UW-Madison Chancellor Becky Blank spoke Tuesday
to the board of directors of the Wisconsin Technology Council. Here is a text
of her prepared remarks:
… I want to talk today about the opportunities
for collaboration between the University and the organizations (both private
and public) that are represented in this room. But, since there are many of you
I am just meeting, let me say a word about my own background. I am an
Much of my life has been spent around universities, but not all of
it. Before I came to UW-Madison, I spent
four years in the U.S. Department of Commerce, and served as the Acting
Secretary of Commerce for almost a year and a half. I’ve served as a senior
economic advisor to presidents in both parties and I’ve spent a lot of time
thinking about American competitiveness and how we generate economic growth.
It’s clear that there are two big things that
really matter if the U. S. is going to stay at the front end of the global
economy: (1) we need a skilled and
nimble workforce; and (2) we need to stay on the cutting edge of innovation and
new technology. Research universities do
both of those things – and the big public universities are particularly
critical because we educate so many of America’s college students and conduct
so much of the research.
One of the primary reasons why I’m here as
Chancellor in Madison is that I deeply believe that our big public universities
are crucial to the long-term economic competitiveness of this country. We need big public universities like
UW-Madison to not just survive, but to thrive.
In my role at Commerce, I visited
cities and states that had been successful in attracting new investment and
growing their economies. In every one of
those places, their success grew out of a three-way partnership between the
public sector, the business community, and educational institutions. There was also a major research institution –
usually a public research university – close by and very involved with the
economic development agenda.
Of course, the Tech Council is directly
involved in this three-way partnership.
In 2001 when the Tech Council was created, a
lot of the emphasis was on biotechnology, and the board’s vocal support of stem
cell research over the years has been very important – so thank you for that. More
recently we have seen the opportunities for us to work together expand into
many other high-tech fields: Medical devices and medical imaging, clean energy,
engineering and high-tech manufacturing, software and cyber security, just to
name a few.
One program we have started on campus to help
bring the ideas developed here at the University out into commercializable
products is D2P or Discovery to Product. This initiative that is a close
partnership between the campus and WARF – is specifically aimed at bringing our
research and innovation to market.
D2P funded 15 projects in its
first year. Eight of the 15 are on track for start-up formation this year, and
another 2 are on track for licensing by early 2016.
D2P’s first call for proposals brought in 170
proposals from all across campus. And
I’m delighted to announce that funding has been identified that will allow us
to support a second round of grants that will fund an additional 15 projects.
That call for proposals will be issued soon.
If we see a similar rate of success with this
group – 6-10 successful spin-offs – that will be an extraordinary rate of
return on the state’s $2.4 million investment in D2P. One of the reasons D2P has been able to run a
very lean operation is the collaboration with WARF’s Accelerator Project. Many of you know that Accelerator works with
a team of experts called Catalysts to help bring new technologies to
D2P and Accelerator are natural partners, and I am happy to tell
you they just launched their first joint project and are building a model for
You will also be interested to know that there were more than 350
inventions competing for the new WARF Innovation Awards. This competition grants
cash awards to inventions with exceptional commercial potential to help them
move their idea forward.
This year, the winners tackled problems that affect big
industries. One addressed a problem that threatens poultry. As antibiotics and
other drugs are being phased out of chicken feed, this puts chickens at risk of
common parasitic infections that can hurt poultry production. UW researchers
have found an antibody that strengthens the birds’ immune system and costs
about half what the drugs had cost. The
estimated market potential of the invention is up to $500 million per year. The
other winning project is a new electric motor design that could be used in wind
turbines, hybrid cars and generators – in all, a $73 billion market.
We are also strengthening our ability to bring ideas to market by
introducing more of our students to entrepreneurship. We have introduced an
entrepreneurship certificate program for students outside the business school.
Any student can learn and experience the fundamentals of taking an idea to
market. A record-breaking 400 students enrolled in 2014. Whether they are
Engineering students or art history majors, they are gaining familiarity and
experience with starting a business.
Not only are we generating new ideas and potential new startups
and entrepreneurs at UW, we’re also working closely with existing companies
here in Wisconsin.
Last September, (Tech Council President Tom Still) invited me to speak to the
Wisconsin Innovation Network meeting in Wauwatosa, at which I talked about some
of the results that have come from the long-standing collaboration between GE Healthcare
and the university.
