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Jan 19, 201609:11 AMInside Wisconsin

with Tom Still

Campus entrepreneurism moves from fad to fixture for students, faculty

(page 1 of 2)

Atop a hill that overlooks the core of Milwaukee’s largest health care hub sits a gleaming symbol of investment by the UW–Milwaukee and its partners in a different kind of university.

It’s the Innovation Accelerator, part of the surrounding Innovation Campus and a piece in the larger research and development puzzle at UW–Milwaukee, one of many Wisconsin campuses hoping to build stronger industry connections, incubate startup companies, and train young entrepreneurs.

The effort does not come without risk — financial and otherwise — but it is consistent with a larger nationwide trend that has expanded the notion of campus entrepreneurism from a relative handful of enterprising faculty to thousands of students.

“We have put the pedal down even further … when it comes to R&D and entrepreneurism,” UW–Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone told 75 people who gathered for a Jan. 14 forum at the Innovation Accelerator. The event was produced by the Wisconsin Innovation Network, part of the Wisconsin Technology Council.

Mone’s “no-turning-back” commitment to research, industry ties, and educating future company founders comes at a time when UW–Milwaukee, like many campuses in the UW System, is absorbing state budget cuts. He’s persuaded that commitment — which began in the late 1990s during the tenure of then-Chancellor Nancy Zimpher — will pay dividends to the campus and the region over time.

Mone is not alone in Wisconsin or elsewhere. The UW–Madison remains one of the nation’s research powerhouses and was ahead of the curve in offering pathways for entrepreneurs. But even that campus has experienced a post-2000 explosion in programs for students and faculty who want to convert ideas into businesses or other ventures.

Across the rest of the UW System, most four-year campuses have committed to undergraduate research, industry connections, and entrepreneurship training and built support systems to match. The same goes for many of Wisconsin’s private colleges and universities, notably many in the Milwaukee region, as well as the state technical college system.

The story is much the same across the United States. In 1985, U.S. college campuses collectively offered about 250 courses in entrepreneurship, according to recent report by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. By 2013, about 400,000 students were taking such courses — and the number has likely grown since then.

What’s driving student interest in entrepreneurism? Images of launching the next Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram is certainly part of the appeal, but for most students it’s less about the home-run startup than acquiring skills that keep them nimble in a fickle job market.

(Continued)

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Tom Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.

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