18 Jul Wisconsin's smaller universities stake research, tech transfer claims
Menomonie, Wis. – The increasingly sophisticated science and technology being developed at Wisconsin’s smaller universities has been somewhat bottled up, but the state and the University of Wisconsin System are working to apply more of it to business opportunities.
The research of Wisconsin’s “comprehensive campuses” was on display during the Wisconsin Science and Technology Symposium at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. The symposium drew academicians, policy makers, venture capitalists, and corporate interests that know smaller universities are becoming bigger players in applied research.
Tom Wyrobek, president of the Minnesota-based Hysitron, Inc., a maker of test instruments used in nanotechnology research, said universities like Stout are increasingly on the radar screen of funding agencies and companies like Hysitron, which has a history of collaboration with larger universities.
Wyrobek attended the symposium to look for collaborations in nanoscience, strength of universities and businesses in western Wisconsin. “It will be a while before the American Society of Professional Engineers comes to the nanoscience scale with full commitment, but the schools generate students with no fear, and they will be curious by themselves to find out what this is, and what it’s not,” Wyrobek said. “That’s the kind of atmosphere we need to have collaborations work.”
Charles Sorensen, chancellor of UW-Stout, said the university eventually would conduct three kinds of technology transfer. The first, which it has done for some time, applies the university’s technology expertise to manufacturing plants; it reaches about 50 companies a year to help them solve business problems.
The other kind of tech transfer is new for Stout, and it involves taking a university discovery from idea to product to company, much like UW-Madison does with its licensing arm, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. The technology will come from several programs, including nanotechnology, biotechnology, polymers, and computer electronics, which arose from the local presence of companies like Cray and SGI.
A third type of transfer will be corporate-sponsored research, which will be enabled by a privately endowed discovery center.
Stout has been designated as a polytechnic university, which will enable it to conduct a great deal of applied research as part of its corporate outreach, especially in what Sorensen calls the growth corridor between Minneapolis and Eau Claire.
“We know we have the expertise to work with corporations on R&D because for 20 years we’ve been pestered about having this type of program in the [Chippewa] valley,” Sorensen said. “The push from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Eau Claire – that corridor – is just phenomenal.”
Assist from WiSys
Maliyakal John is the managing director of the WiSys Technology Foundation, a subsidiary of WARF that was established to patent UW System inventions. John said there now are 15 major research programs on the comprehensive campuses that have or could produce patented and licensed technology for commercialization, with plans to bring another 50 online in the next three to four years. They include the nanotechnology program at UW-Platteville, which has produced Graphene Solutions, the company that won the 2008 Governor’s Business Plan Contest.
Research centers are being established on UW System campuses, and the system is hiring additional post-doctoral fellows to aid research and development outside of Madison and Milwaukee. John, who has developed an inventor mining initiative to identify research-oriented professors, would like to see more of their time freed up for research and the pursuit of grants.
John also said research and development training for students would play a critical role in capturing intellectual property. He cited the example of 17-year-old Philip Streich, a part-time college student who helped invent the technology behind Graphene Solutions.
“All the leading colleges train students in research and development,” John noted. “It improves their career activities and generates productive ideas.”