Alzheimer's drug firm and more winners named in Wisconsin business-plan contest

Alzheimer's drug firm and more winners named in Wisconsin business-plan contest

Milwaukee — A company that could offer treatment for the underlying process – not just the symptoms – of Alzheimer’s disease won the second Governor’s Business Plan Contest on Tuesday, receiving a prize purse, free rent and wide recognition.
Mithridion, a University of Wisconsin-Madison spinoff, emerged as an early favorite in the competition after polished presentations for the judges. Even before that, co-founder Jeff Johnson, the professor at UW-Madison who invented a method to curb the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in mice, received a special mention from the governor in last year’s State of the State address.
The award was granted at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Milwaukee. For Mithridion, it includes a $20,000 cash prize and a year’s free rent in 2,700 square feet of space, including labs, at the University Research Park in Madison, valued at $80,000.
With the prize in hand, Mithridion’s next step will be to follow through on the funding needs cited in its business plan, which calls for $1.4 million to study initial leads and perhaps $10 million to $14 million more per drug to conduct clinical trials.
After that, CEO Trevor Twose said the company wants to market two drugs, probably two generations of the same Alzheimer’s treatment, through a major pharmaceutical company. The partner would invest in the final phase three clinical trials and pay Mithridion licensing fees and royalties of somewhere around 15 percent. “In the drug develoment industry, a small company like Mithridion will not sell the product directly,” he said.
The exception might be a specialist market, neurologists. Twose said there are only about a thousand neurology specialists, compared to hundreds of thousands of general practitioners.
His own experience with the contest started last year, when he mentored contestants vying for the first annual prize. But before that, Twose forged a collaboration between U.K. company Xenova, where he formerly worked, and the University of Nottingham on an entrepreneurial boot camp for students. “It did so well it went national,” he said.

Category finalists and other awards

AquaSensors: plug-and-play water monitoring. This Milwaukee-based company manufactures interchangeable sensor sticks with a variety of water monitoring capabilities. Principal markets are wastewater treatment plants, community drinking water facilities, and general industry. “What all these industries have in common besides water is that they are rapidly automating and modernizing,” he said.
AquaSensors won second place, worth $20,000.
Online Kiosks: on-screen advertising in lobbies. Founded by Mike Strand, whose company StrandSoft is in Eau Claire, Online Kiosks would put video screens showing advertisements in lobbies or similar places where customers wait around. Strand called it the equivalent of the on-hold telephone message.
Radom: research and development outsourcing management. While there are plenty of outsourcing firms in engineering and software development, Radom’s founders see a need in R&D. They plan to target medical-device manufacturers first, said company President and CEO Jovan Jevtic.
Radom and Online Kiosks each won $10,000 prizes.
Robert Cervenka: siezed the day. The 2005 “Seize the Day” award went to the founder of Phillips Plastics, who told the story of starting a plastics manufacturing company in 1964, during a time of economic downturn, on an initial investment of $52,000 (about $314,000 in today’s dollars), and using the same car as collateral on several consecutive loans. The award was not principally for technology innovation, but for leadership.
Imago: tech transfer in nanotechnology. This Madison firm that sells an atom probe microscope for looking at the very, very small, won a $5,000 award for its commercialization of technology developed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Applicants were required to be small businesses with 100 employees or fewer; Imago has 40.

Behind the judging

The contest’s 46 judges were investors and entrepreneurs, lawyers and career advisers – a mix of people with backgrounds looking at business plans in some capacity. They started out looking at a handful of plans each from their areas of expertise, but by the final round everyone judged all the plans and tried to rise beyond their industry backgrounds.
“They were asked to focus on the business plan itself, as opposed to the technology,” said Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council and conference organizer. “Certainly it’s a technology-based context, but we really wanted to highlight and reward those contestants who had the best business plan regardless of what technology sector they came from.”
Judges had a list of categories to score in – and entrepreneurs were given a corresponding format to follow for their plans.
If sections were left out or out of place, that could lead to some confusion in the judging and, easily, docked points.
“Some of them didn’t come out and tell their story right away,” said Joe Kremer, director of the Wisconsin Angel Network. “Writing a business plan, you’re telling a story and you have to grab your audience within the first few lines.”
Many of the finalists now head onward to the task of raising money, whether through angels, grants, venture capitalists or other sources. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they all have, to said Trevor D’Souza, a managing director of venture capital firm Mason Wells – some successful businesses start from a small amount of savings and a good idea.
“With a business plan contest and an entrepreneurship program, one of the pitfalls that people fall into is that they feel like they need to ask for money,” he said. “A succesful business plan could be one that doesn’t need money. It could be bootstrapped.”

Read more about some of the finalists

Madison-based Mithridion seeks to capitalize on Alzheimer’s breakthrough
Online Kiosks founder Mike Strand uses contest to screen new business plan
Brown Deer start-up wants to serve up foreign film through broadband box
UW-Madison spinoff Pedrus finds more to business planning than good science
Vector Surgical hopes to turn frustration into faster surgeries

Jason Stitt is WTN’s editor and can be reached at