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Thursday, December 01, 2022
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Inside UW-Madison’s innovative Discovery to Product service program

Have you ever had an innovative idea, but no idea how to get started? Then University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Discovery to Product can connect you to the resources you need to bring your ideas to life. 

Discovery to Product (D2P) is a program that provides funding, mentorship and tools to any member of the UW-Madison community to help get their research or ideas off the ground. 

D2P awards over $1 million annually to campus innovators, according to Andrew Richards, director of the Discovery to Product program. The program helped launch and grow over 90 different startups since its inception in 2014.

“D2P’s focus is on UW-Madison campus innovators. Instead of focusing only in one area of innovation such as venture capital or licensing, our approach is comprehensive,” Richards told The Daily Cardinal. “We meet each individual wherever they are in their innovation journey and work with them to get them where they want to go.” 

D2P was created through a partnership between UW-Madison and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, falling within a unit of the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education. D2P also coordinates the Innovate Network, a collaborative group of campus-based and campus-affiliated member organizations working to build a strong culture of innovation and entrepreneurship at UW.

D2P will provide services to those in the early stages of putting together an idea, or someone who is further along in the process. This includes a startup, license deal, social impact enterprise or a small business.

“In a recent cohort, we worked with innovators developing everything from a new cold drip coffee machine, to a magnetic shield for space flight instrumentation, to a podcast and accompanying social platform on how to enjoy richer relationships,” D2P mentor Dr. Jeffrey Snell said.

“It's marvelous to see the breadth of creativity across the campus community-participants in D2P’s entrepreneurship and commercialization programs,” Snell continued.

The program offers four different types of grants, each having separate eligibility, goals and levels of funding. The Igniter and PRIME programs are open to UW-Madison students, faculty and affiliate organizations, while TIF and SEED are only open to university staff. 

“The level of the award is specific to each program,” Richards explained. “For example, Igniter is capped at $5,000 and TIF at $50,000.”

The D2P program offers access to five mentors who have years of experience in industry, startups and university settings, according to Richards. 

“They help navigate the university rules and processes, and have the knowledge and access to connect individuals and teams to both campus and community resources,” he said.

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D2P mentor Dr. Amar Anumakonda has been a registered mentor for many years, and enjoys guiding his students.

“It has been a rewarding experience working with faculty, staff and students and help them evolve their ideas into concrete and actionable innovations and commercial offerings,” he said. 

In the D2P program, the mentorship and guidance continues, even after scheduled training programs conclude.

“Over the years they have always been there for advice, a short or longer check in, directing one to new connections, and teaching the entrepreneurial path,” said Guelay Bilen-Rosas, who worked with D2P in 2020 through the Innovation to Market program. “I will be forever grateful.” 

Moving forward, there are still improvements Richards would like to see made to D2P. 

“We’d like to be able to provide additional programs and resources for campus innovators, including our student entrepreneurs,” he said. “One way to do this is by establishing a dedicated entrepreneurship facility so D2P and other Innovate Network members can continue to cultivate and support this growing demand at the university.”

Richards encourages anyone who has an idea or research project in mind to take a chance on D2P. 

“Jump in,” he said. “We have many resources here at D2P, on campus with the Innovate Network and in the community. There is a whole ecosystem that is ready to help support your efforts,” 

“D2P is a front door to many resources and we will work with you to make those connections,” Richards concluded. 

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