While the University of Wisconsin-Madison faces budget cuts that pose a threat to its research, Marquette is further investing in this area, most recently by creating the Strategic Innovation Fund.
The Strategic Innovation Fund provides venture capital investment and seed funding to a variety of new ideas and projects including academic programs, interdisciplinary research clusters, community building and industry partnerships.
Jay Goldberg, a member of the Innovation Council and a clinical professor of biomedical engineering, said the goal of the Innovation Fund is to “create a culture of innovation so innovation is part of our DNA at Marquette.” He said the council is embracing a broad definition of innovation to avoid limiting the potential community improvements that could come of it.
The fund has $4.5 million in initial funds to be distributed, and received 275 pre-proposal applications by its Feb. 6 deadline. The proposals are being reviewed by the Innovation Council, which includes faculty members from every college.
Jeanne Hossenlopp, chair of the Innovation Council and vice president of research and innovation, said the applicants range across demographics with 449 faculty members, 212 staff, 127 non-Marquette affiliated individuals, 106 students and 52 alumni submitting pre-proposals. The content of the pre-proposals will be posted online as soon as they are reviewed.
Goldberg said allowing community members and alumni to apply for the grants provides opportunities to create innovative new products or services that could create businesses or could employ people in the Milwaukee area in the future.
Hossenlopp described the fund as “a platform for the campus community to collaborate on innovative ventures, including developing partnerships with external collaborators.”
UW-Madison demonstrates the positive effects that strong research and innovation programs can have on a local community and economy, boasting the lowest unemployment rates in the state.
Aaron Olver, managing director of UW-Madison’s University Research Park, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that “Dane County is creating 73 percent of the net new jobs in Wisconsin, and that is all being driven by UW-Madison and companies in the technology ecosystem that surround the university.”
The prospect of nationally competitive research at UW-Madison is in question after Gov. Scott Walker proposed to change the university’s leading mission statement, the Wisconsin Idea, away from goals such as “(extending) knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campuses,” in addition to cutting the budget for state higher education.
In Marquette’s most recently published strategic plan, “Beyond Boundaries”, key themes include the “pursuit of academic excellence for human wellbeing”; “research in action”; “social responsibility” and “community engagement.”
The Strategic Innovation Fund is one of the university’s first major actions in response to the strategic plan.
“In the past, there really wasn’t an outlet if people had an idea,” Goldberg said. “It could fund quite a few projects that people would have had trouble finding funding for before.”