Archive for the ‘TheDailyPage.com/Isthmus’ category

UW Success… And Failure

November 12, 2018

In this dispatch on UW-Madison’s struggle to champion its groundbreaking discoveries and inventions, I frame the issue in these terms:

“UW-Madison is one of the great universities in the world, spending more than $1 billion in research funding a year. But increasingly there are complaints of sclerotic bureaucracy hampering research, indifference or hostility to business-supported projects, and an undistinguished record of launching tech startups from that bounty of research.

This story holds up the UW medical school  as a campus leader in commercializing  research, particularly with GE medical scanning devices. I explain how the creation of a health-care cluster in the west end of campus has paid off in better medical care by bringing together researchers, UW Hospital clinicians, patients and medical students.

This is the good news.

The bad news is how [other] business relationships continue to vex the campus. More typical is UW’s failure to reach a research agreement with the Ford Motor Co.

The auto giant had wanted a “master agreement” with UW-Madison that set the terms for joint research projects not just for a particular department or center — as is the Madison custom — but across the full campus, which has upwards of 200 separate research entities.

Ford’s interest is potentially huge for UW. The auto industry is facing an existential crisis as Silicon Valley disrupters — including Google’s Waymo, Uber, Lyft, Tesla, and others — try to push their way into the car industry’s driver’s seat. Led by a TED-talk kind of innovative leader named James Hackett, Ford continues to look for more strategic/holistic relationships with top-tier universities for research….

In late 2017, Susan LaBelle, then head of the UW’s Office of Corporate Relations, cited the failed Ford contract in a candid memo to her boss, Charles Hoslet, in explaining the “stagnant corporate sponsored research at UW-Madison.”

….That’s a big problem for Ford. “Almost all top-tier research universities are now willing to negotiate cross-campus master agreements,” says Ed Krause, Ford’s global manager for external alliances. He describes negotiating with the campus as “uniquely difficult.”

To read more, please go here.

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UW-Madison’s Research Challenge

November 9, 2018

I’m late in posting the stories I’ve written for Isthmus on UW-Madison’s struggles as a great research university to get its inventions and discoveries into the broader world.  Here’s how the first story begins:

It’s a story that Madison loves to hear.

Two plucky entrepreneurs, Kevin Conroy and Manesh Arora, are hired in 2009 to revive a moribund health-tech startup in Boston. They have the temerity to move it from the best-known metropolis in the country for medical innovation to the much smaller Madison, where Conroy had run Third Wave Technologies. Their company had but two employees.

“Without the UW-Madison, Exact Sciences would not be in Madison,” Conroy says flatly. “We came here because the UW’s biochemistry program is one of the top in the country. It enabled us to hire really strong Ph.D. level scientists.”

Flash forward nine years: Exact Sciences has about 1,600 employees, 200 job vacancies, a stock market valuation of around $8 billion, and a fast-selling non-invasive colorectal cancer test called Cologuard. Other cancer tests are in the works.

Exact Sciences personifies the rise of the new Madison. It rides a wave of tech innovation that is closely tied to the UW’s fabled research prowess. But Cologuard was not tested at UW Hospital and Clinics, as you might expect, but at Mayo Clinics, which is Exact Sciences’ long-time partner. Exact’s other medical trials were conducted at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Three years ago, when I wrote a mostly upbeat Isthmus cover story on technology transfer at UW-Madison, Conroy was a brooding presence. Doing clinical trials with the UW School of Medicine and Public Health was just too complicated, too prone for delay with the clinical trial review board, he complained. Both Anderson and Mayo were easier to work with “for a company operating at the speed of light.”

Conroy was heard. Exact Sciences is now doing preparatory research with the UW med school, but not yet a full-blown federally approved clinical trial.

Conroy sees progress. He considers himself a UW-Madison booster. But his impatience remains, and he’s definitely not alone in feeling the campus doesn’t yet have its act together on embracing the 21st century innovation economy. “C’mon, we can do better,” he says, sounding like a football coach at half-time.

To read more, please go here. And while you’re at it keep an eye out for other stories in the series.

