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May 31, 201812:14 PMOpen Mic

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The Wisconsin Idea and regional economies: Apples falling from many trees

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The Wisconsin Idea is traditionally understood to mean the boundaries of the University of Wisconsin extend to the boundaries of the state, a philosophy that knowledge should be shared with communities in ways that directly benefit them. Historically, for many Wisconsinites, the University of Wisconsin only meant UW–Madison. Through its commitment to promoting that university’s discoveries, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) is one of the primary catalysts for advancing the entrepreneurial side of the Wisconsin Idea.

Increasingly, the Wisconsin Idea has translated into an innovation mindset that extends beyond Madison to UW–Milwaukee and the 11 UW regional comprehensive campuses, which primarily provide undergraduate and master’s degree programs in smaller, more individualized settings.

That’s why today the concept of innovation and the Wisconsin Idea applies to all regions of our state. It is especially powerful at the comprehensive campuses embedded in communities across Wisconsin.

At the Wisconsin Technology Council, several of the corporate members have ties to UW–Madison, either in their initial formation or over time as research partners. Many were apples that fell close to the tree. About 300 companies have spun off the UW–Madison campus and most have planted roots within a 30-mile radius.

The “falling apple” theory holds true whether you're at UW–River FallsUW–Platteville, or UW–Oshkosh. The chances are that any companies emerging from our regional comprehensive campuses will take root within a half-hour’s drive, a phenomenon being demonstrated across Wisconsin.

Such companies may benefit from statewide partner WiSys, a supporting organization of the UW System formed to facilitate the creation and transfer of innovations from the UW comprehensives to the marketplace. WiSys assists the more than 12,000 employees and nearly 107,000 students on the regional campuses as they work toward commercializing their ideas.

We sit together on the Advisory Committee for WiSys, and we believe WiSys is a tremendous connector for technology transfer and innovation at all our comprehensive campuses. It is also creating a culture of innovation through Quick Pitch competitions, Innovation Challenges, and the involvement of student ambassadors who learn the basics of intellectual property and can interact with other students and faculty about the opportunities. WiSys amplifies innovation statewide.

UW–River Falls is embracing this burgeoning spirit of partnership and entrepreneurship. As the westernmost campus of the UW System, UW–River Falls is embedded in one of the fastest-growing regions of the state, benefiting from the dynamic border with Minnesota and proximity to the economic engine of Minneapolis-Saint Paul.


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