A look back at 2016’s startup sector

By Brennan Nardi, Madison Magazine

img_2154_webWhen I started covering the entrepreneurial scene back in 2000, the word startup wasn’t commonly used. Instead, spinoff was a catchword because many emerging companies were products of university research and development, particularly in the biotech sector.

The University of Wisconsin–Madison professor and developmental biologist Jamie Thomson had recently made history by isolating the first human embryonic stem cell line. It was among the many notable achievements pushing UW–Madison to the forefront of what Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation’s former director Carl Gulbrandsen liked to call “the new economy.” Lauded on the cover of Time magazine in 2001 for his revolutionary science, Thomson founded Cellular Dynamics International to produce stem cells used in drug discovery and toxicity testing. That same year, the Wisconsin Technology Council was created by a bipartisan act of the governor and Legislature.

Because the high-tech sector was still in its infancy compared to those in larger cities across the country, Madison’s dot-com bubble was more of a blip. The now-mighty Epic Systems was quietly humming along as a privately owned company with just a smidgen of its current employment base, industry prowess and geographic footprint. Sonic Foundry, a video-editing innovator, lost its momentum during the bubble but persevered and eventually became a subsidiary of Sony—and this year was scooped up by another competitor. Other spinoff darlings of that era included the regenerative skin tissue pioneer Stratatech, recently acquired by a multinational company; the diagnostic tests company Third Wave Technologies, absorbed by a competitor in 2008; and TomoTherapy, whose radiation therapy machines are in cancer treatment centers everywhere. Read more …

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