The University of Wisconsin-Platteville and the Southwestern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SWWRPC) have been selected as co-applicants to receive a highly competitive grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration that will bring nearly $1.1 million of new investment to the region.
The EDA’s Build to Scale Program’s Venture Challenge awards grants to organizations that support new business ventures that are scalable and further job creation. The grant will launch the Innovation Driving Entrepreneurship Accelerator, or IDEA Hub, of Southwest Wisconsin, with the goal of creating high tech jobs for the future and increasing economic vibrancy in Southwest Wisconsin communities.
"This is an example of what a regional public university can do to help the economy across that region,” said UW-Platteville Chancellor Dennis J. Shields. “Entities in Southwest Wisconsin will be working together for such things as expanding Wi-Fi, diversifying our economy and helping existing businesses. It's not just UW-Platteville who is doing this. It leverages our collaboration with government and local businesses to better our region."
In a 2019 UW-Platteville Sustainability Survey, 50% of UW-Platteville students reported that they would like to stay in the area post-graduation, but lack of job opportunities force them to leave. This is happening against the backdrop of a shrinking population; the SWWRPC cites a population decline in Southwest Wisconsin of 0.2% over the past five years, despite a national increase of 5%.
UW-Platteville is already a major producer of innovation in the region, with expert faculty, a growing number of graduates in the STEM fields, lab space that includes specialty high tech areas such as robotics and nanotechnology, and patent protection services offered through WiSys – another partner in the Venture Challenge grant. The creation of the IDEA Hub will harness this innovation and combine it with the strong economic development network of SWWRPC and the expertise of WiSys, in order to connect ideas to entrepreneurs, provide resources, and create a culture of innovation in the region. By creating a new space, both physically and metaphorically, for innovators and entrepreneurs to meet and translate ideas into action, the IDEA Hub will lead the way in creating the jobs of the future in Southwest Wisconsin, enabling more pathways for graduates to stay in the area.
“Southwestern Wisconsin has a history of innovation and this program will further cultivate entrepreneurial inventiveness by providing a framework for development and growth,” said Troy Maggied, executive director of SWWRPC. “This is a win for the entire region and another reason for start-ups and existing businesses to choose Wisconsin.”
Platteville is one of 52 communities that were awarded grants out of nearly 600 applicants. In order to receive the more than $500,000 federal grant, UW-Platteville was required to match the grant funds, which was secured through commitments from the UW-Platteville Foundation, Prosperity Southwest Wisconsin, WiSys and the Grant County Economic Development Corporation.
"This is an exciting opportunity to continue the positive collaborations we have developed in this region," said Rose Smyrski, UW-Platteville Vice Chancellor for University Relations. "This grant is four years in the making with a lot of hard work by many people. The successful end result will jumpstart a more intentional long-term approach to building on the entrepreneurial mindset of Southwest Wisconsin."
UW-Platteville and SWWRPC received assistance for preparing for the grant through taking part in Rural Innovation Strategies’ Rural Innovation Initiative – a technical assistance program empowering rural communities as they execute on innovation hub strategies.