Cocktail Revelations

October 15, 2018

I’ve been working on and off for months on a major writing project. I think it will be a big thing. But, sorry, this story has nothing to do with it. Nope, this one is all about the pleasures of drinking Boulevardiers and fat-washed martinis with your friends. Also in reading  Kingsley Amis’ earnest defense of social drinking in his magnum opus, Everyday Drinking. Not to mention I report on the good Oxford scholars who emphasize the “social” in social drinking:

Dear readers, put down your phones! Science says you should drink with your friends. Seriously. I have in my hand the printout of “Functional Benefits of (Modest) Alcohol Consumption” written by seven Oxford University researchers. They say that drinking with your buds at the local pub may be linked to an improved sense of well-being.

Okay, that’s not exactly a big surprise. But confirming the obvious is what college professors sometimes do. And I know you’re thinking what I’m thinking: Just how do I get a piece of this research money? But the investigators also found, according to Oxford publicists, “that people who have a [pub] that they visit regularly tend to feel more socially engaged and contented and are more likely to trust other members of their community” while those who don’t “had significantly smaller social networks and felt less engaged with, and trusting of, their local communities.”

Yes, it’s the fellowship (and sistership) of drink.

Oh, there’s so much more in my story. Including revelations that could  change your life! (Or not.) Go here for more.

Questions for Candidates

May 7, 2018

Not long ago, the Wisconsin Policy Forum released a seriously wonky and widely ignored paper on levy limits. Even the mention of this arcane tax issue would send most people scurrying to FaceBook for relief. But while the topic is boring it is also important.

Since 2006 Wisconsin has dampened the state’s high property taxes by limiting  municipal property tax increases to the rate of new construction in the community. At first, the consequences were muted because virtually all parts of the state were enjoying a building boom. But very quickly, the WPF researchers found, the state was hammered by two recessions, and new development was “increasingly isolated, with relatively few communities experiencing even modest growth.”

This core truth was the starting point of “The Two Wisconsins” series I wrote last year for Isthmus. It  highlighted how a vast swath of the Dairy State is still mired in recession. I followed up with a recent column that argued the state’s gubernatorial candidates need to be challenged on how they would help the state’s left-behinds get on their feet.  I wrote:

The heart of the Wisconsin gestalt in 2018 … is the economic chasm dividing the state. Simply put, the good times celebrated in Dane County, the Milwaukee suburbs, the Fox River Valley and a few other lucky communities are not shared in the forgotten precincts of rural and inner-city Wisconsin….

Lost in the huzzahs of Wisconsin’s record-low jobless rate and other benchmarks of success is the stubborn fact that the recessionary downturn that took hold at the turn of the century never ended for the state’s left-behinds. Too often, these are neighborhoods of troubled schools, dead-end or non-existent jobs, broken dreams and lots of drug overdoses.

The candidates need to be judged on how they would create broad-based Wisconsin prosperity.

To see how I lay out the issues, please go here.

I’ll Drink To That

February 27, 2018

I’ve always liked the camaraderie of sharing a good drink with friends and family. It’s one of life’s pleasures. Work hard, take care of business. You got to do all that. But these off-duty moments while sharing casual talk and small intimacies are experiences I savor.

All the better I can report, Dane County is in the midst of an unprecedented burst of creativity in brewing, distilling and winemaking. Lots of  opportunities, in other words, for folks like me to share the fellowship of an adult beverage.

As I wrote in an Isthmus cover story:

Just go strolling on Madison’s near east side. Late this fall I was out walking the dog one night when I stumbled upon — in a tucked-away industrial court — the brand new $1.2 million State Line Distillery, 1413 Northern Court. Glory! Founder John Mleziva even allows dogs in the tasting room. (And quite the room it is: An artfully designed space with weathered barn lumber and a great piece of abstract art representing whiskey making by Madison’s Leslie Smith III.)

As Fred Swanson points out, a Madison “Beverage Row” is busily taking shape on the east side. A 15-minute walk from State Line sits the Old Sugar Distillery tasting room, 931 E. Main St., which offers a full sampling of its whiskey, rum, brandy and specialty spirits. Or how about perambulating to Bos Meadery, 849 E. Washington Ave., for its fermented honey drink? As for craft breweries, you can’t swing a dead cat on the east side without hitting a growler: I count 10 eastside craft beer tap rooms.

Drive a little farther out and you find Dancing Goat Distillery in Cambridge and Driftless Glen Distillery in Baraboo. And if you head south or go west in Madison and Dane County it’s more of the same. Lots of brew pubs, a smattering of distilleries and more wineries than you would think possible in our cold climate.

