08 Jul Building a "Real Time" Economy in Wisconsin
MADISON, WI- We spend a fair amount of time in Wisconsin celebrating the quality of our scientific research–and with good reason. Institutions such as the UW-Madison, the Marshfield Clinic and Milwaukee’s medical and engineering centers churn out world-class ideas.
But research alone won’t build Wisconsin’s “real-time” economy, an economy that responds quickly and efficiently to the ever-changing demands of a global marketplace. What’s needed in Wisconsin are more people who can turn that high-quality research into high-wage jobs and businesses.
Wisconsin needs more entrepreneurs. It needs more risk-takers and managers who can transfer technology to market, providing goods and services that solve problems for buyers and create wealth for the sellers.
The first Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Milwaukee was all about giving innovators the tools they need to turn dreams into reality. It was, in the words of conference chairwoman Kelly Hansen, a two-day information “boot camp” for entrepreneurs.
If you were among the 300-plus people who attended, you would have learned:
— What venture capitalists and other investors look for in a company before and after they invest.
— How homegrown technology gets transferred to the market.
— How companies, big an small, can foster innovation.
— How to spot opportunities in Wisconsin’s emerging technology “clusters.”
— That Wisconsin companies can and should unlock more of their internal R&D for use by start-up companies, their own or otherwise.
Perhaps as important as the specific drills in the “boot camp” was the networking buzz created by the mix of people at the conference, which was produced by the Wisconsin Technology Council and hosted by the Wisconsin Innovation Network’s Milwaukee chapter.
Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely job, so many conference participants were reassured to learn that other innovators encounter challenges that are similar to what they face every day. They were excited to hear from a long list of “mentors” who have been down the path of business formation before them. And they were encouraged to learn that some of Wisconsin’s leading institutions are working hard to be more approachable.
Three examples of institutions that reiterated their “open door” policies toward entrepreneurs were the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), the UW-Madison Office of Corporate Relations and the state Department of Commerce.
Speakers from WARF explained how that internationally known patenting and licensing organization intends to spend more time with Wisconsin companies. The UW-Madison Office of Corporate Relations, which officially opened July 1, served notice it will give businesses a more direct “port of entry” into the resources of the university. Speakers tied to the state’s Commerce agency renewed their commitment to building more high-wage jobs and businesses in Wisconsin, and announced plans to create an Office of Entrepreneurship within the Cabinet-level department.
Obviously, a two-day conference cannot create more or better entrepreneurs overnight. What must follow is a year-round effort that engages those innovators in a process that improves their business plans while helping the state. The Governor’s Business Plan contest is designed to do precisely that.
The Tech Council, its WIN chapters and other affiliates will manage the business plan contest over the next year, giving entrepreneurs a chance to compete in three categories–commercial and industrial, information technology and biotechnology and life sciences. Winners will receive cash and other tangible prizes but everyone who takes part will become part of a process that begins locally and which includes a variety of mentoring opportunities. Watch the Tech Council web site (www.wisconsintechnologycouncil.com) for more details.
Wisconsin has a strong research base. It has organizations and people who can help transfer ideas to the marketplace. What is needs now are more entrepreneurs to carry forth the work of building a new and more competitive Wisconsin.
Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council and the Wisconsin Innovation Network. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.