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Madison Magazine celebrates city's high-tech scene

Published On: Dec 24 2013 11:30:35 AM CST
Updated On: Oct 25 2013 02:42:12 PM CDT
Hugh Forrest

Special guest Hugh Forrest, director of the South By Southwest Interactive Festival

A GPS-enabled asthma inhaler, an online music marketplace and locally crafted and crowd-sourced beer are the products of new Madison companies that could fuel the city's future. The people behind these innovative ideas, along with 50 others, are being recognized this week in Madison Magazine's November issue as well as at a series of public events and festivities taking place on Thursday, Oct. 24.

"You'd be surprised by how many software and IT companies are popping up all over the city," says Madison Magazine editor Brennan Nardi. "Once we discovered just how many there are and their potential impact on jobs, the economy, and quality of life here in Dane County, we knew we had to tell their stories."

It's a story that Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce President Zach Brandon agrees should be told. "Startups are an essential ingredient in our recipe for economic success," he says. "They are the source of net job creation and technology startups, in particular, have tremendous potential to scale quickly. Greater Madison may have historically underperformed in supporting startup growth, but the talent unveiled in the inaugural M List class is proof of all that has changed."

One member of this year's M List class is Propeller Health, whose mobile sensors snap onto rescue inhalers and keep track of asthma attacks on the sufferer's smartphone. The product, which gives doctors a promising new tool to fight respiratory diseases, was invented by UW–Madison researcher David Van Sickle and transferred into the marketplace with the help of serial entrepreneur Mark Gehring. It's one of the first mobile health apps to get FDA clearance and is expected to prevent both expensive hospital visits and life-threatening events. Formerly Asthmapolis, Propeller Health is already being used by hospitals and clinics across the country and is among an increasing number of health technology startups here in Madison, thanks to twin engines UW-Madison and Epic Systems in Verona in addition to sweeping changes in how health care is being delivered. 

Another new innovation takes a lighter approach to solving one of society's most pressing problems: managing precious CD collections taking up space in your closet. Sign up for Murfie's online music service, and customers receive boxes to ship their CDs to be digitized and stored in cyberspace for selling, buying, streaming and downloading. The cases are recycled, and the music never stops. In addition to storing boxes and boxes of CDs, co-founders Matt Younkle and Preston Austin also utilize Murfie's downtown headquarters for a second venture, Horizon Coworking. The alternative workspace offers amenities such as shared desks, printing, conference rooms and a lounge.

An only-in-Wisconsin idea, collects handcrafted beer recipes from its online members and brews crowd favorites selected through online voting. The smart business model ties votes to purchases -- as in you vote for it, you buy it -- and the beer, with clever names like Honey Nut Cheersio and Bock to the Future, is commercially distributed to a watering hole near you. Co-founder and CEO Henry Schwartz, an entrepreneur since the age of 15 and UW-Whitewater grad, launched MobCraft after winning second place in the 2012 Startup Weekend Milwaukee competition, where 14 other companies got their start as well.

Propeller Health, Murfie and MobCraft are among the recipients of "The M List" award, a new A-list of Madisonians. According to the magazine, this year's winners are "entrepreneurs and technologists who've launched and grown businesses this year as well as contributed to the overall growth of the Madison region's burgeoning technology sector in a significant way."

Madison Magazine and co-host Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce kick off the M List festivities on Thursday with a tech scene Startup Crawl, a self-guided tour of five businesses and alternative workspaces featured on the M List. An evening launch party at the Majestic Theatre from 5 p.m.–7 p.m. features special guest Hugh Forrest, director of the South By Southwest Interactive Festival, the largest event in the country for emerging technologies and startups held annually in Austin, Texas. Click here for details and ticket information. 

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