In our continuing series on Madison Leaders & Influencers, we chat with Taralinda Willis, co-founder of Curate, a web scraping platform that combines artificial intelligence and automation technologies to deliver comprehensive answers to business intelligence questions.
Tell us a little bit about Curate and what made you decide to found it.
Curate was founded when my co-founder, Dale, and I were part of the gener8tor accelerator program and realized that the company we had been working on, unfortunately, wasn’t gaining any traction. gener8tor asked us to think about what other knowledge and skills we had to start something new. Dale, who was working on his PhD in Computer Science at the time, has experience in web scraping technology, and we looked around the marketplace and realized no one was using artificial intelligence in web scraping. We decided to pursue that path, and that’s how Curate was born.
The artificial intelligence piece allows us to provide more contextualized and relevant results to our clients, and also allows us to report changes in data over time. We’re also working on developing natural language processing to better query and search for data, which will be another advantage we have over competitors.
What’s been your biggest surprise in launching a start-up?
This isn’t a very exciting answer, but I was surprised by how challenging it can be to find regulatory laws and follow them. Everyone talks about fostering small business and innovation, and that’s great, but there’s this really practical piece with following the regulations that’s surprisingly difficult. Also, finding the right product for the right fit with the market is a challenge. Mark McGuire [serial entrepreneur and Managing Director of gener8tor Minnesota] references that quote about how being an entrepreneur is like jumping off of a cliff and building the airplane on the way down, and it really is like that.
How has launching in Madison contributed to Curate’s development, and what changes would you like to see here to encourage more innovation and entrepreneurship?
Dale and I both went to college in Madison, and we fell in love with the city. We’ve continued to stay here because Madison is getting better and better every day for entrepreneurs. We feel really good about the connections we made after going through the gener8tor program. I don’t think that most people realize what an asset gener8tor is to our community and its entrepreneurial growth.
I do think Madison has some work to do in building its network and support of entrepreneurs. There are lots of people here beyond gener8tor doing really incredible things, including Madworks and Starting Block. The entire community should support these endeavors and help launch more businesses. Attracting and retaining top talent is what makes Madison so incredible.
Visit Fine Point Consulting for more information about the great tools and services we use to help startups and nonprofits succeed.
In our continuing series on Leaders & Influencers, we chat with Abraham Palmbach, President and COO of Wellbe, a provider of patient engagement and care coordination solutions for hospital service lines.
Tell us about Wellbe and how it started in 2009.
Wellbe helps hospitals guide patients going through a major episode of care, such as a joint replacement surgery. Our web-based platform enables patients and their families to participate as partners in their care, and allows hospitals to coordinate and monitor large patient volumes more effectively.
James Dias originally started the company in 2009 with more of a pediatric focus designed to help parents with kids who had major chronic health conditions, which is where the idea for patient partnerships really came in. In 2010, Wellbe pivoted to working with hospitals and their patients who were undergoing major surgical procedures. We launched a second generation of the platform in 2014, building off of learnings we’d had with a wide range of customers since that first-generation platform in 2010. Today our software is used in hospitals nationwide to help improve patient outcomes and reduce costs.
What role has Madison played in Wellbe’s development?
Early on, James participated in the MERLIN Mentors program through the University of Wisconsin to help get the company off the ground. More recently, Wellbe is on the steering committee of Madison Health Tech, an organization devoted to establishing Madison as a nationally recognized hub for health technology companies. It’s since become a more formal organization and is facilitated by the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce.
Wellbe was founded in Madison because James was here at the time, but we’ve stayed in Madison because it has ready access to really sharp people in healthcare. Beyond Epic Systems, there are a number of healthcare companies in the area, and the workforce here understands that business very well.
We’re also really proud of the fact that all of the local Madison hospitals are paying customers of Wellbe, so we have support from the local hospital community, and from a commercial standpoint, that’s been very beneficial. We are fortunate to have forward-thinking hospital systems and people that are willing to adopt new technologies.
What are the particular rewards and challenges for Wellbe today?
