2 Milwaukee companies semi-finalists in national Startup of the Year Summit

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A national spotlight is shining on two Milwaukee startups. Both are semi-finalists in the 9th Annual Startup of the Year Summit being held in Tampa right now.

The competition's down to the top 100 startups in the country. 

What's it take to get there? These Milwaukee CEOs say it's a lot of ups and downs and the will to just keep going.

The country's next generation of top entrepreneurs had dinner in Tampa after a long day showcasing their companies.

"Morning it was all pitching and judging, and now we are able to talk with investors and meet for dinner with them," said Sandhya Padala, founder and CEO of Rex Academy.

Padala got the idea for Rex Academy when her son wanted to learn how to make video games.

"I couldn't find a place that would teach, and even his school wasn't teaching this skill. Learning computer skills is as important as learning to read and write for this generation," said Padala. 

Finding a nitch and going with it -- that's also how Washbnb came about.

"Imagine washing every single towel, bed sheet, kitchen towel, cleaning cloth in your home, but you only get three hours to do it between each guest stay," said Daniel Cruz, Washbnb co-founder.

Daniel Cruz found himself in this dilemma when he turned his Walker's Point duplex into an Airbnb.

"My place had been rented out for the entire summer. And it turns out a lot of people love Milwaukee in the summer," said Cruz.

Washbnb provides linens to Airbnbs, eliminating an owner's mad dash to clean up between guests. But the startup had a major setback just weeks into its launch in 2020.

"And then the pandemic locked everything down, and it looked like everybody was -- it looked like Airbnb was gonna go out of business," said Cruz.

Daniel Cruz didn't give up. That's something these nationally-recognized startups have in common.

"But really for us it's about the exposure, connecting with new investors," said Cruz.

And at the end of the day, it's also about working through the difficult stuff.

"Having the courage to work through it, so it's been a long interesting journey," said Padala.

The winners will be announced Thursday.

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