UW Tech Transfer: Challenge and Promise
Few things are as important for energizing the listless Wisconsin economy than capitalizing on the great research conducted at UW-Madison. I write in this Isthmus cover story:
A game-changer is what UW-Madison sorely needs. Historically one of the nation’s leading research schools, the campus secures more than $1 billion a year in research grants. Yet between 2009 and 2014, Wisconsin ranked 42nd among the states in patents issued, according to federal data. And we were dead last in a survey of entrepreneurial activity taken by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
Reality is that despite Dane County’s tech-led boom, the Wisconsin economy is in parlous condition. The state suffered the largest percentage decline of middle-class households in the nation between 2000 and 2013, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts study. Median Wisconsin household income in this period dropped from $60,344 to $51,467 in inflation-adjusted dollars.
Obvious questions follow: Why isn’t all this UW research igniting a wave of business and tech startups across the state? Why hasn’t the UW dynamo reversed the state’s economic decline?
UW-Madison, it’s fair to say, is feeling the heat.
The hostility of the ruling Republicans at the Capitol is as plain to see as the UW System’s $250 million budget cut and Gov. Scott Walker’s initial plan to gut the Wisconsin Idea, the university’s once sacrosanct pledge that its “beneficent influence” would extend statewide.
But that notion of “the boundaries of campus are the boundaries of the state” draws a sharp retort from skeptics who think UW-Madison’s reach seems to abruptly end at the Dane County line. Local folks may be proud that Dane County claims 73% of the new jobs created in Wisconsin over the last 10 years, but outstate observers see this as evidence of how UW-Madison beneficence is highly parochial.
Enter UW-Madison’s Discovery To Product program. I write how this bootcamp for campus entrepreneurs has nurtured a potential breakout campus discovery. Researchers Mark Cook and Jordan Sand have come up with a technique that could dramatically reduce the pervasive use of human antibiotics in animal feed. That farm industry practice is blamed for producing deadly drug-resistant superbugs.
To read more about their discovery and the complaints that insiders make about UW-Madison’s hostility towards commercializing research, please go here.