16 Jun WTN exclusive interview with Tom Still, Wisconsin Technology Council – Part 2
Editor’s note: Recently the Wisconsin Technology Network sat down with Tom Still, the president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, to discuss the basic tenets of the organization and initiatives Still and others are putting forth to help Wisconsin’s technology space grow.Read Part One.
Wisconsin Technology Network: What are the biggest challenges the Wisconsin Technology Council has encountered and what are your greatest accomplishments?
Tom Still: The greatest accomplishment so far, I think, would be the business plan contest. To my knowledge, that’s the only statewide, technology-based business plan contest in the country. And in Governing Magazine they checked this out in a story and they looked around and couldn’t find anybody who was doing this yet. New Hampshire was thinking about it, but nobody is doing it yet. I think that that’s a big accomplishment because it helps, for all those reasons I described earlier, put us on the map.
[Another accomplishment was] the Entrepreneurs’ Conference, simply because it was a way to try to reach out to entrepreneurs in a way that perhaps hadn’t been fully done before. The publication of Vision 2020, because it helped provide a roadmap for policy makers and others. We’ve gone through literally thousands of copies of that now, giving that to people – we’ve got strong demand. The publication of the white paper last summer, because that helped build on the foundation of 2020. And I think the creation of the WIN Network. We started with one chapter in Madison that had been at a certain level for a number of years and have managed to try and build it throughout and reach around the state.
And finally, I guess what probably weaves through all of these is just communications. Doing what we can to help tell the story and be there for others to tell the story. Providing that kind of basis, collectively as a state, we can reach beyond our borders and let people know what we have here.
WTN: Like the Wisconsin Idea?
Still: Yeah, exactly. For years the Wisconsin Idea was cast … as this notion that the borders of the university are the borders of the state. Well today, the borders of the university are actually the circumference of the world; everything that Wisconsin must do to move ahead in the 21st century is really tied to how we compete around the world.
The challenges… it’s a state that had existed a long time with a reliance on a few economic sectors: tourism, agriculture, manufacturing. Among some people there was an attitude, especially even though them ’90s, “Don’t bother us, everything is going just fine.” And that wake up call is still being placed in a lot of area codes around Wisconsin. It’s a state that will still have to think a bit about what it wants to be and to realize that technology is a way of helping all of our traditional industries become better, become more innovative, become more cutting edge and produce better goods and services. There’s one challenge.
Another is the tendency in Wisconsin to be more regional. Some of those old divisions die hard and, again, that’s not the 21st century game. It’s all about trying to think about well beyond our borders and how we position ourselves.
And otherwise, I think most of the challenges are sort of logistical. We’re not the biggest organization in the world, but we have a great, great board – a 40-member board, people from all walks of technology life touch on it. Our staff is somewhat limited; it’s three full-time, we do some contracting for other services. So there are times when the demand for what we can do outstrips the supply but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to try just about everything we can reasonably handle. I think those are the main challenges.
WTN: What about funding?
Still: We get what I think is good support from the state, especially given the overall condition of things and this state is not unlike every other state right now with a budget problem. We have good private support; it is growing. It’s not where I want it to be yet but so far so good.
WTN: What is in the future for the Tech Council?
Still: I think, over time, I’d like to do a few more magazines like Life Sciences. We’ve been thinking about one in the IT sector as a possibility. … We’re going to continue to spend a lot of time trying to help tell the story. And here’s where I can say a few things about WTN. That’s been a significant addition to the story-telling capabilities in Wisconsin. You are a news service that has that has specialization in terms of being able to look at technology, but you also have the reach, not only in the state, but increasingly around the world. So that’s an extremely valuable part of this mix.
The other thing we may be looking at over time is what we have tentatively called the Science and Technology Summit, which will be an effort to pull together top CIOs and CTOs from around the state to meet researchers and others in a sense to find out what they need to advance their businesses and how Wisconsin researchers and other institutions can help meet that need. Because we’re not convinced that the CTOs and CIOs are talking to one another at all, or more, are they talking to some of the researchers here? There is this enormous tendency in Wisconsin to think that all expertise lies outside our borders when, indeed, there’s an enormous amount right here if only we’d only do a better job of tapping it.
WTN: Is that similar to what the Office of Corporate Relations is doing but on a bigger scale?
Still: Yeah, especially just with UW-Madison. They exist to try to be a front door to the university and we work with them quite a bit – they’ll be a part of the Life Sciences Conference this fall. They will be a front door to business to try to make those connections so that people know because it’s incredible, there are a lot of companies in Wisconsin that have great technology and work with institutions far outside our borders, and they often should. But we want to make sure they know about what we have here, too.