Startup culture gets new home at UWM

What is the major source of new jobs in a down economy? The statistics point to new and young companies.

To Milwaukee super-entrepreneur Sheldon Lubar, however, the optimal environment for job growth is one where anyone can think like a business owner. And he sees UW-Milwaukee as the place where students in every discipline are taught that skill.

“The ideal employee in big companies is also someone who thinks in terms of new things, weighing moves that involve risks but also involve building your company,” he said. “Motivating younger people to think like that could be and should be a game changer for the entire state. We wouldn’t be lagging in job creation if we had that kind of energy across Wisconsin.”

To support that vision, Lubar and his wife, Marianne, have given $10 million, matched by a University of Wisconsin System grant, to build the Lubar Center for Entrepreneurship at UW-Milwaukee, a campus facility where all students can join a community of “makers,” practice business skills, find mentors and learn innovative thinking.

The gift builds on UW-Milwaukee’s growing national reputation as a cultivator of idea generators, and student, faculty and alumni entrepreneurs.

The Lubar School of Business has led the way with interdisciplinary programs offered by the Bostrom Center for Business Competitiveness, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which focus on internships and graduate research. An explosion of “Ideas Challenge” courses serve as incubators of ingenuity as students develop mobile apps, write business plans or create prototypes of commissioned devices while earning academic credit. Contests such as the Student Startup Challenge and the La Macchia New Ventures Business Plan Competition, as well as student organizations and networking events are all aspects of the entrepreneurial ecosystem at UW-Milwaukee.

Such programs bring together students who can feed off each other’s ideas, said Lubar, and the center will be ground zero for them to percolate.

From its central campus location on the corner of East Kenwood Boulevard and Maryland Avenue, the center also will serve as a gateway to UW-Milwaukee, the first stop for prospective students and other visitors.

“We are excited that the first place prospective students visit will include the Lubar Center for Entrepreneurship,” Chancellor Mark A. Mone said. “The spirit of innovation will infuse and inspire their education here. For some, the goal will be bringing to market products and services. For others, it will be transforming lives in our region with social entrepreneurship.”

With the launch of two national innovation programs on campus, UW-Milwaukee’s startup culture continues to spread.

The University Innovation Fellows program began at Stanford University to train students to be “change agents” who spread entrepreneurship at their institutions. The I-Corps program, supported by the National Science Foundation and administered in Milwaukee by UW-Milwaukee, guides faculty and graduate students at area universities through the process of deciding whether an idea born through academic research could yield a profitable startup.