UW–Madison’s Discovery to Product (D2P) empowers innovators to realize The Wisconsin Idea by transforming ideas into products and services that change the world. Established in 2014, D2P now serves 400 UW innovators and 200 UW innovation projects annually and has helped launch or grow 117 startups since inception.
Interim director Abram Becker has worked for D2P as a mentor since 2016 and remembers those early years. “We worked together to build a team of expert staff and robust, engaging programs,” says Abram. “Seeing how many UW innovators we’ve supported in moving their ideas toward real-world impact is gratifying, from startups to licensed technologies and social impact nonprofits.”
Located within the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education (OVCRGE), D2P provides no-cost non-credit training, mentoring, and funding to UW–Madison faculty, staff, postdocs and students. Offerings include the cohort programs Innovation to Market, designed as an entry point for campus innovators, and Igniter, a more intensive course for those further along in developing their idea into an innovation that can make an impact. In the last fiscal year, D2P awarded $1.6 million to campus innovators to help them derisk the market for their ideas, enhance the patentability and licensability of inventions, and pursue commercialization of their technology.
Over the past three fiscal years, D2P has served 713 unique campus innovators and 361 innovation projects, with many working with D2P on a multi-year basis. D2P innovators are evenly distributed among faculty, research staff and postdocs, graduate students and undergraduates, including many graduate student- or postdoc-led teams working with faculty PIs, with affiliations from across campus, hailing from 17 schools, colleges and divisions and 105 departments, programs, centers and institutes. Innovation areas and teams are often cross-disciplinary, with fields ranging from healthcare and medical technology to agriculture, food, energy and cleantech, consumer products, apps, biotechnology, engineering, and manufacturing. Teams may also pursue social impact solutions and increasingly are weaving a social impact focus into technology and consumer product business ideas.
The pathway to success for research commercialization or startup formation can be unfamiliar to those whose expertise is in research in an academic setting. An integral part of D2P’s approach is the power of mentorship to guide campus innovators through this terrain.
D2P’s Innovation and Commercialization Mentors, who also lead the training programs, are veteran business developers, entrepreneurs, product managers, and startup executives who also have research backgrounds and understand the academic environment. D2P mentors support their teams through all stages, offering individualized coaching and guidance, from pre-incorporation through growth, and help them navigate the campus system and access the right resources—such as funding and training opportunities—at the right time.
“With a diverse knowledge base to draw on, D2P mentors offer a robust learning experience. Whether you are a faculty, student, or staff innovator, they provide the tools to assess your idea and navigate the best course for success,” said Brian Pogue, Professor and Chair, Department of Medical Physics.
Startups that have benefitted from D2P services include AIQ Solutions, Atrility Medical, AyrFlo, BrainXell, Cellular Logistics, ChloBis Water, EduReality, Geladen, Immuto Scientific, Last Lock, Pyran, SixLine Semiconductor, Stem Pharm, Voximetry and Yips Yogurt Chips. Many are now venture-backed, and D2P startups have raised more than $200M in follow-on funding, including federal grants and venture capital, after engagement with D2P.
D2P-mentored innovation teams have had strong showings in state startup competitions and federal grant and training programs in the last few years. D2P teams have won big at the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest (four of 12 winning teams in 2023, including grand prize winner SixLine Semiconductor), the Wisconsin Innovation Awards (Stem Pharm, Atrility Medical, OnLume), and the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce Pressure Chamber competition (Voximetry the 2022 winner, and AyrFlo a 2023 finalist).
Many D2P-mentored teams have received federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants, and the majority of all UW-Madison National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps Teams have participated in D2P training programs, mentoring, and/or received D2P grant funding. “When we participated in the NSF I-Corps program, D2P mentor Aimee Arnoldussen agreed to serve as our industry mentor. I don’t know where we would have been without Aimee. She continues to be a sounding board, and I know I can always count on her and D2P for support,” says Margaret Lumley, co-founder and CEO of ChloBis Water, Inc.
D2P also coordinates the UW Innovate Network, developing connections and synergy among 19 campus and affiliate entrepreneurship programs, creating a wrap-around support system for campus innovators. Their annual UW Innovate Week will be held September 26-29, 2023.