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Jun 19, 201811:49 AMOpen Mic

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Proper policy and strategy honors the Wisconsin Idea

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The very concept of the Wisconsin Idea is borne out of an innovative spirit.

The statewide tenet — that the University of Wisconsin–Madison should influence every family in the state — dates back well before it was voiced by UW President Charles Van Hise in 1905. When the wheat farmers of the late 19th century saw their land lose its richness, the university helped them transform into dairy farmers. That legacy graces our landscape to this day.

This relationship led to innovative policies like unemployment compensation, which Wisconsin was the first state to enact in 1932, and helped mold Wisconsin into a manufacturing and agriculture base for much of the 20th century.

This is our state’s history but, today, Wisconsin is struggling to keep our young people from leaving for better jobs elsewhere. We believe it’s time to channel the Wisconsin Idea and once again apply the brilliance of our universities to invigorate new industries.

We come to this view as a state senator who is also a proud alumna and as an emeritus faculty member who is also a serial entrepreneur. In our view, the Wisconsin Idea is as much about helping businesses grow, supporting entrepreneurs, and creating jobs as it is about inspiring government or bolstering our family farms. It is about working together, strategizing openly, and creating solutions with voices from both academia and industry. As our state continues to transition toward a 21st century economy, we believe our universities are again poised to play a transformational and supporting role in driving innovation and economic success in communities across Wisconsin.

Here are four ways to help bring companies and academia together.


Let’s make it easier for companies to connect with Wisconsin’s universities and tap into the resources of faculty and students to develop ideas. We need to implement policies and processes that will foster the development of creative ideas and encourage capital to flow more freely. Through contracted research relationships, student internships, and joint solution building regarding the workforce needs of the state, we can create consistent opportunities for academia and industry to partner. Then we will be advancing a statewide culture of entrepreneurship and innovation.

Part of this requires looking at how we manage relationships and adapting to the present day. For example, faculty who launch a startup company have found it hard to maintain a working relationship with the labs where they developed their technologies. However, legislation has been proposed by state Sen. Dan Feyen (R–Fond du Lac) that will allow a startup company to more seamlessly continue its work by contracting with the university lab if it elects to do so. This improvement reduces red tape and produces more results and quicker turnaround of new ideas. This is an example that fosters both business development and university research in Wisconsin. The proposed act is referred to as the Mark Cook Bill, in honor of the professor of animal sciences and serial entrepreneur and faculty mentor who passed away last year and was widely hailed as the embodiment of the Wisconsin Idea because his companies’ products and services were tested and used widely throughout the state.


Policies and processes alone are not enough. We need to infuse universities with entrepreneurial thinking by bringing in people with experience in startups and other private sector enterprises. The Advocacy Consortium for Entrepreneurs, co-founded by Professor Mackie and other entrepreneurs, is advancing the Mark Cook Bill and has recently merged with a student-led not-for-profit consulting group called WiSolve. These established faculty business leaders are supporting WiSolve’s graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in business culture and practices, entrepreneurship, and consulting, so they can in turn help startups founded by both academics and the general public. WiSolve specializes in writing small business grants, creating business plans and investor decks, and generally helping with everything a startup company needs.

Wisconsin has many business professionals who have much to offer their local universities and new startups. We encourage you to raise your hand to help. Experts in industries can help research faculty and students understand real-world problems and the markets for the technologies they are working on. Such is the case with the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation’s Accelerator Program, where faculty and industry alliances are deeply important to help develop an idea from the university and turn it into a licensable product with a successful enterprise.


Jun 20, 2018 03:02 am
 Posted by  davidrnewby

This is quite instructive. First we eliminate the corporate income tax for manufacturing and agricultural corporations. Second, we redefine the mission of the UW System (supported now solely by citizen taxpayers, students, foundation grants, and corporate contracts) to support the development of the private for-profit sector! Nicely done, Sen. Darling, Gov. Walker, and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. (Just hope that the public doesn't catch on!)

David Newby

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