We’re in a very exciting yet tumultuous time in healthcare as the risk shifts from payers to providers, and it’s really forcing providers to look at how they need to restructure their business, as well as the tools they use for their business. So for the providers, there’s this really foundational shift going on right now, and it’s exciting for us at Wellbe to provide a set of tools that can really help organizations make that shift. It’s really going to change how healthcare is paid for going forward.
Visit Fine Point Consulting for more information about the great tools and services we use to help clients like Wellbe succeed.
Meet the newest Fine Point Consulting staff and learn a little bit about what makes them tick.
Tell us a bit about your background and what drew you to accounting.
Growing up, I always liked math, so accounting was a natural fit for me. I’d always thought I would own my own business someday, so accounting also made sense as a career path. I earned BS degrees from Edgewood College in both Accounting and Finance, and my first job out of college was as a Revenue Accountant in Chicago for Merge Healthcare, a health tech company. I wanted to get back to Madison, so I then took a job as a Field Examiner for First Business Capital, where I conducted reviews of existing and prospective clients. I’ve been at Fine Point Consulting as Assistant Controller since December 2015.
What do you enjoy most about working at Fine Point?
I like the fact that we work largely with newer startups and entrepreneurs. It gives me the opportunity to work with some of the brightest, most innovative people in Madison. And we work with our clients one-on-one: we’re not just crunching numbers for them in a back room—we’re collaborators. Also, the atmosphere at Fine Point is really great. We use the ROWE (Results-Only Work Environment) management strategy, which means we’re not required to come into the office to work. But the people here are so great, I find myself wanting to come in more often than not.
(Fine Point Owner) Luella is a big reader. Any favorite books?
I don’t do a ton of reading, but I do like Dan Brown’s books. They’re just fun and interesting—I’m not a treasure hunter or anything!
When you’re not working, you…
I played soccer for Edgewood College and I still play sometimes for a men’s indoor league—when my body allows it! I also bought my first house last May and it’s a fixer-upper, so I spend the majority of my non-work time fixing it up and taking on DIY projects.
Visit Fine Point Consulting to learn how our knowledgeable staff can help your business succeed.
In our series on entrepreneurial Leaders & Influencers, we talk this week with Scott Button, Managing Director at Venture Investors, one of the leading venture capital firms in the Midwest, with over $200M under management. The firm focuses on making seed and early stage healthcare and technology investments.
Tell us a bit about your career before Venture Investors and the areas of expertise you bring to the company.
My path is non-traditional, but I’ve found that most people in our business don’t have a direct path to venture capital. I earned my BA in mechanical engineering from UW-Madison and worked for five years in sales and in the Detroit automotive industry. I decided to get my MBA, which I earned from the University of Chicago, then interned at McDonald’s Corporation. That was a good company, but it wasn’t the right place for me. My then-girlfriend/now-wife was doing her residency in Madison, so I decided I should pursue something here. A friend introduced me to (QTI Group CEO) Jay Loewi as business contact, and he put me in touch with the Venture Investors founders. I did an internship with them in 1996 and have been here ever since.
I think I bring a generalist background to the fund. Much of our business is about people skills and interpersonal relationships, and I also specialize in spinning companies out of universities—it’s something I’ve learned how to do over the years.
What are some recent developments you’ve noticed in venture capital in Madison and the Midwest? And what industries are of greatest interest to you personally?
It’s interesting because there hasn’t been a lot of obvious change, but actually things like the Act 255 tax credit have helped angel groups develop and funds form. And now, with the state’s Badger Fund, this will only help that initiative. Ventures like 4490, HealthX, and Bright Star are forming and are interested in investing in the state. In 2014 there was $228M under management and $86M invested from 28 companies, which indicates that Wisconsin is starting to get on the map. There’s momentum here with funds like Great Oaks and Google Investments, but more could be done in terms of the capital climate of our state. It’s the same for the region—Minnesota has been pretty strong, and Michigan has a strong policy in place with their fund-to-fund program.
