Ideadvance Seed Fund program newly open to most UW alumni

The UW System’s Ideadvance Seed Fund program is newly open to most UW System alumni, allowing more people to seek funding for their innovative business ideas.

Beginning with the upcoming April 28 deadline, the program will now accept applications from graduates of any UW System campus — except for UW-Madison. The program has been providing early-stage grant funding and business mentoring to part-time or full-time staff, students and faculty of any UW System school since it got its start in 2014.

As part of UW-Extension’s Center for Technology Commercialization, Ideadvance has given initial grants to 48 teams, 13 of which were awarded follow-on funding.

Stage 1 funding provides up to $25,000 for commercializing the idea, outlining a need in the marketplace and working to preemptively reduce risk. Stage 2 funding goes up to $50,000 to help businesses get to the point where they can seek other investors and continue to grow on their own. But only the top applicants make it past the first stage.

“We try to simulate the real world startup environment for these entrepreneurs,” Center of Technology Commercialization Associate Director Dave Linz said. “We want them to get out of the building and test their ideas and business models in the marketplace.”

Linz says UW-Madison wasn’t included in this expansion because the Madison area already has its own supportive and highly recognized programs such as the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, Discovery to Product and the startup accelerator gener8tor.

When the program launched in June 2014, there was a lack of “great entrepreneurial support programs in the rest of the state,” according to Idella Yamben, who runs the Ideadvance program.

“So Ideadvance was created so there would be a program for the rest of the system,” Linz said, adding that expanding the program only to non-UW-Madison alumni is an effort to “try to be more inclusive, get more diverse, higher quality kinds of business ideas in the mix.”

Yamben says the program “really benefits from ideas that have a stronger team wrapped around them.”

“I think one idea is that there are great entrepreneurial ideas from UW alumni, and these professionals have a history, a maturity,” she said, adding they are also more likely to have access to a network of colleagues and professionals who could offer guidance.

Teams receive the money only after they demonstrate what they’ve learned and shown their progress to an investment committee, which includes representatives of the UW System, WiSys Technology Foundation, UW-Extension and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, as well as a campus-affiliated entrepreneur. The committee looks at the most competitive proposals, picking those that seem to most effectively solve a market problem.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today without Ideadvance,” said Alana Platt, founder of Classmunity, an online fundraising tool for schools that received funding through the program. “You don’t learn entrepreneurship in computer science [classes.]”

The program is not limited to technology-related business ideas, and accepts applications in agriculture, manufacturing, music production, textiles and art — just to name a few.

“Ideadvance helps ensure that not only do the individual businesses receive the support they need at the earliest stages, but that the communities where these businesses are located can start to build stronger networks and a more robust entrepreneurial environment,” said WEDC Vice President of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Aaron Hagar.

Apply by April 28 here:

–By Alex Moe