By Tom Still

MADISON – Columnists often play recurring melodies. Just
following up on a few of my own tunes…

On Wisconsin’s
startup climate
: A prime example of why business rankings can depend on
what’s being measured – and how – comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor
Statistics. The agency’s Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages noted that
Wisconsin stood 35th among the 50 states in jobs created between
2010 and 2014, a relatively lackluster standing.

That same census revealed Wisconsin ranked a healthy 10th
among the states in new business establishments, which is another economic
vital sign. That reflected 9,463 new businesses created between 2010 and 2014.
Because the federal numbers capture 98 percent of all U.S. companies and jobs,
it offers a balance to the Kauffman Foundation’s latest Index of Startup Activity,
which placed the state dead last in its 50-state rankings for 2014. Is
Wisconsin 10th or 50th? Probably somewhere in between.

Read this commentary in the Wisconsin State Journal here.

On campus innovation:
The WiSys Technology Foundation, which handles invention disclosures for all
University of Wisconsin campuses outside Madison and Milwaukee, is reporting a
record number of invention “disclosures” by faculty and students. There were 56
disclosures this fiscal year, the highest total in 10 years. Disclosure are
ideas that can lead to new products, services and startups.

Most encouraging is that 23 disclosures were made by
first-time campus inventors and 12 came from students. It’s the latest sign
that campuses outside Wisconsin’s “Big Two” also produce ideas that can create
economic growth – often close to home. Wisconsin legislators, please take

On the fight against
Madison-based Exact Sciences is known for its non-invasive test to
screen for colon cancer. As noted in a recent column, the company is also
developing a lung cancer detection test in partnership with the University of
Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Speaking at the June 23 Wisconsin Innovation Network
meeting, Exact Sciences chief executive officer Kevin Conroy said the goal is
to produce a test to detect lung cancer in stage one – when it’s curable for
most patients – versus stage four, when it’s usually fatal.

Smokers run the greatest risk of developing lung cancer, but
they’re not alone. While 85 percent of the 158,000 people who will die of lung
cancer this year are smokers or former smokers, Conroy said, 15 percent have
never smoked. In fact, if lung cancer in non-smokers had its own category, it
would rank among the top 10 fatal cancers in the United States. 

On the global
Speaking during the same WIN meeting, Switzerland’s ambassador to
the United States described a few of the parallels between the Swiss and
Wisconsin economies. Engineered products, electro-medical equipment, chemicals
and biotechnology are shared sectors, but Switzerland is home to some of the
world’s largest pharmaceutical companies.

Over time, Roche has acquired Wisconsin companies and firms
such as Fitchburg-based Promega have opened branches in Switzerland.

Food and beverage trivia: The Swiss eat more cheese per
capita than people in Wisconsin, but drink half as much beer. That might
explain a thing or two about Swiss productivity rates… 

On building a workforce:
Ambassador Martin Dahinden also described the Swiss apprenticeship system,
which offers young people flexible, hands-on alternatives to college.

The Swiss vocational education model pays students as they
learn. It is credited with producing skilled, ready-to-work employees in
Switzerland, and for reducing youth unemployment to the lowest level of all
developed countries.

The Swiss system prepares a cross-section of students for a range
of occupations, including information technology, advanced manufacturing and
health care, in addition to traditional trades and crafts. Two-thirds of
students age 16 choose the path of an apprenticeship to start their career.
After graduating, they can pursue higher degrees at Swiss universities.

Dahinden’s son is currently working as an apprentice, he
noted. Switzerland and the United States will sign a Joint Declaration of
Intent in July regarding the exchange of policy information and best practices
in vocational education and training.

On cybersecurity:
The first Digital Privacy and Security Summit, to be held Monday in Waukesha,
will help businesses learn how to guard against cyberattacks – and what to do
if it happens. Speakers include Steve Baker, Midwest director of the Federal
Trade Commission; Glenn Schoen, an Amsterdam-based corporate security expert;
Alexi Madon, the Midwest director of state government affairs for CompTIA, a
major tech-based trade association; and others versed in law, cyber liability
and forensic accounting. Sound geeky? It’s supposed to because it is. Learn
more at