Every summer, about 60 graduate students with diverse backgrounds and interests come together at the UW-Madison School of Business for a week of intensive schooling about what it takes to start a tech-based company.
At the Wisconsin Entrepreneurial Bootcamp, they learn such skills as how to assess product concepts, seek funding and understand accounting.
The program started in 2007, well before there were business accelerator programs such as gener8tor or Madworks, both of which launched in the past five years, and it has helped several dozen young companies get off the ground.
The Bootcamp was the brainchild of John Morgridge, a Wisconsin School of Business graduate, chairman emeritus of Cisco Systems, and one of the UW-Madison's most prolific donors.
On Thursday, as the latest bootcamp class held its community dinner, program leaders and alumni announced a new gift to honor Morgridge -- an endowment named for Morgridge that will permanently fund the program, whose name will become the Morgridge Entrepreneurial Bootcamp.
"John's passion for giving UW students the entrepreneurial skills they need to bring ideas to life and his commitment to this entrepreneurship program are really inspiring," said Dan Olszewski, program co-founder and director of the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship at the School of Business.
Since the Wisconsin Entrepreneurial Bootcamp began, more than 650 students have gone through the program. Its graduates have started about 40 businesses -- such as health IT company Healthfinch; fertility testing startup bluDiagnostics; and maker space Sector67, all in Madison -- and they have raised more than $21 million from investors.
Other participants have gone on to work for Wisconsin companies that include GE Healthcare, Covance, Cummins Engines and Cellular Dynamics International.
Morgridge has sponsored the bootcamp program, encouraged faculty and industry leaders to participate and has even been involved in instruction.
"Every year, the students always love John. He has good stories to tell about what he's learned" -- not just the successes but also the challenges he's had to overcome, said Chris Meyer, Sector67 founder.
Meyer has participated in the Madison bootcamp and one in the Netherlands, arranged through the UW.
"Students I ran across had not even considered entrepreneurship as an option," Meyer said. "Their plan was to go to school and then work for a large company."
For Meyer, the program gave him the confidence to jump into the business world. "I realized this business stuff was not as hard as I thought it was, not as scary as I thought," he said.
Supporters plan to raise $1.5 million for the permanent endowment. Boosted by an initial commitment of $350,000 from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, nearly 50 donors have contributed funds, for a total of $1.45 million, so far. Gifts range in size from $100 to $150,000, School of Business spokesman Peter Kerwin said.
Among their donations to the University of Wisconsin, Morgridge and his wife, Tashia, also a UW alumna, made the largest gift the UW has ever received, pledging nearly $125 million in 2014-2015 to match other contributions to a fund slated for faculty retention.