Sunday, December 4th, 2016

The Awards Show

6

The Oscars! The Emmys! The Grammys! And now, the Entrepreneurial Achievement Awards!

The University of Wisconsin – Madison’s Office of Corporate Relations handed out the Entrepreneurial Achievement Awards on April 26th to five alumni.

“UW-Madison has developed a strong and vibrant culture of entrepreneurship among our faculty, staff and students,” says Chancellor Biddy Martin. “We have created this prize to honor talented and creative alumni who have had great success as entrepreneurs, who have been instrumental in creating jobs and who offer models for our students. These alumni have inspired us, and they serve our students by mentoring them and shaping their aspirations.”

The awards were handed out at a ceremony at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery. Looks like a nice place. I hope the food was as nice as the decor.

The five alumni were:

  • Jim Berbee (B.S., M.S. mechanical engineering, MBA in finance), founder and retired chair of Berbee Information Networks Corp. in Fitchburg. Berbee went on to medical school at Stanford University and is currently a resident emergency medicine physician at UW Hospital.

  • Judy Faulkner (M.S. computer science), who founded Epic Systems in 1979. The privately held health care software company, based in Verona, Wis., makes software for mid-size and large medical groups, hospitals and integrated health care organizations in the U.S. and abroad. The fast-growing company has more than 4,100 employees and an expanding campus in Verona.

  • Hector DeLuca (M.S., Ph.D. biochemistry), president and CEO of Madison-based Deltanoid Pharmaceuticals Inc., a drug-development company involved in breakthrough treatments for metabolic bone diseases such as osteoporosis and renal osteodystrophy, psoriasis and other disease targets. DeLuca has devoted his research to the understanding of metabolism and mechanism of action of vitamins A and D.

  • Chad Sorenson (B.S., M.S. mechanical engineering, MBA), president and co-founder of Sologear LLC, based in Middleton, Wis. The company manufactures and markets FlameDisk, an invention that brings convenience and simplicity to grills. It is based on a new solidified ethanol fuel that the company developed.

  • James Weinert (B.A., MBA), who encouraged the idea of teaching entrepreneurship at UW-Madison before it became a national phenomenon. He gave the School of Business support to enable students in the WAVE (Weinert Applied Ventures in Entrepreneurship) program to invest in promising business ventures and provided funds to endow the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship. Weinert remains active in the program by mentoring student entrepreneurs and serving on the boards of several businesses run by former Weinert students.

  • I confess seeing Judy Faulkner make the list piqued my curiosity a bit. After all, Faulker is a big time lefty who tried to coerce her suppliers into not doing business with the members of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. Faulkner is also a contributor to One Wisconsin Now. I think it’s fair to say that Faulkner might not be contributing to the entrepreneurial spirit in Wisconsin with those actions.

    Faulkner’s company Epic Systems is a little more bi-partisan when it comes to receiving favors. When the federal government was trying to decide on what kind of commercial electronic health care records system to use for the VA and the Department of Defense, five members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation suggested in a letter that the feds ask the recommendations of three companies that just happen to use Epic Systems. I’m sure it’s that type of working the political connections that just ticks off State Sen. Lena Taylor.

    But what really interested me about this was discovering that Epic Systems and the University of Wisconsin Medical Foundation were the subject of a lawsuit for “theft of trade secrets, breach of contractual obligations, unfair competition, and tortious interference.”

    In August 2002, the District Court ruled on summary judgment that UWMF had violated its contract by disclosing IDX technical information to Epic. The court also denied Epic’s summary judgment motion, which asked the court to dismiss the tortious interference claims. Subsequently, on the eve of trial, the case settled.

    Hey, but at least Faulkner got a trophy from UW for being entrepreneurial, right?

    Well, it was an award for something. Turns out there was no formal criteria used to select the award recipients, no formal process, no committee of judges. Charles Hoslet, Managing Director of the UW-Madison Office of Corporate Relations, said that he just gathered the suggestions, narrowed them down, and sent the suggestions to UW Chancellor Biddy Martin.

    When I asked who nominated Faulkner, Hoslet wrote me, “Judy Faulkner’s name came up several times in conversations I had about potential nominees, but I’m afraid I didn’t write down who exactly I was talking to each time. I can tell you she was one of the people that staff from my office recommended for consideration, but there were others that mentioned her as well.”

    Now I want to stress that I am not suggesting that the University of Wisconsin gave Faulkner an award to thank her for co-involvement in a lawsuit with them. But in this maiden voyage of the Entrepreneurial Achievement Awards, the ship might have hit a big ugly rock. Perhaps the next time the Entrepreneurial Achievement Award nominations are requested, the Office of Corporate Relations might want to suggest a few criteria, such as the company cannot have been a defendant in a lawsuit that also involved the university. Or that the company involved might actually promote an entrepreneurial culture in Wisconsin.

    Then again, when it comes to award shows, it’s worth remembering that Led Zeppelin, Chuck Berry, The Kinks and The Who never won a Grammy.

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