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BluDiagnostics Gets Shot at Silicon Valley VCs After WI Pitch Contest

Xconomy Wisconsin — 

BluDiagnostics is still a three-person startup that hasn’t raised any outside capital, but it will soon have a chance to scoop up some serious cash in California.

The Madison, WI-based healthtech company on Tuesday night won the second annual “Pressure Chamber” pitch contest organized by the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce. The event was held during the city’s Forward Festival, an eight-day conference highlighting local entrepreneurship and innovation.

By winning the contest, BluDiagnostics earned a spot on an all expenses-paid trip to Palo Alto, CA, in October to meet with Silicon Valley venture capitalists. The chamber of commerce will also handpick four other local startups for the trip, said Kevin Little (pictured above left), the chamber’s managing director of economic development.

If those meetings go well for BluDiagnostics, it could provide a huge boost as it tries to commercialize by mid-2017 a fertility device that analyzes saliva to predict ovulation, diagnose pregnancy, and identify hormonal issues that might be preventing a woman from getting pregnant.

“We’re just so honored [by] the opportunity,” co-founder Katie Brenner (pictured above right) told Xconomy after the results were announced. The University of Wisconsin-Madison post-doctoral researcher said the Silicon Valley meetings should help BluDiagnostics better understand what investors look for and provide useful feedback to help figure out how to best “position our product to reach people.”

And, of course, she wants to score investment dollars, she added.

BluDiagnostics is proving adept at winning pitch contests. The company won the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest in June. And Brenner will have a chance at a third pitch competition victory on Thursday at the Doyenne Group’s “5x5x5” event that will award $5,000 to one of five women-led businesses.

BluDiagnostics garnered “a lot of interest” from local investors in the aftermath of the business plan contest win, according to Brenner. The company was targeting a seed round of $800,000 from local investors, but will now aim for about $2.8 million. That should provide enough capital to get the experimental device into clinical trials, she said.

Madison-based Fishidy won last year’s Pressure Chamber competition. The company raised a $1.5 million Series A round two months later, although that was Midwest money Fishidy secured before it went on last year’s chamber-organized California trip. Little said last year’s Silicon Valley meetings resulted in a seven-figure business deal for one of the participating companies.

Last night, BluDiagnostics beat out Fetch Rewards, Health eFilings, Redox, SmartUQ, and Swallow Solutions. The winners were determined by a combination of votes from the audience and scores from a panel of judges that included four VCs from outside Wisconsin and Mikkel Svane, co-founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Zendesk, which has an office in Madison.

The mix of companies that pitched at Pressure Chamber—including businesses working in healthcare IT, medical devices, data analytics, and consumer apps—helps to “show people Madison isn’t a one-trick city,” chamber president Zach Brandon said. He added that he would’ve felt comfortable putting any of the six contestants in a room with Silicon Valley VCs.

Brandon hopes that over time, the Pressure Chamber program helps coastal investors see the “depth and breadth” of Madison-area companies, to the point that they start traveling to Wisconsin to find deals. “That’s the goal,” he said.