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Monday, August 26, 2013

Tom Still: Crossing the chasm: How UW-Madison can be more open for business


By Tom Still
Hector De Luca, Rock Mackie and Richard Davidson have the kind of academic credentials their academic colleagues at UW-Madison and far beyond admire. DeLuca is synonymous with innovation in Vitamin D research and the advances it has brought to human health; Mackie is a medical physicist who has pioneered cancer-fighting solutions; Davidson is a neuroscientist known worldwide for his work on the brain's ability to "learn" emotional health.

They're also not afraid to engage with business leaders and corporations, which means they're probably suspect in the eyes of some ivy-covered purists.

Crossing the chasm that often separates academia from the business world was the topic of an Aug. 22 panel discussion featuring DeLuca, Mackie and Davidson at the second annual "Corporate Open House" held on campus. The conversation highlighted the need for the university to make its value better known to industry – and for industry to not be shy about seeking academic partners.

DeLuca has about 200 U.S. patents to his name and was part of developing eight Vitamin D drugs that have accounted for billions of dollars in sales, much of which has filtered back to the university through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. Now in his seventies, DeLuca is part of the Vitamin D legacy at the UW-Madison that dates to Harry Steenbock and the founding of WARF in the 1920s.

DeLuca remembers a time when he and his colleagues were practically academic outcasts for transferring technology to the marketplace, but he told a crowd predominantly comprised of business executives that those days are happily gone.

"The test of the duration of an idea is whether it can live in the real world," he said.

Mackie was a founder of TomoTherapy, since acquired by Accuray, and remains active in companies such as CPAC, Novelos, SHINE Medical Technologies, Bioionix and HealthMyne. In all, he's been affiliated with 12 companies over time – all while cranking out patented discoveries, mentoring doctoral students and doing what academics love to do most: publish.

Mackie said he sees the relationship between academia and business as being akin to that between a mine and a mill. Ideas tend to come from the academic "mine" and are refined in the marketplace "mill."

Despite many reasons for academia and business to work together, he said, it doesn't always happen because of resistance within the university culture. Skeptics say such relationships dilute productivity, lower standards, create conflicts of interest and otherwise smack of impurity.

"In 1992, starting a UW spinoff was like pulling teeth," Mackie said, but the culture has changed enough over time that most faculty – especially younger members – recognize how technology transfer meshes with the mission of a modern research university.

That doesn't negate the need for basic researchers, he said, and there will always be differences in how academics and business people think, communicate and manage projects. However, it's possible to find common ground to help both camps. "The cultural gap between the university and companies hurts both types of organizations," Mackie said.

Davidson's research around the brain's ability to learn new behaviors is considered a breakthrough for people suffering from depression and other affective disorders. It turns out his work may also have applications in the business world.

Effective business executives may not be the managers who have the most technical expertise or internal process experience, but those who have the best overall people skills and the right "emotional leadership qualities," Davidson said, citing other research as well as his own. He plans to work through the UW-Madison School of Business to partner with companies on specific projects tied to leadership and productivity.

UW-Madison Chancellor Becky Blank has made better relationships with business a priority, and with good reason. While the UW-Madison is among the nation's leaders in attracting R&D dollars in the form of federal grants, it lags in attracting industrial research dollars. Other universities are forging ahead on that front, recognizing the decline in federal R&D spending, relatively stagnant state funding and the need to hold tuition costs stable.

If the likes of DeLuca, Mackie and Davidson can conduct world-class research, work with students and reach out to business, so can many others inside one of the nation's finest research universities.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Tom Still: Baldwin’s visit illustrates value of R&D to human health, economy


By Tom Still
Tammy Baldwin readily admits she has a soft spot for academic researchers and the federal dollars that often help to support them. Her grandfather was a UW-Madison biochemist who worked at the Institute for Enzyme Research for decades.

So it's no surprise that Wisconsin's first-term U.S. senator would spend time thinking about how her work on Senate committees dealing with health, education, energy and homeland security might intersect with academic researchers – and the ideas they often bring to the marketplace.

