Doing graduate research on fiber-optics and optical detection as a UW-Madison PhD student turned out to be surprisingly good preparation for Winslow Sargeant in his current role as chief counsel for advocacy for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy. Sargeant leads an office that serves as an independent voice for small business before Congress and federal agencies and the White House. “One can liken my PhD research to what I do now — I try to extract the signal from the noise,” he says.
Originally nominated by U.S. President Barack Obama in May 2009, Sargeant received a recess appointment in August 2010 after the U.S. Senate failed to give him an up or down vote. He was unanimously confirmed by the full Senate in November 2011.
He earned his UW-Madison PhD in electrical and computer engineering in 1995, and two years later co-founded AANetcom, a company that designed computer circuit technology for telecom and broadband applications, including technology for which Sargeant earned a U.S. patent. He and his co-founders sold the company in 2000 to PMC-Sierra, a publicly traded company.
After that, Sargeant spent four years at the National Science Foundation (NSF), working at the intersection of business, research and government as the program manager for the Small Business Innovation Research Program in Electronics. He was proud to serve an organization that had funded his own graduate research at UW-Madison. His next step was to deepen his experience in the business world, serving as the managing director at Venture Investors, a Madison firm that invested in new healthcare and IT startups.
When he began his current role at the Small Business Administration, Sargeant brought to it a variety of experience in business and government, and the interaction between the two. The biggest challenge of the job, he says, is that his office is an independent entity within the executive branch, charged not to represent the administration — but rather, small business in general, especially when it comes to understanding how laws and regulations will affect business.
His career earned him the first UW-Madison Distinguished Young Alumni Award in 2002, while still at the NSF. He also has received the NSF Director Award for Program Management Excellence, was inducted into Sigma Xi, was named a Kauffman fellow in 2011, and is a former member of New York Academy of Sciences.
Sargeant lives in northern Virginia with his wife, Ikanyeng (also a UW-Madison graduate), and their three children, Kgosi, Lorato and Marang. His hobbies include coaching little league basketball, computer programming and electronics, and geography.