Starting a business is not the usual course of action for a budding doctor, pharmacist or scientist.
But a UW-Madison program is trying to change that.
Nearly 70 graduate students attended the weeklong Wisconsin Entrepreneurship Bootcamp at Grainger Hall last week, setting aside academics to learn the basics of the business world.
"We're trying to teach creativity, generating ideas, and different applications for their research," said Dan Olszewski, director of the UW School of Business' Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship.
Gabe Segal, a master's degree candidate in industrial engineering from Minneapolis, said he "had the entrepreneurial spirit as far back as I can remember but I lacked the ability to execute."
He said the program taught him about patent and trademark law, and gave him a chance to meet "brilliant" people in other fields.
"When I do have the million-dollar — hopefully, billion-dollar — idea, I'll know what to do with it," Segal said.
In sessions last Sunday through Friday, students often spent 12-hour days learning techniques such as team building, fundraising and market research.
Industry experts John Morgridge, former chairman and chief executive of Cisco Systems, and G. Steven Burrill, chief executive of Burrill & Co., were among the instructors. Students also toured Electronic Theatre Controls, the privately owned Middleton company that makes entertainment and architectural lighting systems used worldwide.
Chris Meyer attended the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp three years ago as a mechanical engineering graduate student. Today, he runs Sector67, 2100 Winnebago St., a "hacker space" where members can use equipment, share ideas, and make a wide variety of things, ranging from software programs to race cars to pottery.
Meyer was a luncheon speaker at the program last week and showed the students a list of UW business competitions he entered as a student. He never won top prize, but several second- and third-place finishes awarded Meyer enough money to start the nonprofit Sector67.
"Don't expect to go in and fly out of (a contest) with 10 grand in your pocket. That said, you'll learn a lot (by entering)," Meyer told the group.
Sector67 has hosted collaborative entrepreneurial events such as Build Madison and Startup Weekend Madison. Beyond that, Meyer said one member, Eric Ronning, won the UW's 2012 Schoofs Prize for Creativity for the prosthetic hand he developed using Sector67's 3D printer, a programmable plastic molding device.
Another member, Alisa Toninato, fashioned cast-iron skillets in the shapes of U.S. states and was featured in April on Martha Stewart's TV show. She started a company, FeLion Studios, and raised $6,000 on Kickstarter, a website used to fund creative projects.
"You don't necessarily have to dive into things thinking you're going to make a lot of money. You can go into things thinking, 'This is going to be cool,' and then figure out the business later," Meyer said.
Olszewski said concepts that students learn through the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp may not prompt them to start a business today, but will give them guidance as their career develops.
Erin Shanle, of Springfield, Ill., who is working on a doctorate in molecular and environmental toxicology focusing on breast cancer research, said the sessions helped her "learn the lingo" for starting a company and what it takes to transition from the research lab to the management offices.
"Often, in the academic environment, you don't get exposed to the jargon, the thought process (of entrepreneurship). This provides a window," Shanle said.
Kalispell, Mont., native Ramsey Kropp said he is "an engineer and scientist by training but a problem solver from birth." A doctoral candidate in environmental chemistry and technology, Kropp said he wants to learn business tools so he can use them for humanitarian purposes.
One student was a teacher — biochemistry professor Aseem Ansari. He said some of his students took the course and he was intrigued to learn: "What is the magic sauce?" Ansari said it was his first time on that side of a classroom in 10 years and called the experience "absolutely amazing."
"I can see what you might have to think about in order to become an entrepreneur," Ansari said.
The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp is a free, non-credit program funded by John and Tashia Morgridge and the UW School of Business and open to graduate students campuswide. This year, 152 students applied, a record number, Olszewski said. It was the sixth year the program was offered and is a joint project of the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship and the cross-campus INSITE, or Initiative for Studies in Transformational Entrepreneurship.
UW-Madison promotes entrepreneurship
The one-week Wisconsin Entrepreneurship Bootcamp is one of several programs at UW-Madison designed to get students to think about starting companies. Others include:
- The G. Steven Burrill Business Plan Competition, giving students a chance to compete for cash, including the $10,000 grand prize.
- The Entrepreneurial Residential Learning Community, a dormitory area aimed at students interested in becoming entrepreneurs.
- Certificates in entrepreneurship for graduate and undergraduate students who are not in the School of Business.
- Weinert Applied Ventures program, for graduate students from all majors on campus to develop detailed venture plans and seek funding through a special investment fund.