Greater Madison is the Intersection of Innovation
The Madison Region’s wealth of resources stimulates entrepreneurial growth.
Brand ambassador, game designer and data scientist might not have been jobs available to your grandparents, but today, these in-demand careers require innovative and skilled talent – and the Madison Region is the right place to look.
From grant-funded fabrication laboratories (Fab Labs) for school systems to community workspaces that support entrepreneurs, the region is bursting with new technology initiatives. In addition, assets such as the University of Wisconsin (UW) – Madison contribute to the region’s innovation ecosystem with developments such as a new 19-credit game design certificate, which teaches students the skills they need to design and produce games as well as a new Master of Science in Design + Innovation program.
In This Article
Between 2016 and 2020, Wisconsin’s governor and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) awarded grants to the Madison Region to create or expand nine Fab Labs.
To be prepared for the jobs of today and tomorrow, students need access to hands-on experience and training that allows them to put into practice concepts they have learned in STEAM-related courses, says Vincent Rice, WEDC’s senior director of sector strategy.
“Increasingly, this type of learning requires equipment such as 3D printers, laser engravers, computer numerical control routers and plasma cutters,â€ Rice says.
Through the Fab Labs Grant Program, the WEDC is helping to outfit public schools across the state with this type of equipment, which helps students master skills that are in high demand in the job market. Collaboration is a key feature of these labs, with schools throughout Wisconsin and around the world communicating to share ideas. Because the Fab Labs are required to be accessible to the community, they contribute more broadly to economic development by sparking innovation among Wisconsin entrepreneurs, inventors and small businesses.
In the Madison Region, efforts such as The Bodgery, Sector67 and UW Makerspace all provide the region’s entrepreneurs with access to workspace, technology and tools.
Sector67 is a 19,320-square-foot community workspace providing an environment to learn, teach, work on, build and create next generation technology, including software, hardware, electronics, art, sewing, metalwork, apps, games and more.
UW Makerspace is part of the UW-Madison College of Engineering. Its facilities include shop and flex space with a wide range of rapid prototyping equipment.
The Bodgery provides businesses, entrepreneurs, artists and crafters with access to electronics, 3D printing, a metal shop, a woodshop and more. In 2019, The Bodgery moved into new space in what had been the machine shop in a former Oscar Mayer plant. Currently in 14,000 square feet, The Bodgery expects to add another 8,000 square feet in 2020.
“We rent about 20 studio spaces, and the expansion will probably double that,â€ says John Eich, co-founder of The Bodgery. “We also serve about 30 to 40 guests each week who can use most of our tools for free on the twice-weekly Open Shop Nights.
“The key value that we offer the people is the opportunity to access tools and technology that previously had been behind very expensive pay walls,â€ he says. “People can come in and have access to 10 different workshops rolled into one space. They can use high-priced machinery to create prototypes or initial products, and you can rent a studio more cheaply than renting an office somewhere else.”
The Bodgery also offers the opportunity to build relationships with other entrepreneurs who can learn from and support one another’s goals.
Several entrepreneurs have been successful in putting this concept into practice. For example, one member who runs his business from The Bodgery makes custom lake maps with an innovative 3D quality, and he is turning that side hustle into a full-time career. The space is also home to artists who use the laser cutter to make jewelry, sign painters and muralists.
UW-Madison’s recently launched accelerated Master of Science in Design + Innovation gives new meaning to collaboration. Combining expertise from five schools and colleges with team-based interaction, the program promises to offer students a breadth of highly desired skills.
“The interdisciplinary nature of the program promotes creative thinking and an ability to solve complex problems,â€ says Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “The program will draw upon top-notch faculty from five disciplines and use our state-of- the-art facilities.”
Students will experience a dynamic course of study to include plenty of time in the UW Makerspace.
“Students can come in and dabble in all five areas of study – engineering, business, design, data and art – but they can also dig deeper in any one of those areas to complement experience they already have,â€ says Michelle Kwasny, academic director of the Master of Science in Design + Innovation program. “We’re looking forward to showing students all the amazing design resources available to them through this program.”
“The emergence of design as a cross-disciplinary tool is relatively new and rapidly evolving,â€ says John Zeratsky, bestselling author and entrepreneur. “By creating a completely new program around this emergent need and opportunity, UW-Madison is poised to offer the latest and best thinking on how design can benefit industry and the public sector.”
Investing in Innovation
Innovative companies with game-changing products sometimes only need access to space and technology to get those products to market – a result that creates economic impact and spurs additional opportunities for their customers.
The University of Wisconsin (UW) Makerspace offers the space and technology, and Zero Barrier is one such company.
Founded by UW-Madison engineering students operating out of the UW Makerspace, Zero Barrier is building a 3D printer that is supposed to be 60 times faster and 17 times cheaper than existing 3D printers.
The key to the company’s innovation is the use of its patent-pending technology called Light Assisted Metallurgy in 3D printing, rather than a laser-based system.
“Today, metal 3D printing is so expensive it is limited to prototyping and very niche applications,â€ says Zero Barrier co-founder Evan Wolfenden. “By drastically decreasing costs, Light Assisted Metallurgy enables the benefits of metal 3D printing to be shared by mass produced parts and a vast number of industries. Lighter parts will increase fuel efficiency. Assemblies will be simplified. Tooling costs will be eliminated. Supply chains will be shortened. Customized parts will proliferate.”
He says UW Makerspace has been key to his company’s success by providing a workshop for a year after the team graduated from UW-Madison’s College of Engineering.
“We had storage and access to all of the shops’ resources, which greatly accelerated development,â€ he says. “We 3D printed, laser cut and water jetted our prototype into existence. And we relied heavily on the built-in store to rent and buy essential tools. The Makerspace is a tremendous source of innovation for students and faculty, and we hope we are the first of many companies that start there.”
If you’d like to learn more about the Madison Region, check out the latest edition of the Madison Region Economic Development magazine.