Since its formation in 2015, the Lubar Entrepreneurship Center has built on UWM’s existing strengths and programming by providing entrepreneurial resources for UWM’s community and the greater Milwaukee region. That collaboration will be enhanced by its new two-story campus facility at the corner of Kenwood Boulevard and Maryland Avenue.
The 24,000-square-foot center, scheduled to open in the spring of 2019, will feature classrooms for courses and workshops, gathering spots for speakers, and labs for prototyping products and software. Center programming will make entrepreneurship an integral part of the UWM experience for all students and faculty members, and it will enhance Milwaukee’s growing entrepreneurial network.
The new facility was made possible by an initial $10 million donation from Lubar & Co. founder Sheldon Lubar and his wife, Marianne. The UW System contributed $10 million to cover construction costs. More than $5 million in additional support has come from other donors, including the Kelben Foundation, established by Mary and Ted Kellner; Milwaukee entrepreneur Jerry Jendusa; Avi Shaked; Babs Waldman; and We Energies. Brian Thompson, director of the Lubar Entrepreneurship Center and president of the UWM Research Foundation, shares more about the center and its new facility in this Q&A.
What is the Lubar Entrepreneurship Center, and how does it help students?
The center fosters entrepreneurship at UWM and in the community by teaching students how to develop their creative ideas and entrepreneurial skills. They learn to identify opportunities – either commercial or in the nonprofit sector. They test, refine and retest their ideas. They learn to talk to potential customers and adapt to customer needs. These skills will help make them more successful – whether they are studying engineering, art or nursing – and more valuable to the companies where they’ll work.
So no need to start a business to benefit from the center’s programs?
No. I mean, it’s great if you do, but anyone in any field can benefit from this type of training. We’re really teaching people how to think.
How will opening a new facility this year enhance what you do?
We’ve been holding workshops and programs in buildings all over campus – and in the community – for years. That won’t stop. But the new building will provide a focal point for entrepreneurship at UWM and enhance what we’re doing.
How did the center get started?
UWM has been developing innovation and entrepreneurship programs for many years – including strong courses in the Lubar School of Business. We had the UWM Student Startup Challenge, where students learn by doing – in this case, by trying to turn an idea into a product or service. But the Lubar family – Sheldon, Marianne and their son, David – really catalyzed our efforts to grow entrepreneurship at UWM. They have a long history of growing businesses and deep connections in Milwaukee. They’ve been instrumental in shaping the direction for this initiative, and they’ve been joined by other supporters who believe in what we’re doing.
Why is there such an emphasis on entrepreneurship at UWM?
It’s important for our students. They’re going to work in a rapidly changing world. They need to understand their chosen disciplines, but they also need these other skills to be successful – not just now, but in the decades to come. They need to know how to adapt and change. It’s also important to our state and region. Areas with thriving innovation economies have strong, engaged research universities at their center. In southeastern Wisconsin, that’s UWM.
Do you only work with UWM students and faculty?
No. The Lubar Entrepreneurship Center is growing an entrepreneurial network. Of course, we’re focused on UWM students and faculty, but entrepreneurs help each other, and we believe in that ethos. Everyone benefits from the exchange of ideas. And UWM is the host for the National Science Foundation’s Milwaukee I-Corps program, which trains research teams from many universities to commercialize their discoveries. Again, we’re building that entrepreneurial network to benefit our region.
How do you want to see the center’s mission grow in the next five years?
Our fall programming had thousands of student contacts, but I’d like to see the day when entrepreneurship is part of every UWM student’s experience. With 27,000, that’s no small challenge, but we are aiming high.