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that in some cases the right amount of money at the right time can transform an idea, to go from an abstract arrangement to a working prototype.
The idea is to really target this fund very carefully to do proof of concept in a way that is commercially viable. Pharma, med devices, IT, cleantech, and food sciences, those are all areas where we have deep pipelines of world-class innovation. If we can improve the potential pipeline, there will be money downstream. In each of these areas of focus, we are able to recruit six to 10 outside experts whom we call catalysts who will offer guidance to researchers. Four startups have been formed, the fifth in the next couple of weeks. We have a couple of license opportunities with brand-name companies you would recognize immediately signed in the coming months. It’s a bet on our part, but it’s what we have to do if we’re going to take things far enough forward.
Carl Gulbrandsen: Large companies have gotten out of research and discovery. Bell Labs did a lot of R&D but were shut down. [The companies are] more concerned with their bottom lines, more pure marketing companies. When that happens, they’re expecting someone else to do that R&D and take that risk. I don’t know how many universities are set up to do that. But [big] companies are out of that business.
X: Last month, you and the university launched the “Discovery 2 Product” initiative. How does that complement or strengthen what you are doing at WARF?
LC: This is done jointly with the university with a single function on campus: Be a champion for entrepreneurship through the senior leadership group across campus. What are the resources currently missing that will help move ideas? Or what are the best ideas on campus where people have an entrepreneurial interest? Once it’s fully staffed, it will have a full-time director, mentors-in-residence with people in industry. They will help with building a business plan, vetting an idea, and seeking connections. This is intended to provide continuity, on campus and off campus. There is a good, rich set of resources that support entrepreneurs but it has a little bit of a patchwork quality. They haven’t been well connected; you kind of have to go knocking on the doors to understand who does what. They will have mastered that landscape and can connect the prospective entrepreneur on campus to outside mentors or to the accelerator program.
X: There is also the new Advocacy Consortium for Entrepreneurs (ACE). How does this fit in?
CG: This is a group of faculty that has actually started companies and are successful, who are trying to work together to help the campus foster entrepreneurship. It’s an adjunct to D2P. We are creating a 501(c)(4) advocacy group that may have some ability to lobby the state legislature to help make them a little bit more cognizant of the needs in these areas.
X: WARF has also partnered with the State of Wisconsin Investment Board on a $30 million micro VC fund focused on IT companies.
LC: There is $15 million from WARF and the investment board each. It’s a … Next Page »
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