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May 29, 201812:33 PMOpen Mic

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Tapping into the creativity of our students for the good of Wisconsin

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There is no shortage of creativity among the students and professors of the University of Wisconsin System. They come up with great ideas every day, from a new way to teach physics out of UW–Green Bay to a mechanism that lets a paraplegic at UW–River Falls saddle her own horse.

But when it comes to finding a home for their products, they need a little guidance from the professionals. Consider whether that guidance could be from you.

This is where the Wisconsin Idea comes into play. Translating academic ideas into real companies requires plenty of support, but it’s much broader than securing patents and licenses to generate revenue. It’s also about transferring innovation to benefit society and improve lives.

In our respective roles as head of WiSys, an organization inspiring Wisconsin innovation throughout the university system, and the co-founder of software startup Jamf, we are deeply impressed by the energy we see coming out of our universities and look for ways to help take it forward.

The creative brainpower available in Wisconsin was obvious when we served together on the investment committee for Ideadvance Seed Fund, a program run by the UW System. The objective is to identify people with business ideas and fund them early, but in two stages. The condition for the second stage is to have startup training, with the hope that this gives them a greater shot at success.

A number of other programs, some involving student ambassadors, are designed to help explore such potential. At UW–Platteville, for example, students from the engineering college noted how computer science colleagues get together in hackathons to write code to solve a problem. So they organized a prototype hackathon, huddled in a lab with 3D printers over a weekend to create product ideas.

A speed networking session was the highlight at the Big Idea Tournament at UW–Madison, where teams of students competed over business ideas. Investors and executives spent five minutes with each group, mentoring and sharing knowledge on how to be an entrepreneur.

These ideas from our state’s students are very early stage. That’s when WiSys steps in to help fill the gap between innovation and the point where investors are ready to pay attention. It supports the best ideas by counseling on everything from mission and strategy to planning, process, and building a management team. Then, once there is a clear value proposition, it helps to license the innovation and bring it to the marketplace to secure investors. WiSys is also looking into ways to co-invest in small startups statewide.


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