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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Discovery to Product director to retire

By Natasha Kassulke,

Andy Richards. Photo by University of Wisconsin Madison Communications

Andy Richards

For Andy Richards, director of Discovery to Product (D2P), it’s about time.

Time to take longer walks with his dog, Lady. Time to bike – and not just to work. Time to add to his worldwide travelogue that already includes jaunts to Peru, New Zealand and a favorite wild destination, the Boundary Waters. Time to tend to his bees and to perfect the art of making chocolate.

Time to do all of those things and more, without worrying about work emails piling up and days devoted to meetings.

Richards with his bees

Andy is looking forward to spending more time beekeeping.

Many can relate.

Richards, who has been D2P director since April 2018, is set to retire in May 2023. A search committee to fill the position is being formed and will be chaired by Aaron Olver, managing director of University Research Park.

D2P, located within the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education (OVCRGE), supports and mentors faculty, staff and student innovators and entrepreneurs on campus who are interested in moving their technology and innovations to the marketplace. With offices at 1403 University Ave., D2P fosters collaborations between UW–Madison, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) and other partners off and on campus, and has been integral in launching successful startups.

“Sometimes I hear some people who are not on campus say, ‘Oh that’s not possible,’” Richards says. “But what I love about UW–Madison is that, not only is it possible; it’s happening and it’s happening right here.”

D2P’s mission is to empower campus innovators to realize The Wisconsin Idea by transforming ideas into products and services that change the world. In fact, D2P has helped launch or grow over 100 startups since its inception in 2014.

Richards and his wife, Lisa Ellinger, in Japan. Ellinger is the outreach director for the LaFollette School of Public Affairs.

Richards and his wife, Lisa Ellinger, in Japan. Ellinger is the outreach director for the LaFollette School of Public Affairs.

“I’m grateful to Andy for his leadership on campus – first as our office’s chief of staff and then director of D2P,” says Steve Ackerman, vice chancellor for research and graduate education. “Andy has had a long distinguished career of achievement in Wisconsin higher education, holding numerous senior leadership positions at UW- UW–Madison, UW System and UW–Milwaukee.  His deep knowledge of higher education, and highly collaborative nature, have been a great benefit to UW–Madison and helped launch the campus’ successful bid to  earn the UW the distinction of being named an Association of Public and Land-grant Universities’ Innovation and Economic Prosperity University. This designation is based on the university’s significant, sustainable and campus-wide commitment to economic engagement, including its past and future focus on innovation and entrepreneurship, technology transfer, talent and workforce development and public service and community engagement.”

D2P brings partners together through the Innovate Network, comprised of 19 university entities and campus affiliates, and the Start In Madison online platform, which provides a framework for stronger collaboration among partners in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. D2P has also increased the resources available for campus startups by securing grants from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).

“Andy has been a great partner to WARF in advancing entrepreneurship across the UW-Madison campus,” says Erik Iverson, CEO of WARF. “His leadership of D2P and development of the Innovate Network will have lasting impact as the university continues to nurture entrepreneurs in labs and classrooms in the years to come.”

Richards says the time is also right for his retirement with D2P staffed with experienced mentors (Innovation and Commercialization specialists) and skilled leadership and support staff, along with a busy programming and training calendar including the annual Innovate Week, and resources such as funding for campus innovators and popular newsletter. He says he is excited that the office also will be hiring a new position devoted to building inclusivity into entrepreneurship on campus and creating a network for more diverse innovation across campus.

“To solve society’s most challenging problems, such as climate change, we need all the disciplines to come together,” Richards says. “UW–Madison is a place where that comingling happens. One of the things I have been most proud of while being at D2P, is how we have  served all of campus and built connections with on and off campus communities.”

In 2022, D2P served 368 campus innovators and over 200 commercialization projects and startups through training programs, mentoring and grants, drawing from 109 departments/centers/programs, and 17 schools and colleges.

“I’d tell my replacement that it’s a great time to be part of innovation on campus,” Richards says. “I’ve had amazing colleagues who care a lot about the university’s mission and stand by The Wisconsin Idea. There is a lot of energy and learning going on at so many levels on campus. Sometimes people ask me why I do what I do for the university and my answer is that – the why is all around us. It’s the students, faculty and staff who are working to do great things for society. Every day I learn something just from being at the UW–Madison.”

Before coming to UW–Madison, Richards was a senior special assistant to the president for strategic initiatives and chief of staff for the president of the University of Wisconsin System. He has a master’s degree in business administration from UW–Milwaukee and a master’s degree in public policy and administration from UW–Madison’s La Follette School of Public Affairs.

Richards also has been very active in the community including Past Board President of Domestic Abuse Intervention Services, Foundation Board President of the Wisconsin Academy of Science, Arts and Letters; and Alumni and Board Member of Leadership Greater Madison.

“Andy has been a wonderful partner with us at the Forward BIO Institute, and a tremendous connector of the different parts of our entrepreneurial ecosystem,” says Bill Murphy, professor of biomedical engineering/orthopedics and rehabilitation, and director of the Forward BIO Institute. “His collaborative vision has enabled D2P to become what was envisioned during its founding – a ‘front door’ for entrepreneurial activities at UW–Madison.”