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2 Madison-area startups, 1 from Minnesota, win prizes in state business competition

2 Madison-area startups, 1 from Minnesota, win prizes in state business competition


Two Madison-area startups and one from Minneapolis took the top prizes Wednesday from the Wisconsin Technology Council at its annual competition of young companies.

Some of the newest startups in the Midwest had a chance to pitch their companies in 90 seconds — about the time it could take to ride an elevator — to a panel of seasoned venture capital investors during the Elevator Pitch Olympics at the Early Stage Symposium. The judges rated the businesses on a scale of one to five based on the business idea and the quality of the pitch.

The multiday Early Stage Symposium, like many conferences this year, moved online due to COVID-19. Instead of speaking on a stage in a crowded auditorium, startup leaders made their pitches on a Zoom video call.

Fitchburg-based Nobbits USA with its innovative design for shoelaces and Minneapolis-based Otrafy for its online platform aimed at food processors and producers tied for the judges’ top prize.

Nobbits shoelaces feature raised bumps on the laces to lock them into the desired tightness and prevent the shoes from coming untied, which could lead to injuries, according to presenter Justin Hajny.

“We view the score as an indication that the judges believe that Nobbits Shoelaces could make an impact in the marketplace and be a viable asset to the Wisconsin business community,” chief brand officer Jerlando Jackson said. “The exposure is timely and meaningful because we are still fundraising and we are positioned to enter the marketplace in January 2021.”

Otrafy’s platform automates the collection, storage and transfer of regulation and certification data for food and beverage producers, streamlining the quality assurance process for ingredient suppliers around the world.

“We are solving an incredibly complex data infrastructure problem in the food supply chain that is not apparent to everyone,” co-founder and CEO Nhat Nguyen said. “So the vote of confidence from very experienced judges in Elevator Pitch Olympics has further strengthened our resolve to continue to push toward our vision of building Otrafy to be the source of truth for all food-related information.”

Fitchburg-based Nobbits makes shoelaces that pop

The competition’s viewers also picked their own winner, Madison-based Mappix, which is developing a platform to connect drone pilots to each other and to customers who may wish to purchase the pilots’ aerial videos and photos.

“It’s really satisfying to know we’re getting a good response from the community,” Mappix co-founder Christopher Johnson said.

Johnson co-founded Mappix with Abe Megahed, and the company launched a beta, or early, version of its app Wednesday to coincide with the conference.

Some potential investors and mentors reached out to Johnson within a few hours of the competition to talk about partnerships, Johnson said.

Starting Up: Big ideas from the region's newest companies

Starting Up features new area companies trying to bring their big ideas to the world.  

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