Hey, it’s a good thing. And not just because Wisconsinites enjoy a good buzz. Whether it’s a distillery, brewery or winery, all of these makers are idiosyncraticspecific in their missions, and forceful in staking a claim to the Wisconsin terroir. Yeah, it gets down to our identity. And when you consider how so much of small town Wisconsin didn’t share in the economic recovery, and is losing its best and brightest young people to big cities, championing local identity seems no small matter.

Brian Cummins, who founded Great Northern Distilling in Plover, near Stevens Point, makes this case. He points out how Great Northern is one of six beverage makers in the Central Wisconsin Craft Collective producing beer, wine and spirits — all within a 30-minute drive of one another in Point, Plover, Amherst and Rosholt.

Take the tour. They’re proud of their work.

“We’re part of the new creative community,” says Cummins, underlining how quality of life goes up for everyone in a region when there are such artisan producers. “It’s something to point to that makes their towns unique.”

Creative placemaking is what keeps young people in the community, he adds. “For us in central and northern Wisconsin, we need to maintain our millennials. It just can’t continue to drain to Minneapolis, Madison and Milwaukee.”

 

To read more (and to learn how a great tasting event called Distill America has led the way), please go here.

Wynonna to Kamasi: Favorite 2017 Shows

January 9, 2018

I’ll just spill it out…some the musicians whose concerts I enjoyed most in 2017:

Jon Dee Graham. Steve Reich. Herb Alpert and Lani Hall. Wynonna. Hayes Carll. Frank Catalano and Jimmy Chamberlin. Yo-Yo Ma and Esa-Pekka Salonen. Alejandro Escovedo.  Andrew Cyrille and Bill McHenry. Sinkane and Bassel & The Supernaturals. Kahil El’Zabar and David Murray. And most of all: Kamasi Washington.

As I explained in my annual Isthmus roundup:

Somehow I saw around 100 live shows near and far in 2017. That’s a record in the 12 years I’ve been chronicling my annual listening habits. What follows are my 16 favorite nights.

To be upfront, these impressions are a fan’s notes. I’m not a critic or a musician and have less technical musical knowledge than your typical four-year-old Suzuki violin student. But I love being in the musical moment, and I have wide tastes. Like other concert nerds, I’m willing to travel for tunes; so you’ll see some shows are within hailing distance of Madison.

To get the full 5,000-word treatment, please go here.

Big Ideas For A Startup Culture

January 9, 2018

Yikes, I’m late in posting this story from October 2017.

Consider it a postscript to my two-part series on the “Two Wisconsins”. In researching how Wisconsin might create a vigorous 21st century economy I sat down with startup maven Troy Vosseller. He had  strong, specific ideas. The piece begins:

The question put to the venture capitalist was: How do you juice up the Wisconsin startup scene when the state is judged the absolute worst in the nation for fostering new businesses?

Troy Vosseller, 32, who’s a sure-footed Madison entrepreneur, was in an expansive mood as he held forth on the evils of non-compete clauses and Wisconsin’s bad-news rankingfor startups by the entrepreneurial-focused Kauffman Foundation.

He also made a forceful case for upgrading and expanding UW-Madison’s computer science program, arguing that Wisconsin is critically short of tech talent.

We were in the temporary Gorham Street offices of gener8tor, the new-business incubator Vosseller runs with partner Joe Kirgues and others to nurture the ventures they invest in. Next spring, gener8tor moves up to Madison’s signature spot for startups — the new StartingBlock complex on East Washington Avenue.

“I can’t name a single venture-backed startup founded by any ex-employee of the Wisconsin Fortune 500 companies,” he tells me. These companies include giants like Rockwell Automation, American Family Insurance, Northwestern Mutual, Harley-Davidson and Johnson Controls.

“Yet if you look at robust startup ecosystems like Silicon Valley’s it’s extremely common. You have people who, say, worked at Yahoo who have a great idea, leave their job to create their own company, have their ex-manager who made a lot of money in her own startup invest in theirs, and later the company is bought by Microsoft or who knows who.

“The virtuous cycle continues in those ecosystems,” Vosseller explains. “It’s commonplace. Yet here in Wisconsin I can’t think of one example [of a startup spinning off from a major corporation]. This speaks to a cultural risk-aversion we have, but some of the blame also rests with corporate restrictive covenants.”

Ah, yes, the non-complete clauses that Epic employees face when they leave the Verona campus and have to cool their heels.

To read more, please go here.


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