"Each year, Wisconsin Inno, a sister firm to the Milwaukee Business Journal, takes a deep dive into the early-stage businesses poised to make headlines in the year to come.
On our annual Startups to Watch list, we outline a handful of Wisconsin startup companies that we feel could make big moves in the next year, whether that's raising sizable funding rounds, making acquisitions, accomplishing fast growth or simply continuing work on challenging problems. From Madison to Milwaukee and beyond, there are plenty of early-stage Wisconsin startups on the rise.
Since we began reporting on Wisconsin's tech and startup ecosystem in 2018, we've had our finger on the pulse of all the innovative ideas, significant funding rounds and big expansion plans coming out of the state's startups.
On this list you won't find familiar Wisconsin tech companies like Understory, Redox or Fetch Rewards. Instead, our Startups to Watch list aims to spotlight the lesser-known companies that will be the headline makers of tomorrow.
The companies listed below range from those who've raised Series A funding rounds to those that have zero capital. Some have been around for the last five years, while others launched over the past year. The one thing they all have in common, though, is that they are poised for growth in 2021.
Here are the 21 Wisconsin startups to watch in 2021.
AirDeck: Launched in 2020 by Jason Weaver, the Madison startup is an on-demand presentation platform that allows users to create, distribute and track narrated documents and presentations, such as webinars, sales presentations, new employee on-boarding guides and training programs, or investor pitch decks, allowing viewers to watch the presentation when it fits their schedule as opposed to viewing them live.
ChemDirect: This company relocated to Green Bay from California after receiving an investment from the TitletownTech Venture Fund, the $25 million fund created through a partnership between the Green Bay Packers and Microsoft Corp. The company created an online marketplace to connect chemical manufacturers with customers.
DataChat: This Madison company, founded in 2017, developed an intelligence interface that allows business users to extract insight from their data simply by talking to a chatbot. DataChat was created at the University of Wisconsin-Madison by computer science professor Jignesh Patel. The round of funding was led by Silicon Valley venture capital firms WRVI Capital and Nepenthe Capital. Other participants included individual investors from Google and Santa Clara, Calif.-based cybersecurity company Palo Alto Networks.
Debtle: This Sheboygan company developed a software that enables businesses to negotiate, settle and collect amounts for overdue invoices or bad debt accounts to tackle the consumer debt crisis. The cloud-based platform automates, improves and simplifies the negotiation of bad debt accounts.
Dityer: A smartphone app created by West Allis-based Okayge Inc., serves as both a digital marketplace where small businesses can sell their goods to customers, and a delivery service using independent drivers to ship those goods around Milwaukee on the same day. The app communicates with a dashboard inside of a store, which allows store operators to either accept or reject orders and call for a driver.
DotCom Therapy: The Madison-based startup offers teletherapy services for speech, occupational and behavioral health and provides services to more than 250 schools across the U.S. The company, founded in 2015 by speech language pathologist Rachel Robinson, received more than $4 million in investments from OSF Ventures, the venture capital arm of OSF Healthcare, and Birmingham, Ala.-based New Capital Partners. OSF HealthCare is launching a pilot using Dotcom Therapy for children who are on the autism spectrum.
Fork Farms: This Appleton-based agriculture technology startup makes hydroponic systems. The company's indoor vertical farming system, called the Flex Farm, was designed to eliminate food transportation costs, consume 97% less water than traditional agriculture practices, and be 40% more energy efficient compared with hydroponic systems currently in the market.
Mobile22: This Madison company developed an integrated ride-hailing platform licensed to traditional taxicab companies. Mobile22 enables taxicab companies with the upgraded technology needed to facilitate payment processing, automate dispatch, and manage their drivers and fleets, allowing independent taxi providers to streamline operations and better compete against the ride-booking giants.
NewWay: Founded by Bryce Killibrew and Willie Alexander while studying at Milwaukee Area Technical College, this startup company developed an electric bike product. Their first e-bike, the GENZ-1, became available for purchase in 2020. The bike is fused with internet-connected technology and can connect to LifeTagger, a mobile messaging platform that allows riders to receive messages about their bike performance, maintenance and instructions. It also serves as a potential sponsorship platform.
Novir: This Milwaukee startup launched in the spring of 2020 in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Started by Alexander Kempe, a former GE Healthcare executive turned digital medical entrepreneur, Novir's Covid-19 rapid antibody testing system gives results within minutes about whether a person has or had the virus and developed antibodies to the test. Novir plans to ramp up production to about 100,000 tests per day.
Octane Coffee: The company is building an automated, robotic kitchen for contactless drive-thru service. The automated systems will be manufactured in the Milwaukee area and serve coffee, tea and juice drinks. Customers will order their items through an app, starting a synchronized drink production to coincide with the customer's arrival time. The Milwaukee company is looking to launch its first location in Pewaukee by early 2021.
PerceptForm: Launched by Milwaukee entrepreneur and artist Christopher McIntyre Perceptions, the company operates as a blockchain learning platform and cryptocurrency financial services business focusing on minority populations through its Simply Crypto course and currency token.
Proceed.app: Founded by Andrew Schmitz, this Appleton-based company crowdsources, manages and distributes learning materials for small and medium-sized businesses using visual elements, as opposed to text-based knowledge materials. Schmitz said the software application was built on the fact that most people retain knowledge at higher rates through visual learning, coupled with knowledge loss associated with text-based knowledge systems.
Quantum Radius: Like ChemDirect, this startup moved its headquarters from Denver to Green Bay this year after receiving funding from TitletownTech. The company developed a faster video processing technology that aims to improve bandwidth inefficiency and eliminate lag from real-time video streaming. It's eyeing virtual and augmented reality, medical, esports and other industries.
Sabhya Technologies: This information technology services company in Brookfield offers software application services, cloud computing enablement, machine learning and data analytics capabilities for small to medium-sized manufacturers that lack the resources to afford services provided by larger service companies, or the resources to properly implement software to extract value from data.
Safari Homes: Co-founder Manzur Khan is behind the startup's vision to create affordable and sustainable townhomes in the region using a panel-style, rapid-construction model. Through his company's townhome model, Safari Homes would be able to build homes, including the land development phase, in 10 weeks.
SoFresh Inc: Founded in 2018, this Pleasant Prairie-based startup developed food packaging materials designed to extend the shelf life of foods like bread and fruits. The company in late 2020 won $500,000 at the Grow-NY business competition for innovative food and agriculture technology companies.
Synthetaic: The Delafield-based data technologies company applies its technology to use cases to build high-quality data and predictive models. The company's technology currently is being deployed in medical imaging and conservation security. Earlier this year, the company announced it raised $4.5 million from private investors, including TitletownTech.
The Way Out: The Milwaukee startup, founded by Ruben Gaona and Eli Rivera, created a digital platform to connect employers with justice-involved individuals. The platform also includes a personal profile and assessment platform that matches job seekers with employers and the company created a support network to help formerly incarcerated individuals.
Tip A ScRxipt: A social payment platform, created by Chad Johnson, allows friends and family to place funds into accounts to help their elderly relatives or associates with middle income pay for medical prescriptions. Johnson is also looking into integrating the platform with pharmacy point-of-sale systems, where people can donate funds toward helping people buy their prescriptions.
Washbnb: The Milwaukee-based firm operates a linen and laundry service for Airbnb, short-term rental and vacation rental property hosts. The company focuses on the delivery of clean, pressed and folded linens to these properties. Company CEO Daniel Cruz said the cleaning costs can be passed on to guests through cleaning fees.