D2P's Igniter program is designed to bring to commercialize ideas and technology originating within UW-Madison. The program helps project teams develop the strategies and materials they need to move their product or service from the lab or dorm room out to the market.
D2P’s efforts have helped form some 13 startup companies with another 10 innovations currently on track for startup. The core innovations of these projects have ranged from cell phone apps to stem cells, and the project leads have included undergraduate and graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, staff, and faculty researchers.
The Igniter program begins with an intensive 5 week sprint that includes a weekly series of 4-hour workshops. During this portion of the program, project teams focus on identifying their value propositions and target customer segments. In a group setting, teams learn to incorporate tools and techniques such as the Business Model Canvas, customer development, lean startup methodologies, desk research, in-depth customer interviews, and value proposition design.
Igniter project teams will also work one-on-one with D2P’s Mentors-in-Residence. The Mentor will work with each project team to address issues and challenges associated with the specific innovation and business opportunity. Mentors-in-Residence are experienced entrepreneurs, start-up executives, product development managers, and technologists with specific industry experiences (see the about page for bios).
For teams that successfully emerge from the initial Igniter program with a compelling “product/market fit”, funding is available from D2P through Igniter grants to pay for commercialization tasks. These efforts may be done on campus and may include expenses for salaries and prototype development. Igniter funds are truly grants that do not need to be repaid, and D2P does not receive any equity in your company as consideration for the grant funding.
The ultimate goal of the Igniter program is to spin your project out of the University as a start-up company that is well prepared for success with initial customers lined up, a strong business plan, a fundable team, fundraising prospects, and initial seed investment.
Qualifications for D2P's Igniter enrollment
- Must have a current affiliation with the UW-Madison (student, faculty, staff, etc).
- Innovation cannot be owned by a legally incorporated entity (LLC, Inc., etc.) outside of UW-Madison or WARF.
- The innovation must be at technical proof of concept or beyond. (D2P has other workshops for idea stage projects.)
D2P’s Pre-Igniter workshop is a condensed version of the 5-week Igniter workshop series. In less than one day, you will be exposed to the core concepts covered in the full Igniter workshop, including lean startup methodologies, using the Business Model and Value Proposition Design canvases, desk research strategies, in-depth customer interview techniques, team formation considerations, and IP strategies.
After this first workshop, you will be able to apply these tools to accelerate the development of your idea or project. Participants will be invited to a second workshop a few weeks later to present their progress and receive feedback from D2P staff and Mentors-in-Residence.
The Lean Startup methodology was coined by Eric Reis in a book by the same name. Eric Reis was a student of Steve Blank at Stanford, who pioneered the genre as applied to startups in his books; Four Steps to the Epiphany and The Startup Owner's Manual.
The D2P Igniter and Pre-Igniter programs are based on the NSF I-Corps curriculum, a lean startup program developed by Steve Blank for federally funded research projects. The D2P team has made significant modifications to these programs in order to:
- Accommodate a wide range of project subject disciplines; software, engineering, life sciences, agriculture being the most common, but we have had Igniter projects rooted other areas such as art and social sciences.
- Accommodate the academic and researcher schedules while balancing competing demands.
On the D2P staff are several “Mentors-in-Residence.” Mentors-in-Residence are experienced entrepreneurs, start-up executives, product development managers, and technologists with specific industry experiences (see staff page for bios).
Mentors-in-Residence are available to meet one-on-one and discuss your ideas. They will give expert advice as to critical issues your startup idea will face, recommend resources and contacts for you to leverage, and help you identify potential next steps for you to take in pursuing the development of your idea into a product or company.
D2P can also help connect you to mentors and subject matter experts outside of the University. These may be people with specific domain knowledge, regulatory or legal experience, or strong industry connections.
In order to bring a new product or service to the market, you need a good plan and a great team. D2P will help you ask the right questions to ensure you are considering all of the critical issues, and are confident with your next steps. We will also help you build the right team in order to execute your plan.
A successfully team contains at least two critical team members:
- Business Lead
A business lead is an individual who will spearhead the creation a scalable and sustainable business model and an executable growth strategy. Typically, business leads are experienced entrepreneurs who have a current and working knowledge of subject technology’s industry and marketplace. D2P can help you identify and select a strong business lead for your project.
- Technical Lead
Often, technical leads are principal investigators, faculty, staff, or researchers who have discovered or created a new technology and are seeking to commercialize that innovation through the marketplace. Technical leads are responsible for the development and management of the business from a technical feasibility standpoint. Many of D2P’s technical leads have been leaders in their particular field of research. However, technical leads can be anyone, student, faculty, or staff, who has the ability to manage technological development within a project or start-up company.
Fundraising is critical to successfully spin out of the University as a start-up company. D2P can assist you in your fundraising efforts in the following ways:
- Provide grant money via the Igniter program to fund necessary pre-commercialization work while your project is here on campus.
- Prepare and vet financial models for your business plan that estimate the amount of capital you will require to successfully execute your plan and address potential risks.
- Introduce you to potential seed investors which may lead your first round of financing enabling your company to spin-out independent of the the University.