Blank pledges UW-Madison help for businesses, especially entrepreneurs
UW-Madison produces cutting-edge science and skilled researchers. But like other institutions in the upper Midwest, it doesn’t do enough to promote itself, the university’s new chancellor said Tuesday at a Wisconsin Innovation Network luncheon.
“We haven’t been hungry enough,” said Becky Blank, who hails from Minnesota and is a former U.S. Commerce Department official.
“We need to pretend we are from New Jersey,” she said to a round of laughter. “We need to do a better job of selling ourselves.”
Blank also said the Badger State needs to better accept failure among its entrepreneurs.
“People here don’t want to start something and then fail,” said Blank, who pledged continued support from the university for businesses large and small. “On the coasts, entrepreneurs succeed and fail and then succeed and then fail. But that culture is still a bit foreign here.”
She said she was delighted to speak to a room full of entrepreneurs, “who seem to often have more ideas in a week than I have in a year. I love your energy and creativity.
"It’s the creation of a network of people like this around the state that is going to be necessary if (Wisconsin) is going to have the explosion of new ideas, new companies and high growth that some other areas of the country have come to take as normal.”
She said it is her job as chancellor to make sure some of that energy is coming from the UW campus and “that we work in partnership with the local and state community of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to help start new businesses and stimulate economic growth everywhere in the state.”
Blank said she sought her post as head of UW-Madison not only because of the school’s “stellar” reputation, but because the university is committed to reaching out beyond its campus borders with the “Wisconsin Idea” in myriad ways, including helping businesses compete and thrive.
In her previous work at the U.S. Commerce Department, she said she focused on American competitiveness over the long run, to make sure the country stays on the front end of the global economy 30 and 50 years from now.
The keys, she said, are a skilled workforce to fill the jobs that businesses need and staying on the “cutting edge of innovation, invention and new technology. And there is only one place in society that does that, the big education and research institutions like UW-Madison.”
She also spent time studying clusters around country that continued to attract investments and grow even during down times.
In every one of those places, there was a three-way partnership of committed and creative public officials at the state and local level, private-sector leaders and heads of educational institutions ranging from community colleges to big research universities -- which attracted and help create high-tech industries.
“The University of Wisconsin, particularly at Wisconsin, is the institution that needs to play that role,” explained Blank, who she said the school has worked hard in recent years to promote entrepreneurship among faculty, students and staff.
She the university is trying to work with companies that have UW-Madison ties, as well as those who may not have those connections through a range of programs that are designed to benefit nascent.
It does this by bringing together CEOs of recently formed firms, providing mentors who are successful entrepreneurs to help young businesses, particularly in technology, medicine, agriculture and manufacturing get established, she noted.
And she said a new program, called “D2P” -- for discovery to product -- is aimed at boosting technology transfer by turning discoveries at the university into companies, products and jobs.
-- By Brian E. Clark