Big Walleyes come to Town and Stir the Rochester Entrepreneurial Waters

Last week, Rochester was overrun by some pretty big….fish….when the Walleyes came to town.

The past Friday, the inaugural Walleye Tank entrepreneurial pitch slam competition was held in Rochester.  The event was organized by Mayo Clinic Professor Dr. Stephen Ekker and local entrepreneur and Collider Community Manager Jamie Sundsbak.

The goal: to “build a community of entrepreneurs that are going to change the world,” said Ekker at the start of the competition.

It seemed like Rochester was hungry for exactly this type of event.  The room was packed and online registration filled up days beforehand.  Companies pitched from Rochester, the Twin Cities, and even the West Coast.

“The event exceeded my expectations in every way.  It was great to see businesses in the region all getting together to showcase their emerging technologies,” said Sundsbak.

But this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill business pitch competition.  The whole event had a quirky, you guessed it, fish theme.

After all, the walleye is the Minnesota state fish.  Just in case you didn’t know.

Pitching companies were divided into “Junior Anglers”, Ekker’s student entrepreneurs, and “Professionals”.  Wrapping up the event were the “Bait Shops”, organizations offering startup support like Collider, the Mayo Clinic Business Accelerator, and Techstars++.

Junior Anglers and Professionals were allotted two minutes to sell the crowd on their concept, followed by three minutes of hot water questioning by the seasoned Walleyes.

The Walleye judges did not come into town to play.  These veterans have years of experience in healthcare, biotech, and entrepreneurship.  The Walleye panel included:

  • J. Fernando Bazan, CTO of Bio-Techne
  • Will Canine, Cofounder of Y Combinator startup OpenTrons Labworks
  • Dan Estes, Mayo Clinic Ventures Director
  • Perry Hackett, Twin Cities entrepreneur and Recombinetics Cofounder
  • Luke Isman, head of hardware programs at Silicon Valley based accelerator the Y Combinator and
  • Kelly Krajnik, Business Development Manager at Mayo Clinic Ventures.



GeneCoach is developing a weight-loss product that understands metabolic pathways at the genetic level.




GenetiPure is developing a platform for improved companion animal health, starting with a healthier alternative to the mini horse.




GoAudio has ready to use technology that provides better hearing screen and more efficient health visits.






  • SlateQ created an online marketplace for science writing and editing.              
  • Auric Sciences is developing a nanotech drug delivery platform to address a variety of skin issues.
  • The Genome Collective is building a platform that allows users to sell their personalized healthcare data.
  • LAgen Laboratories has developed improved retinal pigment epithelial cell lines for research use.
  • Ambient Clinical Analytics created a platform and algorithms to allow clinicians to address issues in patients and make quick medical decisions.
  • LIFEngine is marketing a gene editing toolkit that is faster and cheaper than their competitors and is designed to scale.
  • Micrometer is creating an improved platform for microbiome sequencing.
  • B-MoGen is a gene editing company that is the first to bring mitochondria DNA editing to the commercial market.
  • WellTwigs is a Twin Cities based company that uses hardware sensors and apps to help women conceive.
  • Immusoft is a Seattle-based company that uses genetically altered B cells for therapy.
  • Imanis Life Sciences developed live reporter imaging tools to easily and visually monitor gene transfer.
  • Recombinetics is a Saint Paul based company that uses gene edited animal model systems for human benefit.

At the end of the day, GoAudio took home the prize in the Junior Angler division and was awarded an oversized lure.  All the better to attract Walleyes with.

Ambient Clinical Analytics took third place in the Professionals division.  Auric Life Sciences took second and was awarded a Walleye-shaped cribbage board.

Micrometer took home the grand prize, plus a snazzy three dimensional metal Walleye.