29 Nov State and university form network for entrepreneurial outreach
Madison, Wis. — Wisconsin’s Department of Commerce will fund a public-sector coalition to provide entrepreneurs with business planning and other assistance at centers around the state, Governor Jim Doyle announced on Monday.
The department will provide $1 million per year for five years, he said. Commerce expects another $400,000 in partner contributions this year. After a competitive bid process, the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Network, an organization proposed by several state and academic agencies, won the grant.
WEN will establish 25 intake centers and 26 agricultural business counselors to work with people statewide who have ideas for ventures. Promising clients will be referred to one of four regional centers on University of Wisconsin and technical-college campuses.
The centers will open in three to six months, Doyle said.
The network is a partnership of the University of Wisconsin-Extension, the Wisconsin Technical College System, WiSys Technology Foundation and the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
Doyle has set it the goal of assisting 10,000 people in its first year.
“The combined power of the university system and its extension as well as the technical colleges provides the kind of infrastructure that can realistically help 10,000 people,” said Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. “There aren’t many other organizations that can do that.”
This new venture also provides university organizations a chance to work more with the private sector. The University of Wisconsin’s technology-transfer organizations have become practiced at converting faculty, staff and student research into commercial opportunities.
The physical centers established on the university’s Madison, Milwaukee and Eau Claire campuses, as well as the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay, will extend some of that experience to people outside the university system.
WEN will make use of these resources and serve to tie them together, said Neil Lerner, director of the UW-Madison Small Business Development Center. The state’s SBDCs offer education and counseling to small businesses.
Carl Gulbrandsen, managing director of theWisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, said having a physical presence was a key part of the plan.
“Technology transfer is a personal business,” he said. “If you don’t have people there you’re not going to succeed.”
He said WARF, which patents and licenses UW-Madison technologies and started WiSys do to the same for other campuses, would contribute its services to the project. Other stakeholders will, too. Otherwise, Gulbrandsen said, the $1 million yearly Commerce grant should be enough to establish the network.
WEN plans to use a multi-tiered approach to serving its clients, moving them to more personal assistance if counselors at intake centers see high growth potential.
It may also help fledgeling businesses license technologies from the university system through WiSys or WARF.
Jason Stitt is WTN’s associate editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.