That was the theme of Baldwin's visit to the UW-Madison campus and University Research Park during a broader state swing tied to the Senate's August break. It provided a revealing glimpse at some of the challenges facing academic research, and its valuable byproducts, in an era of federal spending cuts.

A meeting with the scientific and business team of Isomark at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery was a case study of how basic research can blossom into technologies that can be used to diagnose and treat human health problems, if only the support is there long enough to get the idea to market maturity.

Isomark is commercializing a UW-licensed technology that detects critical infections, such as sepsis and ventilator-associated pneumonia, which can be acquired in hospital intensive-care units. Because Medicare no longer reimburses for hospital-acquired infections and other costs are rising, hospitals themselves need an early warning system to head off trouble before it gets out of hand. Isomark's technology focuses on changes in carbon isotopes in exhaled carbon dioxide, which can be tracked non-invasively using only a sample of the patient's breath.

Test results so far are extremely encouraging, but the hard part for the company is only beginning.

Having raised money through federal merit-based grants, private investors and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation to get this far, Isomark now faces a long regulatory approval process. The Food and Drug Administration must be persuaded the device is safe and effective, and other federal regulators will determine if it saves enough money to become eligible for a federal reimbursement program.

"We have a great team and a great product," said Joe Kremer, Isomark's chief executive officer, so meeting that burden of regulatory proof is not insurmountable. "But the money needed to get there is a hurdle to be overcome."

That's where Baldwin enters the picture. Her first bill, introduced in July, is the Small Business Innovation Act of 2013. It would authorize the federal Small Business Administration to set up a fund to match with private dollars invested in young biotechnology, advanced manufacturing and clean energy companies. The fund would give preference to startups that have already received grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health or the 31-year-old Small Business Innovation Research Foundation.

It remains to be seen if the bill moves ahead in Washington's polarized political environment, where even more basic funding for scientific research is at risk. Automatic federal budget cuts mean most merit-based grant programs will be reduced – federal earmarks are already a thing of the past – and that could mean big trouble over time for major research universities such as the UW-Madison.

Baldwin told the campus gathering she's also worried about what that funding crunch will mean for the next generation of researchers, especially if they think they're entering a dead-end profession. "The career path for a young scientist is challenging," she said.

There are legitimate policy disagreements over how far the federal government should go in supporting academic research and development, or the companies that stem from such R&D. But federal investment in such research has been a reality for a century or more – and it has produced enormous results for human health and the economy. Curbing federal deficits is one thing; turning back the R&D clock by decades is quite another.

By the way, had Baldwin lost her 2012 race against Tommy Thompson, the former Republican governor and U.S. Health and Human Services secretary, the philosophical approach in this Senate seat would not have been all that different. Thompson has been an ardent supporter of smart R&D investments, as well. As for Wisconsin's second senator, Republican Ron Johnson, it may be time for him to end his radio silence on the issue.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.

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Monday, August 5, 2013

Mike Harsh: Wisconsin's med tech community: Driving a brain gain in healthcare innovation


By Mike Harsh
As home to some of the nation's leading medical imaging and technology companies, Wisconsin is a leader in healthcare technology, research and development. Ranging from small start-up companies to long-established manufacturers, the state's healthcare technology sector is developing products that are improving healthcare delivery and patient lives around the world.

Recently, some of the state's most forward-thinkers in the medical technology sector met with Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch to discuss the progress and challenges Wisconsin's medical technology community is experiencing. Lt. Gov. Kleefisch, as a colon cancer survivor, has a unique connection to the healthcare technology sector in Wisconsin and understands the importance of supporting public policies and partnerships that will protect the future of medical technology innovation in the state.

The tremendous amount of knowledge and talent across Wisconsin has helped establish the state as a leader in medical technology. Known as "brain gain" by both leaders in the State House and the healthcare sector, the value investment in education and medical research brings to the state's economy and job base resonates with government, industry and the public.

