09 Mar MIT alums boost Wisconsin high-tech businesses
Waukesha, Wis. — Alumni from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are coming together to offer Wisconsin companies a helping hand.
In the last few years the MIT Club of Wisconsin, an organization of MIT alumni from across the state, has begun to branch out past alumni meetings. The organization has grown to an estimated 600 members and spearheaded several networking initiatives, some of which are unique among MIT’s state chapters.
According to Herb Zien, the club’s president, the group has come together because they want to help push along the innovations coming out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and other research institutes in the state. While UW-Madison enjoys an impressive collection of patents — even more than MIT — it is behind in successfully commercializing them, Zien said.
The club wants to build an infrastructure similar to what exists in Boston, where start-up companies have more advice to rely on when developing their products.
“As you go up that chain there’s a significant winnowing process,” Zien said. “You need to have people willing to take the risks at lower levels of probable success.”
To boost awareness about companies seeking investors the club initiated the Technology Achievement Awards, currently in their third year. Zien said that the award ceremony — the only such event offered by an MIT alumni group — is designed to give companies a sign of MIT recognition and offer members more perspective on what Wisconsin offers.
The award ceremony this year will take place on Thursday at the Rotunda in Waukesha. Honorees are Nimmi Ramanujam of UW-Madison for her cancer surgery aid, Rockwell Automation for engineering services and process management, and Nimblegen for its Maskless Array Synthesis (MAS) technology in genomic research.
According to Allyn Ziegenhagen, treasurer for the club, the committee choosing the awards bases their decision on input from connections all over the state. Some of the suggestions come from MIT members, but the majority of opinions come from entrepreneurs, UW-Madison faculty and the Wisconsin Technology Council.
“This is directed to the state, and we are doing this without a lot of bias or favoritism to an MIT person,” Ziegenhagen said.
Previous winners have included healthcare technology provider TeraMedica, nanotechnology device manufacturer nPoint and UW-Madison Professor James Thomson.
The club also hopes to sponsor an internship program to help MIT graduates find jobs in Wisconsin’s high-tech companies. Club leaders would work directly with the companies, talking with MIT personnel in Wisconsin corporations and using connections made through networking events.
Zien hopes the arrangement, currently in development, will be mutually beneficial by giving firms a new type of employee and providing stability to MIT students looking for a change of scenery. “There’s an enrichment that can occur,” he said.
In January the MIT Club hosted a satellite broadcast of MIT’s enterprise resource forum in Madison, gathering a panel of financial experts to discuss the best way of raising state venture capital funds.
Ziegenhagen said the success of the enterprise forum has encouraged the MIT club to bring it back next year, and officials at UW-Madison have discussed creating their own enterprise resource chapter.
“I think people come away thinking this is worth doing again,” Zien said.