Business & Entrepreneurship

What’s the Big Idea?

Innovate Week helps entrepreneurs turn dreams into world-changing businesses.

Tables and signs set up in the main lobby area of the Discovery Building as groups of people converse

Last fall’s event offered a hopeful vision of the future. Bryce Richter

What’s the matter with kids today? Nothing whatsoever, to judge from an event called “Entrepreneurons.” As part of the two-year-old Innovate Week, four poised, personable young alumni gathered in the Discovery Building last October to talk about the ingenious businesses they founded as students. All paid tribute to UW–Madison’s spirit of entrepreneurship, which was on full display throughout Innovate Week’s panels, workshops, talks, and resource fair. These events offered a hopeful vision of the future, with faculty, staff, and students collaborating to solve the world’s problems.

Sometimes with chocolate.

At “Entrepreneurons,” Kit Chow ’21 told the origin story of Boosted Chews, a line of caffeinated chocolate treats. Joel Baraka ’22 explained his emotional connection to My Home Stars, which provides educational games for students in Ugandan refugee camps. And Max Fergus ’18 described LÜM, his platform for undiscovered musicians.

Keerthana Sreenivasan ’20, MS’22 was inspired by the idea of carbon capture in a UW class and, with help from UW mentors, began work on a project called Earth RepAIR.

Sreenivasan compared the process of finding a mentor to online dating. “You’re swiping yes or no, and then you click with this potential mentor on the first meeting,” she said. “There’s meaningful conversation, and you discover a mutual passion for a topic.”

Mentorship is a key element of UW–Madison’s Discovery to Product (D2P), which sponsors Innovate Week. D2P is a free resource for those yearning to bring visionary ideas to the marketplace. The mentors on staff have wide-ranging experience, from business to science to health care. They’re ready to help UW entrepreneurs turn a promising notion into a real-life product or service.

“People tell us, ‘I don’t know where to start,’ ” says D2P’s Mary Carbine ’86, MA’88, who coordinates the UW Innovate Network. “We can give them practical tools and help them make connections.”

D2P director Andrew Richards ’90, MPA’92 calls it the Wisconsin Idea in action. “We’re tapping UW talent to solve problems in a way that touches people’s everyday lives,” he says.

The Wisconsin Idea was much in evidence at Innovate Week’s resource fair, held in the Discovery Building’s airy atrium. At a booth for the Design + Innovation master’s program, Ellen Vandewater MSx’23 neatly encapsulated the idealism of today’s students: “I look forward to doing something that will truly help people.”

Published in the Spring 2023 issue


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