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WAVE of the Future?

MADISON, WI- The UW-Madison Business School’s Weinert Applied Ventures in Entrepreneurship program is the WAVE of the future for economic development in Wisconsin.

According to Larry Cox, Director of the Weinert School of Entrepreneurship at the UW-Madison School of Business, entrepreneurial culture lags behind in Wisconsin. “It is a state that has a lot of great technology. We have wonderful research that’s going on here at the university, we have WARF handling, promoting and licensing the research,” he said, “but what’s missing is the business deals.”

In the late 1990s, the Weinert School launched the WAVE program to encourage entrepreneurial spirit in Wisconsin. Each year, the program offers 8-12 MBA students a yearlong applied practicum in starting and growing entrepreneurial businesses.

Cox said that WAVE is now and will continue to help develop Wisconsin’s economy. “Our Center is a real key part in what’s going to happen in the state of Wisconsin in terms of economic development because entrepreneurship is key to economic development and we are working with the people that are most likely to be the entrepreneurs of the future,” he said.

WAVE graduate Susan Pschorr said that the economy is driven by small businesses, so it is important for Wisconsin to keep entrepreneurial talent in the state. The program produces entrepreneurs who are ready to take on the challenge of new business ventures. “Wisconsin benefits from supporting existing small businesses because of the jobs that those firms create,” she said. “In the long run, state support of entrepreneurship will stimulate economic development with a much greater payback than luring high-profile big businesses to the state.”
Another WAVE graduate, Neil Peters-Michaud, said that the program promotes innovative new businesses. “I t offers state businesses an opportunity to tap into the energy and expertise of WAVE students, the WAVE Board, and the program in general to assist them with business development,” he said.

Larry Cox says that 60% of entrepreneurial ventures get started by people that are under 35 years old and highly educated. “The students that are in the WAVE program are the prime demographic category for people who are starting high potential ventures,” he said.

WAVE students work with a local business to develop a business plan, help them solve a problem or help them move forward and grow. At the same time, the students write their own business plans, start their own businesses, engage in entrepreneurial activities and take entrepreneurial classes. “It’s a very nice small group setting so that they can learn a lot about entrepreneurship in a very in-depth way,” Cox said.

Susan Pschorr said that she benefited tremendously from the program. “WAVE provided the opportunity to work with an exceptional group of students and faculty, as well as access to the knowledge and experience of many business leaders,” she said. Pschorr consulted with Platypus Technologies, a biotech startup company in Madison, and was then offered a job with the company after graduation.

After graduation, if a WAVE student has an exceptional business plan, they are eligible to receive funding from the Weinert School to help launch their business. According to Cox, they have invested in about eight businesses so far. He said that a certain percentage of the students launch a business straight out of the program, but most work for another business with the hope of eventually going out on their own.

Cox said that there have been numerous successful businesses launched by WAVE students, including a company called Cascade Assets Management. Neil Peters-Michaud started the thriving computer recycling company after graduating from the WAVE program four years ago.

Peters-Michaud said that the WAVE program gave him access to capital. “ It provided us with an equity investment that leveraged $400,000 in seed capital to allow us to start our business,” he said.

In April, the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship was ranked among the top 24 entrepreneurship schools in the country by Entrepreneur magazine. Cox said that larger research universities were traditionally slower to adopt entrepreneurship programs, but Wisconsin was one of the early schools to develop a center back in 1983. The high ranking is, “really a result of the early work of the people who set this program up and have been working on it for years,” he said.

Cox said that the WAVE program has been well received and highly effective, but he hopes to extend new Weinert School programs to all business students and hopefully the entire university. “I think there are lots of students on campus who are anxious to get some training in entrepreneurship,” he said. “We need to do some things that reach out to them.” Cox also hopes to get the Weinert School involved at the statewide level in entrepreneurship policy debates and discussions.

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