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BluDiagnostics’ Fertility Device Wins WI Business Plan Contest

Xconomy Wisconsin — 

For the third year in a row, a life sciences startup took home the top prize at the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest.

On Wednesday, Madison-based BluDiagnostics was named the competition’s overall winner and top life sciences company, beating 12 other finalists. All 13 teams presented Tuesday at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference held at Madison’s Alliant Energy Center, an annual two-day business conference hosted by the Wisconsin Technology Council.

BluDiagnostics, which is developing a saliva-based fertility test, is the latest life sciences company to win the contest, following Elucent Medical last year and NitricGen in 2013. This marked the contest’s 12th year.

This year’s other winners in each category were:

—Advanced manufacturing: Intelligent Composites, which has developed a proprietary process for making an advanced aluminum composite material that it intends to sell to power sports vehicle manufacturers.

—Business services: Hunt Butler, which is like an Airbnb for hunters. Its website connects hunters with landowners who will rent out their land for short periods of time.

—Information technology: 65 Incorporated, which provides Web-based software to guide seniors through the Medicare enrollment process.

This year, 238 teams from 70 cities statewide submitted ideas for the contest, the Tech Council said. Past finalists have gone on to raise more than $160 million in equity investments, venture debt, and grants. A 2012 survey found that 77 percent of past participants were still in business.

BluDiagnostics will try to take advantage of the contest’s exposure as it raises money to bring its product to market, said co-founder Katie Brenner, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has been working on the idea for more than two years.

Brenner and co-founder Doug Weibel—a UW-Madison biochemistry professor—came up with a thermometer-like device that would analyze saliva collected via disposable paper strips attached to the end of the device. The patent-pending device would measure the levels of estradiol and progesterone in the saliva samples, two hormones tied to fertility, Brenner said.

It’s an issue Brenner (pictured above) has struggled with personally. She has three young children, but had difficulty getting pregnant with the third child, she said. “I was completely stumped,” she said.

She became frustrated with the available fertility tests, and decided to create a better one. BluDiagnostics’ technology will be able to predict ovulation, diagnose pregnancy, and identify hormonal issues that might be preventing a woman from getting pregnant, Brenner said.

There are home ovulation tests sold by pharmacies, but those give a two to six-day window of optimal fertility, and they can’t identify that until after the ovulation has occurred, Brenner said. Her company’s device will be more precise and provide more detailed data that can help couples try to conceive at the right time—closer to when ovulation is happening, she said. The device would also be more convenient for customers because it requires saliva instead of urine.

BluDiagnostics’ device will automatically upload data to the cloud, where it could be viewed by the patient in a mobile app the company will develop, as well as integrated into the patient’s electronic health record so her doctor could study the results. The idea would be that a woman would perform the saliva test once a day for a couple months—placing the device in her mouth for about a minute each time—to accumulate plenty of data.

If a woman is unable to get pregnant after about a year of trying, the next step is usually to see a fertility doctor and run blood tests that measure hormones. If she has already been tracking hormone levels with BluDiagnostics, it could save time in hunting for the root of the problem, Brenner said.

Of course, BluDiagnostics still must prove in clinical tests that its technology works. The company intends to begin a study at the end of next year, Brenner said, with a goal of getting FDA clearance to sell the product in 2017. The plan is to charge $200 for the device, a two-month supply of the disposable strips, and access to the mobile app. Additional strips would be sold for around $40 for a one-month batch, said Jodi Schroll, a BluDiagnostics advisor who is helping with business development.

The first hurdle for BluDiagnostics: raising $500,000 by September to get a prototype built, Brenner said.

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  • Jessica Mann, M.D.

    Congratulations! This sounds like a great concept. Looking forward to seeing th product! – Dr Jessica Mann (REI

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