InsideWis: Calling all early stage companies: Conference can help firms connect with investors

InsideWis: Calling all early stage companies: Conference can help firms connect with investors

By Tom Still

MADISON — The longest-running investor pitch event in Wisconsin is the annual Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium.

By one name or another since the 1980s, this conference has been giving entrepreneurs and young companies a chance to tell their stories to investors. It has helped fuel some notable success stories, with companies such as Promega, TomoTherapy, Mirus Corp., Sonic Foundry, Prodesse, NimbleGen, Nerites, Third Wave Technologies, Stratatech, PanVera and many more taking the stage in the past.

Over the last five years, at least 30 Wisconsin-based presenters raised angel or venture capital sometime after they pitched. There are many reasons why companies succeed in raising capital, but a strong presentation in front of a savvy crowd is usually among them.

This year’s conference, to be held Nov. 3-4 in Madison, will offer young companies three chances to stand out.

They include two pitch tracks – the Tech Council Investor Network track and the Elevator Pitch Olympics – as well as a newer segment, “Investor Intros,” which will allow selected companies brief, one-on-one meetings with targeted angel and venture investors. Companies can register by Sept. 24 and apply for the chance to take part in one of the tracks – or all three.

The Tech Council Investors Network track will feature about two-dozen companies from the Midwest representing an array of industries, such as advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, digital health innovations, software, medical devices, gaming and more.

These are featured, five-minute presentations for companies looking to land professional financing rounds.

Companies selected for this track will have other opportunities to interest investors beyond the formal pitch. They include networking receptions, an executive summary published in the investor-only program and an opportunity to exhibit where investors may speak directly to presenting companies. Selected companies will also be invited to participate in a pre-conference practice session with a group of mentors.

Click here to view a list of Early Stage Symposium presenters who then raised angel and/or venture capital.

Companies or entrepreneurs selected for the Elevator Pitch Olympics will give a 90-second pitch in front of conference attendees and a panel of investors.

The investors will score the presenter on a scale of 1 to 5, focusing on whether the pitch was compelling enough to arrange a follow-up meeting, and will offer immediate feedback.

About 15 companies will be selected for the Elevator Pitch Olympics. In past years, these have been companies just forming, seeking a smaller investment round or planning to do so within the next year. It’s a fast-moving event designed for entrepreneurs who are just starting down the path to company formation – even if they have little more than a good idea.

Investor Intros is a third way to get noticed. It’s a segment in which companies engage in a series of scheduled, 7-minute strategic meetings with investors from Wisconsin and beyond. This format will resemble a “speed dating” exercise, allowing both parties to learn more about each other and explore potential relationships. At the in-person Early Stage Symposium in 2019, more than 40 investor groups juggled a collective 452 meetings.

About 700 companies have pitched at the conference over the decades.  Investment trends may come and go as innovation transforms the economy, but one constant is the notion that a well-honed pitch to interested investors is more a start than a finish.

While it’s nearly impossible to assign a dollar value to the deals that have flowed through, in and around the conference, it is relatively easy to chart what the event has meant to the high-growth economy over time. A significant percentage of emerging firms land angel or venture capital dollars. Those firms survive longer, either to the point of being acquired or growing on their own.

The application deadline is Sept. 24, so don’t miss a chance to expose your idea or company to some of the region’s top investors. Visit to sign up and learn more.

Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He can be reached at