Over the past decade, as local entrepreneurs were shaping Madison’s startup community into what it is today, many of them read a 2012 book called “Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem” by Brad Feld. It provided a handbook for founders outside of places like Silicon Valley and Boston who wanted to drive innovation, create businesses and grow jobs at home.
As Feld laid bare the principles of a sustainable startup community, he argued that if major universities extended their entrepreneurship programs beyond their own business schools and tech transfer arms, they could play an integral role in a community’s startup ecosystem off campus — essentially, the Wisconsin Idea for startups.
The 2019 formation of the Innovate Network appears to be the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s latest attempt to do that.
The Innovate Network, coordinated by UW–Madison’s relatively new Discovery to Product, or D2P, program pulls together more than a dozen campus and campus-affiliated efforts. Some are obvious powerhouses, like the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, or WARF; University Research Park; the Law & Entrepreneurship Clinic; and the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship. Others may be lesser known, like Transcend UW, an entrepreneurial hub that is based in the School of Engineering and has one of the largest student-run innovation competitions in the country.