Entrepreneurial initiative booms on UW–Madison campus

The Weinert Center attracts many students
Entrepreneurial initiative booms on UW–Madison campus
Photo by Paul Newby II and The Wisconsin Business School

Entrepreneurial education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is anchored by a variety of programs throughout the sprawling campus. The Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship, housed in the Wisconsin School of Business, is one that attracts students across the university’s many departments and disciplines. According to director Dan Olszewski, “We’re seeing a massive expansion in the number of students.”

The growth in enrollment at both the undergraduate and graduate levels isn’t surprising given the explosion of technology in our society and the ever-sharpening focus on entrepreneurship as an economic driver. What’s surprising is how attractive Weinert classes and programs are to students who don’t plan to become entrepreneurs.

“Most of them aren’t going to launch a startup after graduation,” says Olszewski, “but we expect the entrepreneurial mindset will make all of them successful.”

Established in 1986 as the Center for Small Business Management and Entrepreneurship, it was renamed in honor of a gift of stock worth nearly $3.5 million from UW-Madison alumnus and Minneapolis entrepreneur James Weinert in 1999. Weinert’s earlier gifts to the business school supported the first program in the nation to give students the opportunity to invest real money as part of the curriculum. The capstone course–called the Weinert Applied Venture and Entrepreneurship (or WAVE) program–is definitely geared toward the aspiring entrepreneur. WAVE’s application form requires the articulation of a startup idea or an interest in pursuing the viability of a classmate’s idea, which could potentially receive up to $50,000 in funding.

Another flagship program is the Morgridge Entrepreneurial Bootcamp, an intensive, week-long summer course for graduate students pursuing STEM education and careers. Co-sponsored by the Weinert Center and the Initiative for Studies in Transformational Entrepreneurship, the boot camp attracts some 65 participants who, according to Olszewski, “go back to the lab and see things differently.” Olszewski says John Morgridge, the program’s original benefactor, is a frequent guest lecturer.

All in all, more than 1,000 students participate in Weinert Center programs–from attending boot camps and business competitions to pursuing certificates and majors. Olszewski says the entrepreneurship certificate is one of the most popular on campus–though he advises students to double major to acquire “functional expertise as well as entrepreneurial.”

“I’m constantly amazed by the number of alumni doing great things around the world,” says Olszewski, a UW-Madison graduate in economics and computer science who enjoyed a successful career in entrepreneurship before joining the Weinert Center in 2006.

Brennan Nardi is communications director at Madison Community Foundation and a former editor of Madison Magazine. Reach her at brennannardi@gmail.com.