As a firm, Venture Investors focuses on the Midwest and funding technology startups out of universities. We invest in academic-based startups, and we’ll continue to do that, but given the presence of Epic, there’s a tremendous eco-system around healthcare IT, and Dean Health and UW Health provide great places to test this new technology.
How do you evaluate a possible portfolio company and its business plan?
That’s a big question, but the short answer is that this is a people business, so first and foremost, it’s about getting to know the team. What are their ambitions? Do they have that “fire in the belly” that drives them to never take no for an answer? Do they have a strong sense of self-awareness and the areas where they do and do not have their greatest strengths? Does their product or service make sense from the perspective of a buyer?
Beyond that, we get into considering the details of market size, barrier to entry, financial strategy, and competitors. At the end of the day, my job is to make money for our investors—we look at several hundred opportunities a year and invest in just two or three.
What book do you think every aspiring entrepreneur should read and why? Any blogs or columns you might also recommend?
In general, any of the work by Steve Blank and his Lean Startup movement, which really speaks to the weaknesses universities had in being so protective of their ideas and their unwillingness to speak with customers. Now, thanks to people like Blank, the idea of getting out there and testing products with the customer is more prevalent.
Also, the work of Brad Feld and David Cohen on startup communities and TechStars, which I think has really impacted entrepreneurs and young entrepreneurs to create that culture and eco-system of the startup.
What’s the single most important change you’d like to see to encourage more innovation and entrepreneurship in Wisconsin?
Well, there’s no silver bullet, but I think there are a number of things we can do to build upon the infrastructure we have:
- The University of Wisconsin. The UW is a tremendous economic engine that has to potential to create world-class start-ups. We need to do more things to support that culture and infrastructure. Some things are already happening there, like the WARF Accelerator Program, but now it’s a matter of creating more activity here. We have this Midwestern value of fear of failure, but that’s a badge of honor in Silicon Valley.
- Industry. Companies like Cicso embrace the idea of someone walking in the door with an idea. Culturally, we need more corporate willingness to embrace entrepreneurship. And we have lots of great companies like Epic and GE right in our backyard to enable this.
- Policy. Act 255 has had a tremendous impact in creating the angel industry we have. What can lawmakers do to help further entrepreneurial growth in our state?
- Capital. We need more capital under management in our state—we’re way below the national average. We could support three to five times the capital under management here, especially given the emphasis on healthcare technologies, which are more expensive to fund.
- Talent. We have a great core of leaders that have led the start-up companies here for awhile and that’s great, but we need five times as many of these people. We need to find ways of attracting people who went to school here and may have moved to the coast but want to move back. They could be real leaders in our community.
Visit Fine Point Consulting for more information about the tools and services we use to help businesses succeed.
Heath care systems are getting to be one of the most fast paced growing fields for software and technology. There are many systems that are made to integrate with customer’s health records. For example, with my doctor, there is now an app where I can log in and see all my test results from my most recent visit rather than having to wait in the office or make an appointment to come back. That is just one example though. This field is growing like crazy with all the solutions that are being created to make the information available in whichever form needed.
100health, one of our newest clients, is fueled by the desire to remove barriers in healthcare with the goal of allowing innovation and entrepreneurship to flourish. The opportunities for improvement in healthcare are immense given the size and scale of the system’s current inefficiency. There are thousands of entrepreneurs currently working on new products and businesses targeting that inefficiency. Nearly all of them run into the same problem. When it’s time to scale they need to figure out how to integrate their technology with hospitals and clinics.
100health solves this integration problem. Their product, REDOX, provides a single point of contact for healthcare IT companies to plug into, then brings data from all their customers to them in a consistent, safe way. They take on the complexity of integration and make it easy for you. Even better, this product is managed by 100health’s team of integration experts taking care of business so that you don’t have to! Their goal is to make integration simple, fast, and secure. If that’s not convenient then I don’t know what is!
to learn more, meet their wonderful team, and to stay up to date on what this team of geniuses are going to do next.