Marquette’s New Seed Fund Underscores Entrepreneurship Push

Only time will tell if Mike Lovell can help turn Marquette University into an engine for entrepreneurship, but he certainly hasn’t been resting on his laurels.

When Lovell was introduced as Marquette’s new president in September 2014, he unveiled a $5 million “Strategic Innovation Fund” to invest in entrepreneurial initiatives on campus. The announcement signaled Lovell’s—and Marquette’s—commitment to help students and faculty advance their ideas for new products, companies, and school programs.

On Thursday, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC) announced it has partnered with the Milwaukee university to create the Marquette Enterprise Seed Fund. The fund will provide $600,000 in early-stage capital to students, faculty, and staff at the school who have started businesses.

After the first application period, which WEDC said will take place this fall, the university will award $25,000 to $50,000 apiece to as many as six eligible companies. Depending on the project’s business model and needs, funding may be in the form of a grant or investment, WEDC said.

The money will come from two sources: Marquette’s Strategic Innovation Fund and WEDC’s Capital Catalyst program, which provides matching seed grants to organizations or communities running funds that provide capital to startups and other small businesses.

Kelly Lietz, vice president of marketing at WEDC, says his organization took notice when Marquette announced the Strategic Innovation Fund last year and reached out to Lovell to explore a potential partnership.

Lietz says when Marquette officials were designing the new seed fund, they reviewed the model for Ideadvance, a $2 million seed fund co-founded by WEDC that supports startups at University of Wisconsin system campuses.

Marquette’s new fund is the first of its kind at a private college or university in Wisconsin, Lietz says.

“Marquette has had less experience than large research universities in launching new businesses from its research activities,” Jeanne Hossenlopp, vice president for research and innovation, says. However, she points to Promentis Pharmaceuticals as a recent example of faculty members getting a new venture off the ground.

Promentis, founded in 2007 by Marquette biomedical sciences professors David Baker and John Mantsch, is a startup working to develop drugs that can modify brain chemistry to treat central nervous system disorders. The company has raised more than $7.4 million in equity funding, grants, and loans. Earlier this year, it signed a licensing deal with the University of Montana for the rights to compounds developed by researchers there.

Hossenlopp says there is positive movement around research and development at Marquette, such as the school nearly doubling R&D expenditures from $10.6 million in 2008 to $20.9 million in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available. Marquette wants to surpass $40 million in R&D expenditures by 2020, Hossenlopp says.

And although Lovell has only presided over the university for 16 months, his presence has been “catalytic,” she adds.

“With the arrival of President Lovell, there has been a much stronger focus on innovation and entrepreneurship as a campus-wide theme,” Hossenlopp says. “His Strategic Innovation Fund has provided a new resource for students, faculty, and staff to engage in innovations of all types. Entrepreneurship will definitely continue to accelerate under his leadership.”

Jeff Buchanan is the editor of Xconomy Wisconsin. Email: jbuchanan@xconomy.com Follow @_jeffbuchanan

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