Innovators with current or past ties to the UW System are invited to apply to the Ideadvance Seed Fund with business ideas that could contribute to Wisconsin’s “knowledge economy.”
The Ideadvance program provides business funding and mentoring toward a scalable, profitable business model. Grant dollars are earned by teams after they demonstrate key learnings toward their commercialization goals.
Past awards have gone to a range of ideas, including an app that incorporates physical activity into schoolwork and a small, simple tool that could save a firefighter’s life.
The deadline to apply is April 27. Diverse teams from all parts of Wisconsin are invited to connect early with the program to take advantage of resources that can guide them through the application process. An introductory YouTube video is available as well as hands-on assistance from Ideadvance consultants.
The program is open to UW System staff, faculty, students and alumni. At this time, teams consisting of only UW-Madison founders are not able to apply. However, hybrid teams with founders from UW-Madison and other UW System schools are welcome to compete.
Ideadvance, launched in 2014, has awarded grants to 49 Stage 1 teams and 16 Stage 2 teams, totaling over $1.8 million in funding. Stage 1, with funding up to $25,000, focuses on achieving commercialization milestones to reduce risk and determine need in the marketplace to solve a problem. Stage 2, with follow-on funding up to $50,000, helps a select few to advance their business models to deliver customer solutions and attract investors.
“We try to help teams assess their ideas to determine if an idea really is a good business,” Ideadvance New Idea Concierge Idella Yamben said. “These methods help awardees learn if their ideas really solve a significant problem for the customer.”
Dale Trudell, co-founder of High 5 Academics in Oshkosh, a software solution to improve literacy teaching standards, was astounded by the support from the Ideadvance program and staff. Through numerous Minimum Viable Products, the Appleton company found chances to speak to their clients and test ideas.
“Ideadvance forced us to get out of the office to prove or disprove our assumptions. This taught us to pivot. We’ve pivoted half-dozen times already, and, thanks to Ideadvance, we were successful without spinning our wheels,” Trudell said.
Awards are determined by an Investment Committee with representatives from UW System, WiSys Technology Foundation, UW-Extension, Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and an entrepreneur affiliated with an eligible UW campus. The committee selects competitive proposals with a compelling case for a significant solution to a market problem and a dedicated team focused on learning about risks to their business model. The committee also focuses on the skills of the team and how well-prepared they are to tackle this learning.
Although high-tech ideas are welcome, entrepreneurs do not need to present a biotech or IT technology. The types of eligible businesses are very broad, including ideas in agriculture, manufacturing, music production, textiles, art or business. The only restrictions are that the business cannot be in real estate, direct consumer retail or hospitality, including restaurants.
Ideadvance is part of WEDC’s efforts to expand collaboration with the UW System, business leaders and others throughout the state. Through their special S3 initiative, WEDC is working to remove commercialization barriers entrepreneurs face by providing financial and operational assistance that address business startup and seed-funding challenges.
“We see Ideadvance as a core component of generating interest in entrepreneurship and startups outside the major metro areas,” said Aaron Hagar, vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation for WEDC. “We’re hearing a lot of interest from local partners, and Ideadvance is a great conduit for helping local ideas get connected with state, national and global networks.”