26 Aug Milwaukee research institutions step up the pace for technology transfer
MILWAUKEE – The announcement that TechStar will receive a two-year grant from the state Department of Commerce is the latest sign that research institutions in Milwaukee, which for years trailed their counterparts in Madison in pushing technology into the marketplace, are aspiring to catch up. That’s good news for Milwaukee – which means good news for the Wisconsin economy.
If Milwaukee wants to transform itself from an old-line manufacturing burg to a center of advanced manufacturing, information technology and life sciences, much will depend on the ability of institutions such as the Medical College of Wisconsin and UW-Milwaukee to speed ideas from the laboratory to the market. TechStar is part of the process for making it happen.
Gov. Jim Doyle announced last week that TechStar will get $600,000 to continue its work with start-up companies that arise from research at institutions such as the Medical College and UW-Milwaukee’s school of engineering.
Four of seven TechStar start-ups so far have roots in the private Medical College, which conducts about $100 million in projects each year in areas such as human and molecular genetics, cardiovascular research, functional imaging, bioengineering, hypertension, bioinformatics and childhood cancer. The Medical College is the home for the national Rat Genome Project, which will map out the genetic structure of rats, which are routinely used for research purposes. Physiology research at MCW is the highest funded program of its kind in the country, and is producing breakthroughs in how different people react to anesthesia.
“This college would like to be more of a resource asset to the state, and particularly southeast Wisconsin,” said Dr. William Hendee, senior associate dean for research and vice president for technology at MCW. “My hope is that we will start to see more entrepreneurial activity coming out of other institutions beyond Madison.” Start-up companies with ties to MCW are PointOne, Prodesse, Physiogenix and Neurognostics.
On the same day Doyle announced the Tech Star grant, he also singled out NovaScan, a Milwaukee firm that is the first to receive assistance from WiSys Technology Foundation Inc. WiSys is a subsidiary of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, a technology licensing agency chartered in the 1920s to work exclusively on innovations springing from the Madison campus. The creation of WiSys in June 2000 has allowed WARF to reach beyond Madison to other campuses and has led to 15 patent applications, but NovaScan is the first company to result in a deal.
NovaScan was founded by William and Christopher Gregory. William Gregory is dean of the UW-Milwaukee School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. NovaScan is developing a diagnostic imaging technique called electrical property enhanced tomography, or EPET, which distinguishes healthy and cancerous tissues by measuring their conductive and dielectric properties. It will help in early detection of breast cancer and other diseases – but can also be used to detect explosives in packages or luggage.
As Wisconsin’s economy continues to evolve, it will be vital to nurture high-tech companies with the promise of solid growth and high wages. The manufacturing sector has lost about 80,000 jobs in Wisconsin over the past three years, and many of them won’t be coming back – even if there’s a roaring national economic recovery. The answer for Wisconsin, which depends on a healthy Milwaukee, is a more diverse economy that includes high-tech companies.
Milwaukee and southeast Wisconsin have their troubles, but they also have world-class research assets in institutions such as the Medical College of Wisconsin, the UW-Milwaukee, Marquette, UW-Parkside and the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Building upon those assets is key to the region’s future.
Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council and the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.
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