Wisconsin Startup Fishidy Wins Chance to Pitch Silicon Valley VCs

Fishidy, a Madison, WI-based startup that built a mapping tool and social network for fishing enthusiasts, will get a face-to-face meeting with Silicon Valley venture capitalists this summer, thanks to its winning pitch Tuesday at a Madison business conference.

Fishidy was one of six Madison-area startups that presented to a crowd of about 250 people and a judging panel of five institutional investors at “Pressure Chamber,” a contest modeled after ABC’s “Shark Tank.” The event took place at neXXpo: Business in Fast Forward, the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce’s new-look business expo at the Alliant Energy Center.

Murfie, an online music marketplace that backs up customers’ CD and vinyl record collections, was the runner-up. Also presenting were GoStrive, a mobile search app for community activities; Intuitive Biosciences, which provides protein analysis tools for the life sciences industry; OpenHomes, an online platform for buying and selling homes; and Thalchemy, which is developing technology to enable continuous sensory processing in smartphones and other devices, imitating the way the human brain crunches sensory data.

Pitch contest results were determined by panelists’ scores and audience votes delivered via text message. Upon announcing the winner, chamber leaders handed Fishidy co-founder and president Brian Jensen a golden-colored suitcase, a reference to the golden ticket that allowed Charlie Bucket to tour Willy Wonka’s factory in the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

“It feels awesome,” Jensen told Xconomy after exiting the stage.

Jensen sees the California trip as an opportunity not only for Fishidy—which he said has raised more than $2 million in seed money and is about to close a Series A round—but also to raise the profile of Wisconsin’s startup community in Silicon Valley. Madison is best known for its biotech and medical device clusters, “but there’s a lot of really cool digital companies out here,” Jensen said.

The upshot for California investors? They can get better deals with Wisconsin startups, Jensen said, with company valuations that are more favorable to investors and a lower cost of doing business in Wisconsin.

Fishidy launched its product more than a year ago and has eight local employees, with plans to double its staff, Jensen said. The company’s Web and mobile platform offers fishing tips, interactive maps that cover more than 8,000 U.S. waterways, and the ability for avid anglers to connect online. Fishidy, which uses a freemium revenue model, has more than 126,000 users, including more than 3,000 paying members. It’s going after 60 million U.S. fishing enthusiasts who spend $42 billion annually, a market three times bigger than recreational golfing, Jensen said during his presentation.

It won’t be Jensen’s first trip to meet with California investors. He has already turned down some money from out-of-state investors who wanted Fishidy to relocate from Wisconsin.

“Fishidy will be here forever,” Jensen told me.

The Madison chamber is organizing the trip in late June, with expenses covered by law firm Michael Best & Friederich and a group of local organizations. Fishidy will be joined by four other Madison-area startups, which chamber officials will handpick in May, chamber president Zach Brandon said.

Those five lucky companies can thank the skepticism of a Silicon Valley VC for the opportunity. In a TechCrunch video last summer, Kleiner Perkins general partner Michael Abbott interviewed Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane and asked why his San Francisco-based company decided to open an office in Madison. It hired a handful of skilled employees who were originally going to relocate from Madison, but ended up staying there. Zendesk officials soon realized there was enough talent coming from the University of Wisconsin-Madison to warrant a location there, and the company intends to grow to about 100 employees in Madison, Svane said in the video.

“Mikkel gave a great answer, but Michael was clearly unconvinced,” Brandon told Xconomy. “I took the opportunity to reach out to him.”

Brandon offered to fly Abbott to Madison to meet with local startups. Abbott turned him down. Brandon’s counteroffer was to bring Madison companies to Abbott. He agreed, and the chamber lined up a handful of Silicon Valley VCs to meet with the Madison startups, Brandon said.

“Hopefully there will be some connections made,” Brandon said. “It’s important for [Madison] to be telling our story internationally. It’s incumbent upon us to make sure that people know what’s going on here. Instead of bemoaning the fact that we need more capital, [the chamber is] doing something about it.”

Jeff Bauter Engel is Deputy Editor, Tech at Xconomy. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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