Jennifer Sereno: Individual impact shapes new economy

This is an excerpt from a column posted at BizOpinion.

Entrepreneurs deserve high praise for putting themselves on the line to start a business.

Yet the spotlight rarely shines on the investors and board members who contribute to the success of technology startups by providing critical capital and strategic advice. It is this behind- the-scenes work that is increasingly necessary for a fertile entrepreneurial ecosystem.

A distinguished lawyer and a member of the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents, David Walsh may be creating his most important legacy through such unsung work. As a retired partner with Foley & Lardner; an investor and board member with companies including Quintessence Biosciences and FluGen; and philanthropist dedicated to fighting blindness, Walsh represents a prime example of how individuals can shape the New Economy.

At a time when some consider the latest economic development initiatives to be signs of an improving business climate, Walsh offers a longer-term prescription for fostering business vitality. In his view, investment in education and basic research hold the key.

Through his service on the Board of Regents – he was appointed by Gov. Jim Doyle — Walsh recalls a long history of efforts to engage the business community in education, including the successful series of statewide economic summits held under UW System President Katharine Lyall. Yet he’s concerned that in recent years, the state’s own contribution to higher education has declined as a percentage of the total UW System budget.

“The university has always been great…year in and year out on peer-reviewed grants from the National Institutes of Health,” and other federal research agencies, Walsh says. “That’s starting to dry up. And what’s happening is we’re not getting reinvestment from the state in the basic scientific areas.”

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