A few examples:
* Medical innovation and healthcare research are valuable drivers of Wisconsin's state's economy, contributing approximately 42,000 direct and indirect jobs, and nearly $9 billion to the state's economy.

* Data just released by the Medical Imaging and Technology Alliance named Wisconsin one of the top five states for medical imaging jobs nationwide.

* GE Healthcare alone generates more than $10.4 million in economic activity in-state, on average, every day, and helps support more than 21,000 jobs at GE businesses and at 1,100 supplier sites across Wisconsin.

At the same time, the challenges confronting healthcare systems are numerous, and identifying ways to improve healthcare outcomes and contain healthcare costs is no easy task. Medical innovation is vital to the development of products and processes that will strengthen our healthcare system. Bold technologies are in development that hold the promise of helping physicians diagnose Alzheimer's Disease, assess the effectiveness of cancer treatment, and increasingly shift the market to more precise diagnostics that will change the way disease is diagnosed and treatments are prescribed. Combined with the power of data analytics and predictive tools that will help healthcare providers improve efficiency, technology advancements can help save lives and reduce healthcare costs.

Continued investment in medical innovation and related education is critical to advancing healthcare and competitiveness. Wisconsin is a leading example of how the medical technology industry as a whole continues to work with state and federal lawmakers to advance policies that support continued medical innovation. On the federal level, bipartisan members of the Wisconsin Congressional delegation have been leaders on the Device Tax repeal and other healthcare technology issues, and they continue to fight for the interests of Wisconsin's medical device community. Within the state, a strong infrastructure of post-secondary public and private universities supports the quest for medical innovation and ensures a robust future pipeline of talented scientists, engineers, technologists and researchers.

Collaboration across Wisconsin's medical technology industry, state and federal lawmakers and academic institutions ensures that states like Wisconsin can help lead the way to the healthcare solutions of tomorrow and that the healthcare industry can transform from its current orientation of focusing on "sick care" to delivering better health care to more people more efficiently.

-- Harsh is the chief technology officer of GE Healthcare and life-long Wisconsin resident.

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Friday, August 2, 2013

Henry Schienebeck: Independent contractors a valuable asset to Wisconsin's economy


By Henry Schienebeck
Across the great state of Wisconsin there are thousands of independent contractors working hard to provide for their families while contributing to our local economy. You may know them as hair stylists, software engineers, loggers, package delivery drivers, even emergency room physicians. Whatever they and many others like them do, there is one thing they all have in common: they are doing their best to make a living for their families. And in many cases they are creating much-needed jobs for others.

Recently, a national coalition called It's My Business launched to help provide a voice for the millions of people who have decided to be their own bosses and build their own businesses. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 82 percent of independent contractors prefer this arrangement for making their living as opposed to being an employee. And the Pew Research Center reports that 39 percent of self-employed workers are "completely satisfied" with their jobs compared to 28 percent of workers in wage or salary jobs.

At a time when the workforce is changing, it is critical to raise awareness about the contributions of independent contractors to our economy.

Independent contractors are virtually everywhere – in every city and town in this state. There are more than 10 million of them across the United States – making up more than 7 percent of the total workforce. They are essential to our economy, accounting for $473 billion in personal income, or one out of every 10 dollars earned across the nation.

Beyond the individual advantages for independent contractors, many are expanding their independent contractor status into small businesses that create jobs for others. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, small companies – many of them coming from independent contracting beginnings – create three out of every four new jobs. They are critical to job growth and economic recovery.

Yet despite the crucial role of independent contractors within our economy, the federal government is working to make it more difficult for them to grow and prosper. Recently, $25 million was allocated for a joint IRS – U.S. Department of Labor initiative aimed at taking away the independent contractor status that enables so many hard-working Americans to thrive by reclassifying them as employees. Of course, Washington prefers to target these small, independent businesses because they are easier to prosecute than larger companies with greater access to legal resources.