Since it began,
the collaboration between UW and GE has involved more than 80 research projects
that have resulted in nearly 200 invention disclosures, more than 80 patents filed,
and numerous technology-licensing agreements.
collaboration is generating lots of excitement. It began in 2012 with the
announcement that GE Healthcare would invest $32.9 million in a
state-of-the-art imaging research center on the UW–Madison campus. The
School of Medicine and Public Health operates the center, which serves as a resource
for the entire university. This new center has already accelerated
economic development related to medical imaging throughout the state, with new
products for GE, and spinoff companies like Cellectar (Select are, Neuwave,
Healthmyne, and Marvel Medtech also utilizing research arising from the center.
The GE Facility in Wauwatosa, of course, was home to a very exciting
Tech Council initiative – The Wisconsin Tech Summit. Congratulations on this
tremendous success, which brought over 50 start-up firms together with 16 major
Wisconsin companies. Creating this kind of opportunity leads to unexpected and
productive collaborations. We see this again and again when we bring together,
as Tom Still put it, different orbits.
The industry partnerships that we have
built at UW grow and change over time.
UW-Madison’s relationships with Harley-Davidson and Rockwell Automation,
for example, have taken many forms over the years. We are also seeing
exciting new fields open up through the work being done at UW’s Wisconsin
Energy Institute in collaboration with Johnson Controls.
The work of some of our faculty, particularly in computer science,
in the area of cyber security is opening up new opportunities in this critical
field. In fact, our scientists at UW-Madison and
the Morgridge Institute for Research are working to advance the security of
software that controls an important infrastructure, ranging from the national
power grid to medical devices. Their efforts involve researchers at two other
universities and have drawn more than $23 million in funding from the U.S.
Department of Homeland Security. This project is based here on campus, at the
Wisconsin Institute of Discovery.
Efforts such as these depend on having a top
group of faculty, who are not only on the cutting edge of research, but who are
also nimble in their ability to take on new projects and solicit grant funding.
It takes a big, thriving public research institution to be the engine that
makes this happen – to not only push forward new ideas, but to prepare a
Which leads me to say a word about
how UW-Madison is supported and what our research means for the state.
Let me start with our research. Our
research draws federal funding and other sources of funding to the state.
research dollars are our largest funding stream, providing almost one-third of
our revenue. Those dollars are
competitively awarded and come to Wisconsin because UW-Madison has such an
outstanding group of scholars and scientists on its faculty.
second-largest funding source is individual and foundation gift dollars. Like
all universities, both public and private, we are increasingly reliant on our
friends and alumni for gifts that help us maintain our excellence. About 17 percent of our budget comes from
private and foundation gifts and grants, which we use to leverage other dollars
in ways that have multiplier effects.
The final two
funding streams are tuition, which makes up about 17% of the budget and state
dollars, which also make up another 17%.
For us to reach for federal funding and research grants, and for
us to make a strong appeal to our private donors, we need to maintain our level
of state support.
UW-Madison absorbed $23 million in cuts from the state in 2013, which
is about 4.5% of our state funding. We were ordered by the Legislature to fill
this hole by spending down our reserves.
I have done that, and now have what I consider a dangerously low level
of uncommitted reserves at this very large and complex organization known as
the University of Wisconsin.
We are about to
see a budget proposal from the Governor, as you know, and it will be
particularly important for us at UW-Madison, given that we received substantial
cuts in the budget two years ago. It is becoming an increasing concern that the
university will be handed additional cuts in the next state budget. If that’s the case, we will have no choice
but to make substantial cuts to our educational programs.
In fact, we are facing historic budget challenges. This is the first time we may face a simultaneous large budget cut while
the state is also insisting on a tuition freeze for Wisconsin residents. While I understand the need to keep the cost
of education affordable for Wisconsin students, this really limits my ability
to cope with any additional budget cuts.
challenge is making sure that UW-Madison has the financial base it needs to
retain its excellence and keep contributing to the growth of the Wisconsin
economy. I’m working on that on all
fronts – building legislative support, thinking creatively about tuition
dollars, continuing to compete strongly for research support, and talking with
our alumni and donors about how they can help.
team and I are working on cost-control as well.
UW has a lower share of administrative costs than most of its peer
schools, but we can always find new ways to operate more efficiently and
Like all of the big public institutions, we
have our challenges. But our tradition
of educational excellence and life-changing research … the tradition that
brought the world Vitamin D, weather satellite technology, hardier food crops,
better cattle, treatments for all sorts of diseases, and the discovery of stem
cells … that tradition continues to grow strong. I am committed to keeping it that way.
of Wisconsin can remain among the nation’s top universities. But I need partners in this effort, including
those willing to advocate on our behalf.
forward to finding new and creative ways to work together in the years ahead,
and would welcome your ideas as well as your criticisms. We need to expand our partnerships across the
state, to help make Wisconsin a place where business and industry thrive
through research, innovation and bold collaboration.
Thank you, and I’ll be happy to take your