Tom Still: Crossing the chasm: How UW-Madison can be more open for business

This is an excerpt from a column posted at BizOpinion.

Hector De Luca, Rock Mackie and Richard Davidson have the kind of academic credentials their academic colleagues at UW-Madison and far beyond admire. DeLuca is synonymous with innovation in Vitamin D research and the advances it has brought to human health; Mackie is a medical physicist who has pioneered cancer-fighting solutions; Davidson is a neuroscientist known worldwide for his work on the brain’s ability to “learn” emotional health.

They’re also not afraid to engage with business leaders and corporations, which means they’re probably suspect in the eyes of some ivy-covered purists.

Crossing the chasm that often separates academia from the business world was the topic of an Aug. 22 panel discussion featuring DeLuca, Mackie and Davidson at the second annual “Corporate Open House” held on campus. The conversation highlighted the need for the university to make its value better known to industry – and for industry to not be shy about seeking academic partners.

DeLuca has about 200 U.S. patents to his name and was part of developing eight Vitamin D drugs that have accounted for billions of dollars in sales, much of which has filtered back to the university through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. Now in his seventies, DeLuca is part of the Vitamin D legacy at the UW-Madison that dates to Harry Steenbock and the founding of WARF in the 1920s.

DeLuca remembers a time when he and his colleagues were practically academic outcasts for transferring technology to the marketplace, but he told a crowd predominantly comprised of business executives that those days are happily gone.

“The test of the duration of an idea is whether it can live in the real world,” he said.

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