There's no question that independent contractors should obey all laws and pay taxes as required. But broad-scale attempts to reclassify independent contractors in an effort to turn them into rank-and-file company employees is harmful to those who play by the rules.

America's entrepreneurial freedom makes our economy the envy of the world. The hard-working people of Wisconsin should be free to pursue jobs that fit their needs and their lifestyles, especially when their prosperity benefits us all. That is what It's My Business is committed to protecting and that is why the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association has signed on to this important effort. To learn more about the coalition and how to be involved, please visit www.itsmybusiness.com.

-- Schienebeck is the executive director of the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association.

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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Tom Still: Welcome to Milwaukee, governors: It's more than just beer, brats and Braun


By Tom Still
MILWAUKEE – As the nation's governors descend on Milwaukee for their annual conference, it's likely their knowledge of Wisconsin in general and the city in particular may revolve around some of the following:

* The city is still a beer capital, although Laverne and Shirley retired years ago.

* There's no shortage of German, Polish and Italian food, all of which involve some variety of sausages.

* Ryan Braun is sitting out the rest of the season for sins against baseball.

* There must a law in Wisconsin that requires all governors to ride a Harley.

* Milwaukee is not Detroit.

The final point may be the most instructive because Detroit's $18.5 billion debt hangs over other major cities, especially those in the Upper Midwest, like a cloud of high-particulate smoke.

What are Milwaukee and Wisconsin doing, not only to avoid the perils that befell the Motor City, but to pave the way for a brighter economic future? Here are some examples of policy and governance success stories for the National Governors Association and related government leadership groups visiting Milwaukee Aug. 1-4:

The Wisconsin Legislature recently passed, and Gov. Scott Walker signed into law, a bill that will create a state-leveraged "fund of funds" to invest in emerging companies. The $25 million state investment will be matched by at least that much private investment over time. The fund is not a big as many people would have preferred, but it's a solid start that demonstrates the state's faith in its knowledge-based economy.

The same Legislature and governor recently removed the cap on total tax credits that could be paid out over time through Wisconsin's Act 255 investor tax-credit program. Removing the "lifetime" cap will ensure the continued success of a program that has served as national model for sparking angel investments and network creation since taking effect in 2005.

Entrepreneurs and innovation are a public priority. While Milwaukee and Wisconsin are known for some traditional industries – manufacturing, agriculture and tourism – state and local policies and partnerships are evolving to capture small business and technology trends. In Milwaukee, organizations such as BizStarts and the Water Council are helping to further that culture, as are academic institutions such as the UW-Milwaukee and its industry partners.

While it has its critics, the recently created Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. is among those statewide organizations that have given innovation and entrepreneurship a front-row seat. Why? Small businesses, especially younger companies, create virtually all net new jobs in the United States. Wisconsin still lags in business creation, but the seeds of change are being planted.

Wisconsin's largest public pension fund, the Wisconsin Retirement System, is fully funded and regarded as one of the best systems in the country. Neighboring Illinois has only about 45 percent of the assets needed to meet future pension liabilities in its state employee, teacher and university systems. About $3.5 billion of Detroit's debt fiasco is unfunded pension liability.

One lesson the governors can take home: The Wisconsin Retirement System has a bullet-proof trust fund that prevents poaching by state officials in search of extra revenue. Here is what Institutional Investor magazine reported in March 2013: "It turns out that the Midwestern state best known for cheese and beer also has the best-designed and best-governed pension system in the United States."

When the governors get around to discussing cybersecurity and homeland security preparedness, both on their agenda, it's worth noting Wisconsin has plowed new public and private ground. The state's "Community Economic Recovery Guidebook," published in 2012, was recently honored by the National Association of Development Organizations Research Foundation. The Wisconsin Security Research Consortium is building one of the nation's first commercially available cybersecurity research centers.

Wisconsin has no shortage of show-and-tell items to inform governors from other states. Sure, we have beer, brats and Braun, but Milwaukee and Wisconsin also offer plenty of brains, best practices and business innovation.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.

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