UW-Madison, WARF announce new tech transfer partnership

Nov. 12, 2013

by Terry Devitt

The University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) today announced the launch of a major new partnership focused on entrepreneurship on the UW-Madison campus, building on a long legacy of collaboration to move scientific innovation to the marketplace.

Graphic: D2P logo

In defining, co-funding, and launching D2P — shorthand for Discovery to Product — UW-Madison and WARF seek to more effectively cultivate a culture of entrepreneurship among faculty and students, and better support the formation of new companies, while systematically expanding the number of innovations that reach the market through startups or licensing arrangements with established companies.

“D2P is a big step forward in our support of entrepreneurship among both faculty and students,” says UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, explaining that her time at the U.S. Department of Commerce reinforced her belief in universities as the “idea factories” required to keep American companies competitive. “I want to make sure that UW-Madison is on the cutting edge of entrepreneurship and technology commercialization.”

D2P will be funded initially through a $1.6 million commitment from UW-Madison with matching funds from WARF.

The goals of D2P will be supported through a combination of new talent, resources and capabilities designed to complement and more productively leverage an already rich set of entrepreneurship resources available on and off campus, from the university’s Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship and WARF’s Accelerator Program, to local incubators and mentoring groups, private-sector funding sources and economic development entities.

D2P will serve as a champion for entrepreneurship at UW-Madison as well as a hands-on partner for faculty, staff and student entrepreneurs.

“WARF enthusiastically supports D2P and Chancellor Blank’s strong commitment to ensuring UW-Madison builds a lasting foundation for entrepreneurship,” says WARF Managing Director Carl Gulbrandsen. “We are delighted to support this effort with WARF funding and staff expertise and look forward to working with the university to make D2P a widely used and highly valued resource across campus.”

D2P and its architecture are the culmination of three years of planning and conversations with UW-Madison’s partners. Initiated and put forward by UW-Madison Provost Paul DeLuca, the effort is aimed squarely at keeping UW-Madison in the front ranks of university technology transfer. “The big goal is to transform our culture to better cultivate entrepreneurial and technology transfer activities on campus. We have an incredibly productive and creative faculty, and we want to make it far easier for them to take good ideas from their research and transform them into Wisconsin companies and jobs.”

D2P will report to UW-Madison Vice Chancellor for Research Martin Cadwallader, who will manage D2P in consultation with the WARF managing director. Cadwallader notes that "this initiative represents a natural evolution of the longstanding partnership between UW-Madison and WARF."

D2P will be led by a director who will be supported by a staff to include a team of mentors in residence, each of whom will bring specific industry experience in areas ranging from pharmaceuticals to information technology. The mentors in residence will be available to advise and coach entrepreneurial faculty and students in a wide range of areas related to commercializing new technology, formulating business strategies, startup financing, team building, and legal and regulatory hurdles.

Beyond providing a dedicated, accessible center of entrepreneurial expertise and support, a key goal of D2P is to expand UW-Madison access to critical technology commercialization resources.

D2P support staff will also include experts to work closely with prospective entrepreneurs and their mentors to assist in creating the fundamental components of effective business plans, such as pro-forma financial statements that conform to accepted accounting standards. Other D2P staff will focus on helping prospective entrepreneurs master the resource landscape and serve as trusted advisers to help them connect with appropriate internal or external resources.

Throughout the process and under the leadership of its director, D2P will serve as a champion for entrepreneurship at UW-Madison as well as a hands-on partner for faculty, staff and student entrepreneurs. A national search for the first director of D2P is underway, and recruiting for mentors in residence and other staff will take place over the coming months.

Beyond providing a dedicated, accessible center of entrepreneurial expertise and support, a key goal of D2P is to expand UW-Madison access to critical technology commercialization resources, including investment capital and proven entrepreneurial talent.

The D2P partnership received an early boost this month through the successful funding of a $2.4 million Economic Development Incentive Grant (EDIG) from the UW System. The award will directly support commercialization of select technologies and develop a related postdoctoral educational platform. The program funded by the two-year grant, referred to as “Igniter — An Engine of Technology Commercialization,” includes a number of success metrics such the formation of new companies based upon technologies that directly benefit from EDIG funding.

“The UW System’s funding of Igniter will help us jump-start D2P across the Madison campus,” according to D2P advisory board chair Mark Cook, a UW-Madison professor of animal science and the co-founder of several successful spinoff companies.

The Igniter proposal is led by Provost DeLuca and Cook.

“We have lots of innovation on campus,” Cook notes, “but too often we miss the opportunity to move exciting ideas and technologies toward successful commercial products and services. The combined resources of D2P and Igniter will help us capitalize on many more such opportunities in the coming years.”