UW-TEC program paved road to success for professor’s invention

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A tenacious early market assessment by a group of University of Wisconsin-Madison business students helped Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Marc A. Anderson‘s invention find commercial pay dirt.

Photocatalytic reactor

Professor Marc Anderson (top) and research associate Jean-Pierre Kottelat prepare a photocatalytic reactor for operation. (large image)

Anderson’s transfer success resulted from his involvement in the UW Technology Enterprise Cooperative, a fledgling partnership between the College of Engineering and the School of Business.

Nurtured by engineering Dean John G. Bollinger and business Dean Andrew Policano, UW-TEC promotes technology entrepreneurship by teaming business, legal and financial talent with researchers who have marketable inventions.

The success of this venture, one of the program’s first, shows the power of the partnership.

“There’s a lot of excitement over the fact that this can really work,” says Anne Miner, a business professor and co-director of UW-TEC. “But we also learned how difficult and complex it was. We will try to learn from a long, creaky process and make it more efficient the next time.”

Ceramic membrane and supports

The unsupported ceramic membrane, top, is too fragile to be used on its own. Also shown are examples of supporting vehicles which yield applications including catalysis, batteries, and sensors. (large image)

Miner says the early market research done by a six-member student team tracked several different leads in the industry. The students did a creative three-month search for companies, from major grocery chains to trucking firms, and provided Anderson with an evaluation of four markets and nine prospects.

Anderson then followed up with each company, and the fifth one on the list – KES Irrigation Systems – proved to be the perfect match. Anderson says the business group helped narrow a very diverse field.

The marketing team included Tom Nicholas and Bob Smith, MBA students in marketing; Chris Bye, Alec Johnson and Mary Zellmer, doctoral students in management; and Ben Tang, a doctoral student in industrial relations. The team was organizer by Professor Robert Pricer, director of the school’s Enterprise Center, and advised by Miner and Pricer.

Beyond marketing inventions, Miner says UW-TEC’s greatest value is as an educational laboratory. Students work directly with faculty, staff and the business community to get real experience in technology transfer.

“The co-op idea is something we’re really just beginning to roll out and gain some experience with,” says Lawrence A. Casper, assistant dean of engineering at UW-TEC co-director. “This project is the first model for how it can succeed, but we have several others in the pipeline, including another application of photocatalysis technology.”