Allen Dines sparks entrepreneurship in Madison

By Brennan Nardi, Madison Magazine

Allen DinesWhat brought you to Madison? I came to join the management team in business development at Cetus Madison Corp., a startup venture later reincorporated as Agracetus and focused on agricultural applications of biotechnology.

What was the atmosphere like at the University of Wisconsin–Madison when you started working with faculty on entrepreneurship in 2001? It was largely one of indifference and toleration toward startups. UW had a track record for research that led to several successful companies. This was facilitated by WARF [Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation] and the quality of the research faculty. Fundamentally, UW was, and to a large extent still is, a top-quality basic-research institution. Startups and commercialization played second fiddle to that focus.

How did you go about helping people thinking of starting companies? My initial job was essentially to be a faculty coach to help them through the formation and execution of a startup. I helped with the usual market and customer validation challenges but also issues like balancing university responsibilities and family obligations with the leadership needs of a young company.

How did the Kauffman Foundation grant in 2007 change the culture of entrepreneurship? The focus of the Kauffman grant was to expand awareness of and access to entrepreneurship campuswide. Kauffman knew that was important but didn’t know how to pull it off, so they commissioned nineteen universities to find solutions. We realized at the outset that there were many programs already in place filling parts of that mission. Given that, we focused on making them better aware of what each other was doing and encouraging more cooperation among them. I have to say, the rising tide through all this was the explosion of interest from students and entrepreneurial pursuits. Read more …

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