Whitewater business incubator opens to public

May 6, 2011
Kevin Hoffman
news photo

WHITEWATER — Wisconsin business and education leaders helped christen Whitewater’s Innovation Center on Thursday, praising the city’s latest project as a well-crafted model for the state’s economic growth.

Nearly 100 people attended the grand opening for the “business incubator”—a 38,000-square-foot building at Whitewater University Technology Park expected to serve as a development center for entrepreneurs.

“I look forward to being down here a little more often,” said Secretary of Commerce Paul Jadin, “and seeing that this kind of vision is carried out the way I think we were able to fulfill our vision of an incubator in Green Bay.”

City Manager Kevin Brunner said the technology park board is in discussion with a few potential tenants at the Innovation Center, one of which he described as “fairly large.”

Three already have signed leases. Cooperative Education Service Agency 2, the largest of its kind in Wisconsin, and Jefferson Eastern Dane Interactive Network, a virtual classroom and distance-learning organization, both agreed last year to move into the center.

Blackthorne Capital Management, the first private employer to occupy space, signed a three-year lease earlier this year.

The only unfinished portion of the Innovation Center is a 2,500-square-foot room reserved for lab space for UW-Whitewater. Construction on that portion of the building stalled because builders needed to know more about what type of ventilation equipment and other features it needed.

Brunner said Thursday the university committed to occupying two other rooms for lab space. About 10 vacant spaces remain.

“In less than three years we’ve been able to go from a germ of an idea to this magnificent facility, and now we’re talking about additional facilities,” Brunner said. “This Innovation Center is really the start of, I believe, many good things to come.”

UW-Whitewater and Chancellor Richard Telfer were instrumental in bringing the Innovation Center to fruition, Brunner said. Telfer helped connect the university community to the center in hopes of encouraging Wisconsin’s college graduates to develop new ideas and businesses in their home state.

“This is a place that is extremely valuable to the university, (and) we hope extremely valuable to the community,” Telfer said. “We hope it brings more people to the community to work, buy groceries, to buy homes, to buy food, all of those kinds of things.”

UW System President Kevin Reilly also spoke to the crowd, echoing Telfer’s remarks about creating new ideas to maintain Wisconsin’s talented graduates.

Brunner said the next project planned at the technology park is developing an “accelerator building” next door to the Innovation Center, similar to what was created at UW-Madison’s research park.

The accelerator will serve as a hub for more advanced businesses, namely those that move out of the Innovation Center and are in need of different degrees of support and services. That project might not start until the Innovation Center has more time to develop.