Iverson: WARF's coordinated approach to innovation

11.27.17 | Journal Sentinel | Erik Iverson | Original Publication

From the moment I arrived in Wisconsin last year, I loved the familiar energy, intellect, and passion for doing things well. I was happy to return to my Midwestern roots.

Erik Iverson
Erik Iverson
For more than 90 years, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which I lead, has funded researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to give rise to their inventions, which WARF then patents and licenses to companies that turn those inventions into products. This work creates family-sustaining jobs in Wisconsin, grows the state’s economy and provides revenue for the university.

But we can do more. We must find better ways to tap into the collective intelligence and energy of all of the campuses in the UW System. And we must work together to build a continual feedback loop with the people of our state so the Wisconsin System universities can better understand the challenges they face and identify sustainable and valuable solutions.

This sense of responsibility to connect with our communities is summed up by the Wisconsin Idea, the long-standing vision that the university’s positive influence should reach every family. It is a value I share.

That’s why one of my highest priorities is to expand WARF’s contribution to the Wisconsin Idea.

We have tremendous potential for innovation. Just this month, UW-Madison engineering professor Daniel Ludois was honored by the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation as one of five inventors in the United States working on ideas that will change the world. WARF invested in his cutting-edge research on electric motors.

We plan to work more closely with the other campuses to identify research and inventions that are complementary. All of us who think about turning ideas into marketable products should routinely compare notes so we can coordinate our efforts, whether it be in manufacturing, healthcare, information technology, agriculture or any other segment of our economy.

When we work with university researchers to turn innovations into products, we are always thinking about who can help them grow their young companies. That’s why I announced in August that we are doubling our funding in startups to support innovative ideas by university inventors.

We also need to get better at tapping into the state's executives, workforce and capital. By coordinating the state’s resources, we can maximize their potential. There may be a talented entrepreneur in Eau Claire, Green Bay or Wausau eager to take a shot at manufacturing a new invention developed at the university, with an entire workforce waiting for the next opportunity.

WARF cannot and should not make this happen on our own. In the coming months, we will redouble our outreach in partnership with the WiSys Technology Foundation, which performs a role similar to ours for most of the rest of the public universities in Wisconsin. We hope to work with UW-Milwaukee, Marquette University and the Medical College of Wisconsin. Working together, we will create a forum that fosters a collaborative approach, involving school, business, and political leaders and people who have capital to invest. To begin this dialogue, I am inviting leaders from throughout the state to contribute their perspectives on the role of innovation in the Wisconsin Idea and will share our recommendations next year.

By working together, we can find the best, most efficient ways to solve the state’s challenges, create jobs and profits and keep that money in Wisconsin to invest in our people and economy.

Let’s draw on the strength and power of the Wisconsin Idea to make that happen.

Erik Iverson is the managing director of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (warf.org). Send comments to: wisconsinidea@warf.org