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Jul 3, 201811:08 AMOpen Mic

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How alumni can carry the Wisconsin Idea forward

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When I came to UW–Madison from Dartmouth in 2002 to become the dean of the business school, I confess I didn’t fully appreciate the concept of the Wisconsin Idea. In my view, making an impact on the community was a no-brainer. If the business school wasn’t relevant, then what were we doing?

I quickly came to realize what makes the Wisconsin Idea special.

First, moving from a private institution to a public university automatically brings a deeper sense of community responsibility. More importantly, I saw firsthand how deeply the Wisconsin Idea permeates the ethos of the entire faculty. It’s a positive, proactive engagement driven by a deep commitment to helping people throughout the state.

This steadfast commitment to the Wisconsin Idea breeds an innovation-focused mindset. The notion that the work of the university should touch every family means you have to think about how the knowledge you're creating can be applied to solve real problems. That is what innovation is about, after all, and we take it very seriously here. Now, we have a great opportunity to leverage alumni and friends to help translate those innovations into products, services, and jobs.

Building a greater entrepreneurial culture in Wisconsin requires three things: ideas, money, and people. The UW is an excellent research university that develops plenty of intellectual property. Capital is mobile, and investors will find great opportunities if they have easy access to information. But because Madison is historically a government and university town, the private business community on the periphery isn’t that big, with little bandwidth to take on new projects. At any given time, few people are able to leave a job and pursue a startup opportunity, and even fewer are great matches for a particular faculty member's idea.

So, while the university has no shortage of great ideas, we could certainly do a better job matching those ideas with advisory groups and management and leadership teams that can credibly present a business opportunity to venture capitalists and angel investors. We need help from people with entrepreneurial skills and expertise to be advisors, counselors, and mentors. And who better to play those roles than our 441,500 UW alumni?

(Continued)

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