It was an “Oprah moment” for two Madison-area biotech leaders at a conference in suburban Kansas City earlier this month.
Jacqueline Hind and Steve Visuri had just given short presentations about their companies to an audience of business and government leaders at a conference in Overland Park, Kansas.
Hind is president of Plumb Pharmaceuticals, a biopharma with technology that stretches the length of time a medication is effective.
Visuri is CEO of Stem Pharm, whose Jello-like product is used to help cells and tissues grow for use in testing pharmaceutical products.
The two local startup execs were pleased just to be tapped to speak at the Road to GES-Heartland summit.
“We were thinking it was just exposure for our companies,” Visuri said, “a showcase to highlight interesting technologies being developed in the Midwest.”
Then it got better.
The Road is a regional prelude to the main event, the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, a two-day gathering that draws 2,000 entrepreneurs, investors and policymakers from around the world and has been held over the past 10 years in locations ranging from Silicon Valley to Marrakesh, Morocco, to Malaysia.
Hind and Visuri were among six Midwestern companies recruited to compete for a chance to attend the global summit.
To their surprise, after the presentations, all six of the startups were awarded the top prize: an all-expenses-paid trip to the GES summit, which will be held in June in The Hague, Netherlands.
“It was a bit of an Oprah moment — you get a trip, you get a trip,” Visuri said.
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“It was a very pleasant surprise, and validating to know that Plumb’s message resonated with the judges,” Hind said.
Todd Strother, senior technology consultant with the UW System’s Center for Technology Commercialization (CTC), had nominated the businesses for consideration for the regional event. Then they had to pass muster from a U.S. State Department official. Both are recipients of Small Business Innovation Research grants.
Plumb, founded in 2010, has developed a platform for extended release of medications, including two that are used to treat opioid addiction — buprenorphine and naltrexone. The company’s Advanced Quantload system extends the release of a drug from 72 hours to more than three months, Hind said.
“Extended release increases patient compliance and reduces health care costs,” she said. Hind said the technology also can be used for a variety of other pharmaceuticals used to treat conditions ranging from HIV to depression.
The Madison startup has six employees, three of them full time. Hind said it will likely be 2021 before Plumb applies to hold human clinical trials.
Stem Pharm helps clients create “organs-in-a-dish,” Visuri said. The synthetic gel can be customized to facilitate the growth of different types of tissues, he said. Drug development companies use the tissues to test the safety and effectiveness of potential pharmaceutical products.
In the next year or two, Stem Pharm plans to start producing its own organs-in-a-dish, Visuri said.
Founded in 2015, Fitchburg-based Stem Pharm has five employees, four of them full time.
At the global summit, 1,200 “next generation” entrepreneurs will be the invited guests — including 400 from around the U.S. — with a chance to meet up with 350 investors from around the world as well as government and business leaders and support organizations.
More than 5,000 entrepreneurs from more than 170 countries have applied for acceptance to the global gathering.
Having two Madison-area companies among those chosen worldwide “shows Madison leads the entrepreneurial charge in the Midwest,” Hind said.
Wisconsin was No. 3 in the nation in the percentage of project applications awarded funds from the National Institutes of Health through the SBIR and STTR (Small Business Technology Transfer) programs.
“We are quite proud of the success of Wisconsin and the technology teams we are growing here,” the CTC’s Strother said. He said support from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. has been a key factor in those accomplishments.