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UW 'ideas factory' looks to turn research into economic growth

By Kathleen Gallagher of the Journal Sentinel

When Rebecca Blank arrived at the University of Wisconsin-Madison last summer, she became chancellor of one of the largest academic research universities in the world, but one that has an uneven track record for commercializing that work.

UW-Madison had nearly $1.2 billion in research spending yet launched only four start-ups in 2012, according to the Association of University Technology Managers. Blank wants to improve that performance and has a great opportunity in front of her.

As she settles into the job, Blank is overseeing the hiring of three key economic development leaders and a new university-driven commercialization effort. Blank says she wants "a real step-up in ways we engage in the economic development agenda for the state."

During a four-year stint as deputy U.S. commerce secretary, Blank says she learned that economically successful regions attract investment and industries by building partnerships between the public, private and educational sectors — and there is always a large research institution involved.

"The University of Wisconsin-Madison is that research center. It is the ideas factory and the innovation center for the state," Blank said. "It has got to be a partner with the state and with the private sector if we're going to attract the high-tech manufacturing, nutrition, software, health care businesses of the 21st century."

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