Teaching innovation, UWM style

    They came from a wide range of fields, from physical therapy to information studies.

    They came with ideas for products, like a mobile app for managing coupons and a quick, affordable method of detecting bac­teria in water. But most of all, they came hungry to start their own businesses.

    They are the newest winners of the Student Startup Challenge (SSC) at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), in which students and recent alums com­pete for financial backing and mentoring to launch a business on the strength of an original product idea.

    The SSC, which is unique to UWM, is bringing out the entrepreneur in students by launching new ways of tapping the commercial potential of the rich ideas that present themselves in the course of earn­ing a degree. The intent is to help students turn their most promising concept into their own business in one year’s time.

    “With more money behind it, more students applying and more partners sup­porting it, it’s no wonder submissions to this year’s Student Startup Challenge were so impressive,” says Ilya Avdeev, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and founder of the SSC.

    For Alex Francis, it was research experi­ence and a course that led him to apply to the competition. In the course, student teams developed a business plan for a par­ticular sponsor’s product idea.

    That’s how Francis met Jorg Woehl, UWM associate professor of chemistry, who had created an electrostatic trap – E-Trap – that confines a single nanoscale particle so it can be analyzed through a microscope.

    “I was very interested in the technol­ogy,” says Francis, a mechanical engineer­ing graduate student. “So I thought it would be a great opportunity to develop a prototype. With Dr. Woehl’s patent on the technology, it could easily evolve into a new company, supplying academic and industry institutions with a quality research tool.”

    While three teams were named win­ners in the inaugural contest last year, that number ballooned to eight teams this year, chosen from a pool of 60 total ideas.

    The expansion is the result of more than just momentum, says Chancellor Michael R. Lovell.

    “We’ve tied SSC to the curriculum,” he says, “so now, we’re not just touching the 20 or so students involved in the competi­tion. We’re also touching all the students enrolled in those courses too.”

    The SSC was founded around prod­uct development courses in the College of Engineering & Applied Science, Peck School of the Arts, and the UWM Research Foundation, but has spread to include the School of Information Studies and may include the School of Freshwater Sciences next year.

    In addition to E-Trap, the winning products include: Affordable and portable camera mounting systems; equipment and software that improves data collection on lower back pain; a space-themed learning game for children; a mobile app for man­aging coupons; an affordable hand-held sensor for speedy detection of bacteria in drinking water; a better method of regis­tering for college courses; and an app that will facilitate business interaction in devel­oping nations.

    UWM receives more than $11 million to stimulate economy

    How does a region grow new jobs and provide the skilled workforce to fill them? It could attract business from other places, offer intriguing new ideas for startup companies or join hands with existing industry to improve the bottom line.

    The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) has garnered significant state support for four research and training projects that are expected to be a catalyst for all these aims.

    The projects are backed by one-time funding, called the Economic Development Incentive Grants, a total of $22.5 million parceled out in the next two years by the UW System for projects that link System cam­puses with industry.

    UWM is sharing in more than half of the available funds to bolster projects in freshwa­ter technologies, chemistry and nursing.

    A research and training center for aquaculture and aquaponics
    The $2.4 million grant provides the neces­sary ingredients to launch urban aquaculture as an industry, and position Southeastern Wisconsin as the primary source of technology, expertise and workforce training to support production. Partner: UW-Whitewater

    A water technology accelerator
    Speeding new companies and ideas to the marketplace is central to the water technology accelerator, a $3 million project. Working with UW-Whitewater, researchers will develop a port­folio of intellectual property aimed at increasing Milwaukee’s share of a market worth billions. Partners: the Milwaukee Water Council, Global Water Center and eight private industries

    The Southeast Wisconsin Applied Chemistry Center of Excellence
    To stimulate partnerships with business, the $3 million center will offer an on-campus lab housing analytical chemistry instrumenta­tion that has a wide variety of applications, such as those in drug discovery, the food and beverage industries and manufacturing. Part­ner: UW-Parkside

    The Nurses for Wisconsin Initiative
    To provide the additional nurses that will be needed as Baby Boomers age, this initia­tive aims to increase the number of doctoral-level nursing faculty in order to admit more students to college nursing programs. The $3.2 million grant also includes UW-Eau Claire, UW-Madison and UW-La Crosse.

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