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UWM Embraces Entrepreneurship

Not many universities in the Untied States squarely identify themselves with entrepreneurship. Most are entrepreneurship-light with a few courses and programs mixed into standard curriculum.

Last week, the UW–Milwaukee stamped itself as entrepreneurship-heavy with a grand opening of the Lubar Entrepreneurship Center at Kenwood Boulevard and Maryland Avenue, the busiest corner on campus.

UWM wants part of its brand to be “E University” — a hub of startup activity for the region. The 24,000-square-foot facility was brimming with that energy at the opening. Forty-three sets of entrepreneurs were in booths to show off their ventures to hundreds of attendees, including donors to the center and potential investors. The young innovators were bursting with energy, enthusiasm and promise.

The “E” strategy fits in so many ways with where UWM is going and with what Wisconsin needs. Here’s why: Even though the Wisconsin jobless rate is at all-time lows, the state has ranked near the bottom in recent quarters for job growth. That has never been a long suit. Long and short, looking ahead, we still need job creation, and it’s the entrepreneurs who accomplish that imperative.The other grand strategies of UWM also address the need for a renaissance in the make-up of the Wisconsin economy. The “E” plank is the latest to be welded into its overall game plan. It fits perfectly with its strategic R&D plank — its status as one of 130 “R1” universities in the country. Discoveries coming out of its labs will form the technology foundations for new ventures.

Then there is UWM’s unparalleled status as the state’s most diverse campus, with many minority students, more than 1000 veterans, immigrants, and 37 percent of the student body as first generation college students. These are often the ambitious, street-smart people who work their way through college and one day launch a business. In other words, the entrepreneurship, R &D and diversity strategies work hand in glove.

So does UWM’s partnership strategy. The UWM goal has linkages with almost every major company or organization in the region. It is the opposite of Ivory Tower universities, where academics, as esoteric as they often are, take precedence over the ground-level pragmatics of the real world.

The UWM connectivity strategy shows up in research dollars for UWM scholars, donations, internships, scholarships and the hiring of graduates.

UWM’s linkages to NML, as an example, include financial and institutional support for the new NML Center for Data Science. Note: some 2,000 UWM graduates work at NML.

As another example, Rockwell has provided catalyst research grants, collaborated on creation of the UWM’s new Connected Systems Institute and employs 750 UWM graduates.

Ten top regional businesses employ more than 7,700 Panthers. Where would these companies be without UWM?

Note that the donor list for LEC – as the Lubar Entrepreneurship Center has become known – was led by entrepreneurs — the Lubar, Kellner and Jendusa families. As universities struggle to find new sources of revenue, it ought to be completely obvious that the most generous donors to higher education are graduates who start high growth companies and then give back to their alma maters.

Therefore, the LEC goal to spread the entrepreneurial mind-set across the campus to all students in all disciplines makes eminent long-term strategic sense for UWM—or any university for that matter.

Further, their contributions to their alma maters are often just a fraction of the good things entrepreneurs do for the state, nation and world.

The impact of LEC will be even greater as it collaborates with other campuses and students in the region.

As Brian Thompson, LEC director, puts it: “Areas with thriving innovation economics have strong, engaged research universities at their center.”

That understanding is why hundreds of people jammed the new center for its opening. The excitement level was high.

John Torinus is the chairman of Serigraph Inc. and a former Milwaukee Sentinel business editor who blogs regularly at johntorinus.com.

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