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UW-Whitewater group awarded innovation grant

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Staff | August 25, 2014

MADISON – An interactive degree planner program that originated at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater is one of 11 grantees from UW faculty, staff and student teams selected by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and the University of Wisconsin-Extension Center for Technology Commercialization to receive up to $25,000 each through the Ideadvance Seed Fund.

OptSolv, LLC, was one of the awardees. Founded in 2011 by Athula Gunawardena, associate professor of mathematical and computer sciences at UW-Whitewater and Robert Meyer, UW-Madison, OptSolv has developed Interactive Degree Planner, a system that lets students create online plans that minimize the time needed to complete a degree program.

The latest round of awardees includes four students, six faculty and one staff member. Those who complete this first stage of Ideadvance activities will be eligible for stage two funding starting in December, which offers grants up to $50,000.

Besides OptSolv at UW-Whitewater, the other awardees and their respective campuses are:

• BioMass Builders, UW-Milwaukee
• GolfLip, UW-Stout
• Healthier Youth, UW-Oshkosh
• Healthware, UW-Oshkosh
• Intelligent Composites, UW-Milwaukee
• Isopoint Technologies, UW-Milwaukee
• Mesmer, UW- Milwaukee
• Mobile Transit Solutions,  UW-Parkside
• Refined BioProducts, UW-Stevens Point
• Sleep Environment Innovations, UW-Milwaukee

These latest awards bring the total to 23 teams that are receiving grants, Lean Start-Up training and business mentoring to help them develop strategic business models for ideas and technologies generated at UW campuses. As they identify markets for ideas, CTC releases funds for business resources such as legal assistance, market analysis and consulting fees.

“Ideadvance provides a forum for our UW entrepreneurs to explore ideas and overcome commercialization challenges,” said Mark Lange, executive director of the UW-Extension Division of Entrepreneurship and Economic Development.  “Ideadvance helps them identify critical business questions and work through those challenges early. We see that happening among the first cohort of 12 grant recipients that we announced in May.”

Progress among those first recipients has included more than 620 customers and industry interviews to reduce risks and hone in on the best market opportunities. Some already have early adopters and are testing their products.

UW System and WEDC in February launched the $2 million seed fund to speed commercialization of ideas and technologies generated at UW campuses outside of UW-Madison. The fund provides up to $75,000 in two stages to support entrepreneurs as they evaluate product or service ideas, explore key markets, validate demand and develop strategies for investment sources. Unlike most early-stage funding, Ideadvance encourages ideas from all disciplines, including the humanities, social sciences and liberal arts.

Ideadvance is part of WEDC's efforts to expand collaboration with the UW System, business leaders and others throughout the state to remove the barriers to high-tech commercialization through its new Start-Seed-Scale (S3) initiative. Under the S3 umbrella, WEDC and its partners are implementing financial and operational assistance to address Wisconsin's business startup and seed-funding challenges.

“Wisconsin's university system has a strong reputation and rich history of developing new solutions to environmental, health care and business challenges,” said Lisa Johnson, WEDC's vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation. “Unfortunately, not enough of these bright ideas are making it to the marketplace and those that do have difficulty in scaling their businesses. We're hoping to close the gap from innovation to commercialization through programs like Ideadvance.”

Another round of stage one funding opens in October. Idella Yamben, New Idea Concierge for the grant program, invites potential applicants to contact her at uwideadvance@uwex.edu or 608-263-3315 for assistance in identifying resources to prepare a competitive proposal.



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