Facing a personal health challenge brought Katie Brenner to a big idea with life-changing potential. Before she became pregnant with two of her three children, Brenner, a post-doctoral fellow in biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, struggled with infertility. To improve her odds, she knew it was important to track her hormonal levels day to day, yet the information she was able to obtain using expensive over-the-counter ovulation tests was sorely limited. “Typically in the U.S., women can’t get access to medical fertility testing until after they’ve tried for a year,” says Brenner. “I just thought there had to be a better way.”
Her frustration got her thinking further: What if there really was an easy and affordable way for women to chart daily hormone levels over time? Could a new tool pinpoint women’s ovulation more accurately? And in addition, could such a tool help create a longer record of hormonal activity that women could bring to their doctors?
She had the seed of a great idea, one with tremendous promise, if only she could find a way to get it into the hands of couples struggling to conceive. The question was, what should she do next?
So when Brenner learned about Wisconsin Entrepreneurial Bootcamp (WEB), she was thrilled to discover an avenue to explore the full potential of her idea and begin taking concrete steps to pursue it. The intensive WEB program is designed to help graduate and post-doctoral scientists and engineers learn the fundamentals of business and entrepreneurship in order to translate their ideas into attractive business opportunities, identify partners, and garner the investment they need to launch their ideas into the world. It struck Brenner as exactly what she needed—a place to learn with other scientists who would be curious about the same things she was, so she would feel comfortable asking her own questions, and learn from the trials and errors of others.
“WEB was incredible,” she says. “In just one week, the program exposed us to an entirely new vocabulary. We learned exactly what we would need to know as scientists to make our way in the business community, from performing market analysis to writing a business plan and forming a company.” Brenner says some of the most important lessons she learned were from WEB alumni who came back to discuss their own start-ups and give advice based on their experiences.
Brenner and her co-founder, UW Associate Professor of Biochemistry Doug Weibel, developed her idea into a simple saliva test that electronically feeds hormonal measurements to a mobile application. Their start-up, bluDiagnostics, won the top award in the 2015 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan contest. She is excited to be on the brink of offering women a truly innovative way to track changes in their hormonal levels that will help couples conceive.
Now, as she and Weibel actively seek investors for bluDiagnostics, Brenner appreciates every suggestion and introduction the Wisconsin School of Business continues to send her way. “Our mentors at the WSB put all of the tools right within our reach, right when we need them, which is incredibly helpful. These relationships are invaluable—and most of all, they give me a lot of hope.”