Wisconsin Innovates In 2020
January 5, 2021
Most of us have put 2020 firmly in the rearview mirror. But not all the 2020 news was bad. Despite political upheaval, economic hardship, and COVID-19, Wisconsin was home to a wide variety of groundbreaking innovations in many areas. The 2020 Wisconsin Innovation Awards recognized many of the most innovative.
A tech start-up business that is the brain-child of two UW-Milwaukee professors, Carol Hirschmugl and Marija Gajdardziska-Josifovska, offered new hope for lithium-ion battery energy storage. They founded their business, SafeLi, LLC, in 2016 and located it in Shorewood. SafeLi was recognized late in 2020 for developing patented material that would improve the storage capacity of lithium-ion batteries. What does this mean on a practical level? According to The Business Journals, this means increased stored energy, quicker charging times, and safer batteries overall for items such as consumer electronics, power tools, and even hybrid and electric vehicles. Grants from both the U.S. Department of Energy and Small Business Innovation have helped SafeLi in its efforts.
Pinpoint Software was also recognized as an industry innovator for its software that aids grocery stores in managing stock rotation, cleaning, and tracking expiration dates on products. Pinpoint worked actively in 2020 to help its customers adapt to the demands of COVID-19. CEO Andrew Hoeft said that the company plans to expand its offerings to the health-care industry in 2021.
Technical medical innovation was recognized in the work of OnLume Surgical. The company developed an innovative fluorescence imaging technique. This technique enables surgeons to view real-time tissue function under available ambient lighting. After securing initial FDA approval, the technique is currently undergoing clinical trials. Researchers at UW-Madison founded OnLume Surgical, a Madison-based company.
Education innovation was recognized in Madison Reading Project’s work distributing free books to children in underserved areas. Originally the project distributed free books to children through schools, but COVID-19 forced the organization to come up with a new plan. Volunteers now deliver free books to local food pantries so they can be distributed to families along with much-needed food. Despite the challenges presented by COVID-19 to its distribution model, Madison Reading Project has continued to expand in 2020, and plans to move to a larger facility in 2021.
But innovation didn’t stop with these four Wisconsin Innovation Award-winners. Global biotech company Promega Corporation is relocating some of its medical manufacturing business to Wisconsin from California so that it will be closer to the Wisconsin-based company’s research. This will result in 25 new tech jobs and should result in a capital investment of $750,000 to Wisconsin.
Home health care has proven to be one of the most important industries in this era of COVID-19. Even without the pandemic challenge, this industry has an average employee turnover rate of 80 percent. Part of this is because remote work presents communication challenges. SMARTcare aims to help small home health care businesses retain caregivers by facilitating communication among company managers, caregivers, clients, and their families. The Eau Claire-based company offers a full suite of cloud-based management tools, such as tracking COVID-19 testing dates/results and mobile alerts for caregivers to wear PPE and check clients for symptoms. These management tools are free to any home health care business, whether it’s a SMARTcare client or not. SMARTcare was named one of the top 10 home health care companies in 2020 by Healthcare Tech Outlook, a top trade publication.
Despite the challenges generated in 2020 by a global pandemic, Wisconsin continues to prove itself home to innovations that change industries, business practices, and lives. Looking ahead into 2021, Wisconsin will continue to make its innovative mark.