Polco, a Madison online platform for citizens to vote and comment on public policy issues, will take its case to Silicon Valley investors.

Its suitcase, that is — a golden one.

Polco won the Pressure Chamber pitch competition Tuesday night at Monona Terrace. The prizes: An all-expenses-paid trip to California to meet with representatives of Silicon Valley venture capital firms, and a consulting package with the Lindsay, Stone & Briggs advertising agency in Madison.

They will be a big boost for Polco, said Nick Mastronardi, founder and CEO. “We live and die with getting the word out to citizens,” Mastronardi said. “This (means) the world to us to continue to grow.”

Polco was one of five young companies that put on their best faces before about 250 people, including four out-of-state investors who served as judges.

Mastronardi said he wants to see more citizen participation on important issues so public policy decisions are not left up to “those four squeaky wheels” who show up at government meetings.

“We empower citizens; we help government get the data they need to enact public policy,” he told the crowd.

AkitaBox, whose software is used for mapping, operating and maintaining buildings, was runner-up. Luke Perkerwicz, vice president of sales and marketing, said the technology is being used in more than 900 buildings in at least 10 states, with clients that include Edgewood College and J.H. Findorff & Son, in Madison; and Baylor University, Waco, Texas.

AkitaBox raised more than $1 million from investors earlier this year.

The other Pressure Chamber contenders were:

Lynx Biosciences, which tests blood cancer patients to see which treatment is most likely to help them.

Rigbot, whose software makes truck shipments more efficient.

Manifestly, with team-based task checklists.

Each company made a five-minute presentation and then fielded questions from the judges.

Both the judges and the audience chose their favorites and their scores were combined to come up with the winners.

Pressure Chamber is part of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce’s neXXpo business expo that was held in conjunction with Forward Festival.

Polco will be one of five companies that will make the trek to California on Oct. 10-11; the other four have not yet been chosen, chamber vice president Kevin Little said.

“We select companies believed to be at the right stage, the right fit and the right time,” Little said.

This is the third year for Pressure Chamber. Little said last year’s six finalists have since raised more than $17 million from investors.

For Polco, Pressure Chamber was just the latest in a string of victories. The company won in the information technology division in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan competition; won two awards in Notre Dame University’s McCloskey Business Plan Competition; and won the People’s Choice award from the Wisconsin Innovation Awards.

The Greater Madison Chamber also introduced a new competition Tuesday for Madison’s “Most Innovative Company.”

Seven finalists were chosen from among 35 exhibitors at neXXpo. They are: Bendyworks; AkitaBox; turnoverapp; Solomo Technology; oneEvent Technologies and Fearing’s; Operation Fresh Start; and Globe University.

They will make presentations on Dec. 14 at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 227 State St.


Judy Newman is a business reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.