Marquette’s Lovell Moves Quickly to Boost Campus Entrepreneurship
The University of Wisconsin-Madison is widely seen as the state’s leading school for entrepreneurship, driven by more than $1 billion in annual research spending, a respected licensing and tech transfer arm, and a track record of successful spinouts.
The school gives universities in Wisconsin’s largest city, Milwaukee, something to aspire to. In the past few years, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has arguably done the most among southeastern Wisconsin universities to boost campus entrepreneurship, with new initiatives like the Student Startup Challenge and the “App Brewery.”
Now, the man who receives a lot of credit for helping to make those programs a reality, Mike Lovell, has left his post as UW-Milwaukee chancellor to become president of nearby Marquette University. It hasn’t taken him long to establish entrepreneurship as one of his top agenda items at the private Jesuit institution, from which this reporter graduated in 2011.
“If you are innovative and entrepreneurial, you’ll always add value to an organization,” Lovell (pictured above) tells Xconomy. “I want that to be something that Marquette University is known for.”
In August, five months after being named Marquette’s president, Lovell hosted an innovation and entrepreneurship summit on campus with academic leaders from 20 local higher education institutions. The meeting was tied to a planned nonprofit initiative announced that month called The Commons, which is led by Startup Milwaukee and Innovation in Milwaukee (MiKE). The Commons, which has yet to announce a physical space or a full list of confirmed partners, would create a cross-university student startup accelerator and a separate program that would allow students to work on R&D projects for local corporations. Lovell has already indicated Marquette will participate in the initiative.
Last month, at Lovell’s inauguration, the school announced a new $5 million fund that will provide competitive seed grants to potential university spinouts, as well as support entrepreneurship education and other related initiatives on campus. Marquette also plans to open a space on campus dedicated to entrepreneurship, with technology and support functions housed inside, the university says.
The fund drew $2 million from the university budget and $3 million from outside donations raised by Lovell in his first two months on the job. That’s not a huge pot, but $5 million can probably go a long way on a campus of 8,400 undergraduate students and about 3,300 graduate students.
Lovell has also expressed interest in having a Marquette presence in The Water Council’s Global Water Center near downtown Milwaukee and at UW-Milwaukee’s Innovation Campus near the Medical College of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa, just west of Milwaukee.
Xconomy recently caught up with Lovell to hear his vision for growing entrepreneurship at Marquette. He wasn’t able to provide too many new details, since the first campus planning session was scheduled for today and entrepreneurial proposals from students, faculty, and staff for the $5 million fund won’t be vetted until the spring. But the conversation made clear his passion for revving up entrepreneurship on a campus that has pockets of innovation, but which hasn’t traditionally been known for it.
“There are so many really innovative ideas in all corners of the campus that have been waiting for a little bit of resources in order to go do it,” Lovell says.
He pointed to the university’s Kohler Center for Entrepreneurship and a business plan competition as examples of good entrepreneurial programs that already exist on campus. What’s been missing is a cohesive, high-level plan to drive campus innovation, Lovell says.
“I don’t think there were direct pathways created that cut across the campus to really support and foster those activities,” Lovell says. “I look at something like [UW-Madison]—our students are just as innovative and creative as those students are. We need faculty and staff to know, if you go down these paths, you’re going to be supported by the university.”
Lovell thinks Marquette entrepreneurship has been held back over the past three years by the uncertainty created by a series of leadership transitions. Long-time university president Robert Wild retired in 2011. Wild’s successor, Scott Pilarz, abruptly stepped down just two years later, and Wild returned as interim president. Lovell is the first non-priest to lead Marquette.
With frequent leadership transitions, “people tend to just put their head down in their work,” Lovell says. “When you have an innovative, new idea, you are kind of sticking your head up a little bit. When there’s uncertainty, people maybe feel like that’s not the best time to do that.”
Still, it’s clear that Lovell is putting a stronger emphasis on innovation and commercialization of campus ideas than recent predecessors. In some respects, Lovell is trying to accomplish the same goal he had at UW-Milwaukee, which was “all about creating an entrepreneurial, innovative culture,” he says.
But his strategy at Marquette is broader than the targeted programs he helped institute at UW-Milwaukee. The $5 million fund, for example, won’t be limited to any particular disciplines or areas of campus, he says.
Lovell doesn’t have specific goals for the number of investments the fund will make or the number of companies the university will help form. “I’m a believer that these things are much more of a marathon than a sprint,” he says.