Bringing your dream to market is hard work. Navigating resources shouldn’t be. Andrew Richards is cutting the trail.
WARF: You’re a veteran of state government and higher education. Economic development has always been a part of your career. Why are you excited to lead D2P right now?
AR: I’m excited because it allows me for the first time to work on translating research and innovation into commercial success on a full-time basis rather than as just one component of the various leadership roles that I have had. It’s an area that I care about deeply because we are helping faculty, staff, students and ultimately their achievements help the state and beyond. It really is the Wisconsin Idea, and one part in which UW-Madison can help the whole state prosper.
W: What’s your vision for D2P going forward?
AR: We hope D2P’s activity helps create results we can see and measure, like increasing the number of startups, more licensing revenue from WARF patents, and greater returns from investments in UW-Madison spinoffs.
W: How do D2P and the WARF Accelerator Program work together?
AR: Where WARF Accelerator helps PIs de-risk their technology, D2P’s Innovation to Market and Igniter programs can help them de-risk the market and business side of things. In turn, we’ve also referred PIs that have come through D2P’s programs over to WARF, so we are both building pipelines for one another.
W: What is your team’s role in fostering a culture of entrepreneurship on campus?
AR: D2P is the one entity that has been purposely created to serve the whole campus and to bring all the entities together so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. We have a great opportunity to be a convener of those entities and then to work as a group to strengthen current offerings and to identify gaps that we can work together to fill. Working together and leveraging resources across campus makes us more competitive for outside grants and funding that can help support these activities as well.
Commercialization and entrepreneurship will never be easy or without risks, but we can be a source of support and provide experienced mentorship along the journey.
W: Is there an inherent tension between commercialization and basic research? How do you overcome that?
AR: I actually don’t think so. Some of the most interesting innovations occur where diverse teams doing basic and applied science are coming together to create novel solutions. In many respects, UW-Madison is well positioned due to its incredible basic research strengths to create these super teams to develop new IP and potential industries.
W: Do graduate students and postdocs have a role in the entrepreneurial ecosystem?
AR: Absolutely. Many times faculty serve in a PI role on research that has commercial potential, but their long-term goal is not to leave the university. Often, their graduate students can step in to carry their work forward out into the world.
A vibrant startup ecosystem will also provide opportunities for our graduates to have jobs here in the Madison region after graduation.
W: What does success look like in 3-5 years?
AR: Ultimately, success is a more vibrant startup ecosystem here on campus and in the region, where would-be entrepreneurs can find the resources and support they need to be successful and where campus innovation and research transfer to the marketplace occurs at a more rapid rate and in higher volumes to benefit society. Resources include: physical spaces, human talent, financial resources, entrepreneurship programming and mentorship, and networks (customers, suppliers, investors, etc.).
If we do those things, more startups, patents and licensing revenue, and jobs will occur. As it gains momentum and critical mass, human talent, industry partners and investment will be attracted to the Madison region. As an educational entity here to serve campus, another way we will define success is through raised awareness and participation in the wide array of UW-Madison programs and services for innovators.
MORE ON D2P
Discovery to Product (D2P) helps innovators move ideas from the university to the world by facilitating connections to university and community resources and providing free mentoring and education to faculty, staff and students at UW-Madison. D2P has two key program offerings: Innovation to Market (I2M) and Igniter, which help teams learn how to assess their innovation’s value and develop an implementation strategy.
Programs are led by innovation and commercialization specialists, who are veteran business developers, entrepreneurs, product managers and startup executives with specific industry experiences in engineering, life sciences, information technology, food science and consumer goods.