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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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WiSys is all over the state and in the last few years has been developing programs on every campus. It has just been recently that support for budding entrepreneurs has been more evident at UW–Eau Claire. By contrast, as a student, Zach tried to launch a software startup in 2002, but was initially sent away to write up a lengthy business plan rather than being coached through the process. His business idea, now fully formed, was based on the need for better software to manage the use of Apple’s technology on campus. In his case, it was tenacity rather than tactical assistance that prevailed. We must consider if direct guidance is an area to improve on other Wisconsin campuses, as well.

Despite all the energy around transforming ideas into companies, we still see areas for improvement. At our universities, for example, there is room to build out entrepreneurial studies on campus. There could also be better coordination across majors. Successful startups need people from the business school and the school of art, as well as the computer science department.

More broadly, we have to build a stronger support structure and generate a level of excitement for innovators within the state. Policymakers have stated this as a goal across Wisconsin but one that each of us should consider how to influence in execution. We believe in working to connect local ideas with local businesses and investors. We’d like to build more bridges within Wisconsin, because if we can create stronger links between the regional UW campuses and companies, we might see our excellent students stay within the state. We need our 22-year-old graduates to believe they can have an innovative startup in our state. We believe that as a community of people committed to young innovators we can help our students achieve and stay.

It is also crucial to continue funding higher education. This leads straight to innovative ideas that grow our economy. We applaud recent legislation for increasing university funding as a good first step.

We have all the right ingredients for innovation — great universities, initiatives to fund startups, and entrepreneurs who want to help make Wisconsin a stronger state. Above all, we must direct our professional expertise to help unleash the creativity of our students.

Arjun Sanga is president of WiSys, a foundation supporting the University of Wisconsin System with a vision of building a culture of innovation for a better future. Zach Halmstad is co-founder Jamf, a software corporation based in Eau Claire and Minneapolis. This commentary is part of a series of articles organized by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF). For over 90 years WARF has promoted a cycle of innovation through advancement of University research discoveries to the market and reinvestment in research at UW–Madison. Comments on this piece are encouraged at See or WARF’s Cycle of Innovation for more details on WARF.

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