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January 20, 2015

University-Community Partnership Creates Ideal Entrepreneurial Environment in the City of Whitewater

Q&A with Ronald “Bud” Gayhart, Whitewater University Technology Park Board Member, Director of the Wisconsin Innovation Service Center and Small Business Development Center at UW-Whitewater, and MadREP I&E Committee Member 

Photo of Innovation Center by Craig Schreiner
Q: How did UW-Whitewater and the City of Whitewater decide to launch the Whitewater University Technology Park Innovation Center? 

A: The project was designed to attract professional and technology businesses to the city and to foster development of new business-based research conducted by University of Wisconsin-Whitewater faculty and staff and their business partners.
The city, University, Whitewater Community Development Authority and other founding partners knew that the Whitewater University Technology Park Innovation Center would have a positive impact on the future economic growth of southeastern Wisconsin. It was seen as an exciting opportunity for students, faculty and staff members at UW-Whitewater to connect with the community and generate ideas that can translate into new companies and jobs.

The Innovation Center is one, highly visible example of UW-Whitewater’s commitment to community and economic development. The University is known for its deep involvement in the region. In fact, it was just announced that the Carnegie Foundation bestowed UW-Whitewater with the 2015 Community Engagement Classification, a prestigious national designation held by only 361 colleges and universities in the United States.

Q: What makes the Whitewater University Technology Park Innovation Center such an asset to the region?

A: The 37,000 square foot building, located on the city's east side in the Whitewater University Technology Park, opened May 2011 and has become a leading hub of innovation, entrepreneurship and business growth. The building features all the technology you would expect—wireless Internet, broadband, VoIP telephone, and a state-of-the-art IT infrastructure supported by UW-Whitewater professionals. An outstanding achievement, the Innovation Center has received accolades from the U.S. Green Building Council, Build Wisconsin, and the International Economic Development Council for its sustainability features. Beyond that, the architects and builders created an appealing space to work in.

Q: But it’s about more than the building, right?

A: Absolutely. As a tenant, entrepreneurs gain access to UW-Whitewater’s knowledge base, academic resources, and student interns. There are also the kinds of synergistic opportunities that arise when a group of talented, high-achieving innovators occupy shared spaces. For example, we see a company like iButtonLink who has been a private tenant for just over a year regularly engaging UW-Whitewater students, faculty and staff members in its business operations. And now we are starting to see the beginning of a cluster of sensory technology-related companies attracted to the Innovation Center to have the opportunity to work in close proximity to one another and benefit from that association.

Q: How does the Center support business incubation?

A: The University runs Innovation Hub, “iHub” business incubation services. The iHub program provides coaching, mentoring, and support services to businesses linked to the Innovation Center. For example, UW-Whitewater faculty experts and students assist with growth opportunities, business plans, and marketing and branding.

Q: So how successful has the Innovation Center been as a business incubator? Can you name some of the successful businesses launched at the Innovation Center?
A: Sure. There have been several great examples I could talk about, but I will pick a few that come to mind. There’s MobCraft Beer for one, a company that most people in the Madison Region have heard of because they successfully utilized the new state law enabling crowdfunding and they won the Governor’s Business Plan contest. Another is Scanalytics Inc, a sensor-based technology company also co-founded by a former UW-Whitewater student, Joe Scanlin. A third that comes to mind is UW-Whitewater graduate Andrew Hoeft’s company Pinpoint Software, Inc. Hoeft’s company has created Date Check Pro expiration date management software for grocery stores and other software solutions. These companies all benefited from being at the Innovation Center and from the business outreach capabilities of UW-Whitewater.

Q: Are there public resources or events that people throughout the Madison Region might want to learn about? 

A: When you look at the regularly held events at the Innovation Center, you have the Elements for Success seminar series. Elements for Success seminars feature experts on areas of interest to business owners and entrepreneurs. Topics range from start-up basics to protecting intellectual property to listening to successful entrepreneurs share their story of success. Every event offers invaluable opportunities to connect with regional entrepreneurs, business owners, and business resource providers. These events are free and open to the public. An event calendar is available on the Technology Park website at this link.

Q: What should an entrepreneur do if they want to learn more about the Whitewater University Technology Park Innovation Center and UW-Whitewater business assistance?

A: I encourage entrepreneurs and small business owners to learn more about Innovation Center programs and offerings by visiting the Whitewater University Technology Park website at whitewatertechpark.org and by contacting Mark Johnson, Interim Director, at 262-472-5290.

The SBDC programs serve the public throughout the state. To learn more about no-cost professional business consulting through the SBDC, I invite business owners to visit the program website at wisconsinsbdc.org and search for a center near them or call our UW-Whitewater office at (262) 472-3217. The Wisconsin Innovation Service Center provides market research for more informed business and new product development decisions. Call (262) 472-1365 or go online to wisconsinsbdc.org/wisc for more information.

The UW-Whitewater College of Business and Economics serves businesses in the region through a variety of outreach centers offering faculty and professional staff expertise and employing student interns. Those interested in learning more should call Denise Ehlen, Business Outreach Services Director at 262-472-1956 or email ehlend@uww.edu.

For more information on the Whitewater Technology Park Innovation Center, visit: http://www.whitewatertechpark.org/.