Tech Transfer Central

WiSys creates a VentureHome for entrepreneurs at smaller campuses

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WiSys VentureHome. It may sound like a new GPS system, but it’s actually a natural extension of a core principle known as “the Wisconsin Idea” — shared by the University of Wisconsin (UW) System and WiSys — that what happens on UW campuses should enhance people’s lives beyond the boundaries of the campus.

In fact that was a driving force behind the creation of WiSys more than two decades ago, when the UW System recognized the need for a foundation to support the innovation and technology transfer needs of all UW System schools beyond its large flagship institution, UW-Madison. WiSys’ ethos is that good ideas can come from anywhere. Today, it serves as the designated TTO for its 11 regional campuses and it also works with other TTOs in the state, in particular the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (UW-Madison’s TTO) and the UWM Research Foundation (UW-Milwaukee’s TTO).

WiSys VentureHome seeks to bring the same type of resources available at those well-established offices to smaller and less resourced state schools, forming a network of start-up hubs that combine statewide resources with community initiatives to provide local entrepreneurs access to a full menu of start-up resources in their community. It’s open to faculty, staff, students, and even local community members who have no affiliation to a UW campus. It also serves as a landing spot for Wisconsin’s entrepreneurial “alumni” to “venture home” and contribute to their local communities.

“We aim to facilitate connections between our campuses and their communities,” says WiSys President Arjun Sanga. It’s a strategy other schools with multiple campus may want to consider as a means of expanding their footprint and their impact.


In Eau Claire, where a UW campus sits within the city’s population of around 69,000, university tech transfer leaders recognized a need for a collaborative local, regional, and state effort to support entrepreneurs in their home community. To that end, WiSys and the local university partnered with the local coworking space CoLab to serve as a convenient and engaging location for entrepreneurs to gather. CoLab leaders also agreed to provide on-the-ground staffing.

With a founding team in place, the first WiSys VentureHome launched in February 2020 with the goal to provide “everything your start-up needs under one roof.” Despite the pandemic curve ball, they were able to pivot quickly and provide tremendous value to local entrepreneurs.

Notable highlights from WiSys VentureHome-Eau Claire include:

  • 18 startups (24 founders) over three cohorts graduated the Level Up! Seed Accelerator program.
  • Four companies have received funding to date.
  • Six companies launched their products/services while participating in Level Up!.
  • Six companies had follow-on investor meetings after the program’s Pitch Day.
  • Two co-founder/early hires were facilitated through the network.
  • 37 workshops conducted since inception.
  • 70+ referrals made for Eau Claire area entrepreneurs to business resources, mentors, industry connections, investors, etc.
  • Supported six companies formed around WiSys technologies.
  • 30-50 attendees at pitch days including venture capital and angel investors from across the Midwest.

Taking all comers

To access the WiSys VentureHome services, anyone can walk in and talk to the community partner there to get started. A kiosk at the entry helps with intake and provides an opportunity to triage the entrepreneur’s needs.

Potential clients can also request a virtual meeting and consultation with WiSys staff through to discuss their start-up idea and get concierge access to resources they may need.

Sanga credits Adhira Sunkara, the WiSys start-up facilitator, as critical to establishing the VentureHome program. “She set up the concierge service and makes it easy for people to find and connect with resources,” he says.

In addition to concierge access to existing resources through WiSys VentureHome, WiSys also created LevelUp!, an action-oriented, five-month mentoring and acceleration program designed to help early-stage start-ups gain the skills, resources, and traction needed to get to the next level and raise seed capital, conduct customer discovery research, build a prototype, and ultimately launch a product. Start-up founders apply to participate in the program and are selected by a local steering committee.

There are now two VentureHomes and plans for more, building on the successful pilot in Eau Claire. Working with UW-Green Bay and the Greater Green Bay Chamber, WiSys launched its second VentureHome in Green Bay — a community of about 105,000 people in Northeast Wisconsin — in late 2021.

Several other hubs are in development. The model has proven to be a popular rallying cause for local economic development leaders. And although the primary mission is to serve start-ups, an important byproduct of the initiative has been the excitement generated among local communities to organize and better serve their local businesses.

Inspiring innovation

In Superior, one of the state’s northernmost communities of about 26,000 people, local leaders are using the effort to bring a WiSys VentureHome to its downtown as an opportunity to organize local economic development efforts. City leaders plan to renovate an old post office and create an innovation center that houses the WiSys VentureHome alongside other local economic development entities to allow greater collaboration.

The planned center would include business incubation, a business accelerator, a business event space, a maker space, a fab lab, a creative coworking space and other programming.

“The way that we’ve structured these VentureHomes is to really make sure that the local government and the local entrepreneurship ecosystem are key participants in making the VentureHome a success,” Sanga says.

Sanga is very excited about the conversion of the old post office because it really demonstrates how VentureHome can catalyze innovation community-wide. “The concept of innovation and entrepreneurship really hit home and made them think about how these renovations could help to drive the region’s overall economic development forward,” he says.

Funding and support

The first step to creating a WiSys VentureHome is for potential partners to work on a proposal with WiSys. These involve co-PIs who work to fine-tune the focus and shepherd the proposal step-by-step though the launch.

“We’re hoping to launch two to three per year out of the 11 campuses” in the University of Wisconsin system, Sanga says.

WiSys provides a three-year grant of $10,000 per year and in-kind services such as legal and licensing assistance, customer discovery coaching, fund-seeking, scaling guidance, and pitching and networking opportunities to help launch and establish WiSys VentureHomes. Its focus on creating a sustainable ecosystem that is locally driven and centrally supported gives local partners significant autonomy to shape the program to meet specific community needs.

The idea, Sanga says, is to activate spaces centered around innovation and entrepreneurship in the local area, and to provide entrepreneurs everything their start-up needs under one roof.

But Sanga stresses that the VentureHomes are not intended to replace the work of TTOs or other commercialization programs. “We’re kind of like a ‘Home Depot’ for entrepreneurs that is additive and non-competitive with local initiatives,” he says.

Contact Sanga at; contact Sunkara at:

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