The best way to find out what the UW–Platteville Innovation Center is proposed to be is to ask Michael Gay, director of UWP’s Center for New Ventures.
Gay describes it as a “30,000-square-foot facility that desires to be a connection between the university and the business community that is a gateway for those relationships in many ways. It’s a center for innovation, a center for entrepreneurship, a place new ideas and new technologies will sprout from.”
William Hudson, dean of UW–Platteville’s College of Engineering, Mathematics and Science, describes it as “an opportunity to encourage new things. Our students have a tremendous advantage in that they have been exposed to new technologies. To give our students those opportunities is an exciting thing to do.”
A UW–Platteville news release describes the proposed center as “providing opportunities for applied research, innovation, technology transfer, consultation and entrepreneurship” in such areas as “music, new inventions, software, agriculture, art, medical devices and electronics.”
The $8 million project could have a considerable economic impact on Grant County and the Tri-States, through encouraging UW–Platteville faculty and students, area businesses and would-be entrepreneurs to develop new businesses, new products and new technologies.
“You’ve got intellectual property, but you also have the opportunity for people to be creative,” said Hudson. “If we can help them find ways to move forward on commercialization, it’s the next step to becoming economic drivers for the area.”
“They’re based on the core competencies of the area,” said Gay. “So this is economic gardening 101. Ours will be Wisconsin, Platteville, UW–Platteville, the Tri-State region-based.
“When the private sector tells you this is a beautiful thing, why didn’t you do this five to 10 years ago, that tells you we’re on to something.”
The innovation center will be open to all UWP faculty, academic staff and students. “It breaks down the silos that higher education is criticized for,” said Hudson. “It’s part of the evolution of education — if you look at higher education, we’re working at being more responsive; we’re working at more opportunities.
“Any student, any faculty member on campus can benefit based on what their interests are.”
The Innovation Center is also in keeping with UW System schools’ mandate to contribute to economic development.
“Now, the UW System, and particularly UW–Platteville, will have a major in economic development,” said Gay. “We are to do things that lead to companies, lead to intellectual property, lead to job creation, and we’re accountable on a semiannual and annual basis.”
“We are in a very enviable position because we have [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] mandates, and we have that capability right here on campus,” said Hudson. “So we have an opportunity to be innovators in education and at the same time we have the opportunity to help businesses become more competitive.”
A faculty meeting on the Innovation Center was held May 16. Gay, UW–Platteville Chancellor Dennis Shields and UW–Platteville Foundation Executive Director Dennis Cooley held a work session with the Platteville Common Council May 22.
The Innovation Center is expected to take two years to start. The first six to nine months will be spent raising capital and creating partnerships. Design and construction of the facility is expected to take place in the year before it opens.
“There are tons of things to come together in that time frame,” said Gay. “We’re open to partnerships, we’re open to donations, we’re writing grants.”
“We’re also trying to do things on campus right now,” said Hudson. “It’s a mindset we’re trying to cultivate. We’ve got to move quickly. Entrepreneurial opportunities, opportunities for businesses to collaborate with entrepreneurs, are just the sort of things we should be doing. The faster we are working out all of the details and bringing all our tools to the table and figuring out what works best, the faster this can happen.”
The university’s preference is for a downtown Platteville site, but, said Gay, “It will be integrated into the university wherever it goes.”