Guest Columns

Industry Innovation

Changing paradigm in the role of universities

John Lucey

John Lucey is director of the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He contributes this column exclusively for Cheese Market News®.

It’s a concept here in Wisconsin that the “boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state.” Known as the Wisconsin Idea, it encourages university efforts to move beyond the lab to reach industries and individuals around the state or the world. While universities may be known for their graduation rates and research programs, there is now a movement for universities to expand outreach efforts and become a more important economic driver including an enhanced role for the commercialization of basic research. Increased university support programs, including courses for entrepreneurs and funds to encourage researchers to scale-up their research, are helping to bring the university efforts out of the lab and into the hands of companies who can use the knowledge to strengthen their industries while also stimulating the economy.

In recent years, the food/dairy sector has been engaging in these efforts by creating programs that work to bring innovations and discoveries to market. New Zealand recently launched its Food HQ program and Ireland’s food research organization Teagasc began its Food Innovation Gateways program, both of which work to commercialize technologies and products discovered at their various institutions. The CDR, located on the UW-Madison campus, has developed a commercialization and economic development program thanks to initial funding from the federal i6 program and various partners including the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. In fact, the CDR TURBO (Tech Transfer, University Research and Business Opportunity) program and its associated new technology portfolio will be officially launched at an event on April 22, 2014, at the International Cheese Technology Exposition in Milwaukee.

Developed to increase the speed of commercialization of dairy and food related ideas/concepts into products on the market, TURBO harnesses the power of the UW-Madison research engine and the strengths of its partners to bring novel technologies to the marketplace. With partners from all around the nation, including the U.S. Dairy Export Council and the Dairy Research Institute, TURBO can offer entrepreneurs access to patented technologies, technical support, business planning, market development, potential funding sources and so much more — which is just another benefit of partnerships between universities and business. This is a logical extension for CDR’s well-regarded efforts on industry training, product development and applied research.

These programs are an important part of what universities can offer. They not only provide the economic opportunities mentioned above, but they also provide mechanisms for businesses and universities to join together through open innovation type partnerships. As companies look to outside experts for research and development assistance, these commercialization programs can provide a unique opportunity for companies, research institutions and universities to work together to turn new technologies into products for the marketplace.

By providing scale up assistance, sensory and analytical testing, trouble shooting and more, the TURBO program can help companies develop their own ideas or expand on a CDR/UW-Madison patent/novel concept. For companies that already have a substantial R&D department, TURBO and other such programs can help through providing expert technical support, new ideas and regulatory assistance that can supplement the company’s existing resources.

While the research lab may be the focus for many of these programs, various university support groups also play a key role in advancing campus economic development goals. Groups such as the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which helps to promote patented technologies and invests in commercialization efforts at the UW-Madison, assist scientists, professors and companies as they work to license their patents. UW-Madison also recently launched a Discovery to Product (D2P) program which encourages the commercialization of university-patented technologies. While some other universities have industry or economic development support groups, UW-Madison has been particularly engaged in these efforts. The new UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, with her extensive background in economic development, is a vocal supporter of the university becoming a stronger economic driver.

It’s clear that both the university and private companies can benefit from strong on-campus economic development programs. When research knowledge and insights are shared, through open innovation or collaborative ventures, the university and the state become stronger. By extending the boundaries of our research labs (The Wisconsin Idea) we are better positioned to move the dairy industry forward, while benefiting researchers, entrepreneurs and educators, all at the same time. That’s the new paradigm.


The views expressed by CMN’s guest columnists are their own opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of Cheese Market News®.

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