UW-Whitewater professor leading way for business

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Kevin Hoffman
Thursday, October 20, 2011
— Bill Dougan wants to create a sturdier climate for Walworth County businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs, and he's doing it from the inside out.

Behind the scenes of UW-Whitewater's growing business school, the professor has led the charge to develop entrepreneur programs. The early success has garnered support throughout the region, giving educators hope the next generation of Wisconsin's business minds will be developed in Walworth County.

Dougan said UW-Whitewater is developing business talent using education and local resources in hopes of keeping them in Wisconsin. That's somewhat unique, considering governments typically offer grants or tax breaks to lure outside businesses to the area.

"That works to some extent," Dougan said. "It's a far stronger prospect for a community to grow their own businesses by people who have originated from a region and are tied to that region by family, by tradition and by understanding."

Dougan is hailed on campus as one of the key members in developing the university's entrepreneur programs. The concept focuses less on traditional classroom instruction, instead emphasizing hands-on experience through educational and professional collaboration.

"There has been a tremendous groundswell (of entrepreneur programs)," Dougan said. "The majority of new business development does not come from the college of business. It's part of our responsibility to serve those populations outside of the college of business."

Programs such as Launchpad help students develop their own business plans, using university and city resources to grow beyond campus borders. Launchpad is one of the key elements of the Whitewater University Technology Park's Innovation Center, which gives entrepreneurs professional resources to expand and test ideas in the free market.

Launchpad's first generation of students still is developing ideas. Those who are successful could stay in the business park at a nearby "accelerator" building, which has yet to be built.

Brennon Garthwait, a former UW-Whitewater student and member of Launchpad, is among the students bringing ideas to life at the Innovation Center.

Garthwait and a friend developed the prototype for a robotically controlled tube amplifier, allowing musicians to remotely alter settings while performing. That idea earned them thousands of dollars at local and regional business competitions, including an elevator pitch competition Garthwait said Dougan helped him prepare for until 3 a.m. one night.

"His support has been integral to our success," said Garthwait, who graduated last year with majors in general business and geography. "The amount of dedication he has is kind of unreal. The man is a machine, to be totally honest."

Dougan, who grew up in a small town in Kansas, came to UW-Whitewater in 2001. His parents were educators but his family had an entrepreneurial background. He credits his dad's role as a football coach with teaching him to evaluate students' abilities and lead them on the path to success.

The difference in UW-Whitewater's business education over the last decade is "night and day," he said. That's not surprising, considering the substantial investment the university made in its business school over the last few years.

Hyland Hall, the $41.5-million college of business and economics, opened in 2009. It gave the campus' business-minded organizations a better opportunity to collaborate under one roof.

Dougan has a hand in a long list of UW-Whitewater programs, most of which help students polish their entrepreneurial skills in a real-world setting. He helped secure the Deborah Malewicki scholarship, which provides $1,000 for aspiring entrepreneurs to develop their product.

"Accelerate Whitewater" is a lecture series featuring successful entrepreneurs and experts who visit campus to offer insight to students. The university even took the initiative in creating "iFellows" to help faculty develop business ideas much like their students.

Dougan also is credited with helping secure money and awards for business contest winners.

During the 2010-11 school year, his students won several awards at the national college entrepreneurs conference in Chicago, including best business plan, best chapter plan, best exhibit and best website.

UW-Whitewater established entrepreneurship as a major in 2007. Dougan said he's soon hoping to get it approved as a minor.

One of the latest creations is the Water Entrepreneurship Workshop, which could give UW-Whitewater a significant role in the development of water technology. Southeastern Wisconsin is considered by experts to be one of the best locations in the nation for the future of water technology because of its economic resources and proximity to Lake Michigan.

The plan includes UW-Milwaukee, which would focus on the science, and Marquette University, which would deal in law. UW-Whitewater's role would be water business, including accounting and marketing.

UW-Whitewater has come a long way toward making its mark on the future of Wisconsin business, but there's potential for much more, Dougan believes.

"The university has a tremendous amount of outreach for small business," Dougan said. "It's interested in developing businesses however it can grow business, but the kind of high-potential businesses, those are the kind we would really like to foster."

Last updated: 6:42 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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