Should $1.7 Billion In Research Funds Produce More Marketable Ideas & Goods?

Oct 17, 2018

About $1.7 billion is spent on academic research every year in Wisconsin, with the funding coming from a mix of government agencies and private investors. Some people who follow the money say more could be done with it. 

UW-Madison gets about $1.1 billion. The Medical College of Wisconsin receives about $300 million. Most of the rest goes to UW-Milwaukee and Marquette University.

State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) is co-chair of the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee. Darling says a lot of the research turns into patents, but not enough goes on to the commercial marketplace.

"We have to make better connections. We have to have better help for the start-ups, better coordination between the public sector and the private sector, and the entrepreneurial sector — and we have to measure it," she said. 

(Left to right) UW-Milwaukee professor Deyang Qu, Propagate Health CEO Laura Strong and state Sen. Alberta Darling listen to a question at last Friday's forum at the UW-Milwaukee Innovation Accelerator building
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

Laura Strong is the CEO of Propagate Health, a health care innovation firm in the Madison area. She says one of the challenges is matching great researchers with talented business managers.

"Sometimes you'll hear that there are not enough good people on one side of that equation or the other. There's not enough good business people, or there's not enough scientists or technologists that are focused on the right kind of problems. I think there's probably enough of both. I think we need to increase the rate of collision between those two groups,” Strong said.

She acknowledges that some researchers don't want or like funders telling them what to do. But she urges some leeway in those relationships.  

Strong, Darling and Tom Still of the Wisconsin Technology Council were among the speakers last Friday at a forum in Wauwatosa organized by WisPolitics.com. 

Still says the push for more discovery-to-market innovation comes as some scientists at public sector universities argue budget limits or cuts are hampering their work.

"I think there has to be re-investment in the research facilities themselves — around different campuses in Wisconsin. It's starting to become kind of an aging infrastructure," he said. "And, to get top talent, you've got to have the right facilities to have them do their work."

The University of Wisconsin Board of Regents is also recommending some additional spending. The topic may be well-debated during next spring's deliberations over the state budget.

Support is provided by Dr. Lawrence and Mrs. Hannah Goodman for Innovation reporting.

Do you have a question about innovation in Wisconsin that you'd like WUWM's Chuck Quirmbach to explore? Submit it below.

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