imago has been shipping since June 2003 to customers such as university research centers.

The LEAP microscope allows researchers to identify and locate individual atoms within samples in 3-D ("We have the only microscope in the world that can do that," Stultz said) and includes proprietary software that then allows them to perform 3-D rendering and analysis on the massive amounts of data collected by the microscope.

The company has taken advantage of its ringside seat within the truly hot nanotechnology market to the tune of 100 percent annual growth the past year. Right now, the company employs 38 people, nearly half of whom hold Ph.D's. The company's growth has created more job openings, one of the earmarks of the companies the Technology Transfer Award is looking to reward.

"We have a number of open spots," Stultz said. "One of challenges is hiring technical talent as rapidly as we need it."

The award is jointly sponsored by the Wisconsin Department of Commerce and the Center for Technology Transfer, which was founded in 2002 to promote development and adoption of innovations that are energy efficient and environmentally friendly. He award's purpose is to recognize companies that bring new products to market and high-quality jobs to the state. The panel of judges includes representatives of the state's governmental, medical, educational, venture capital and biotech business sectors.

Lincoln Brunner is a WTN contributing editor and can be reached at

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