Going on 13 years at UW, Allen Dines tries to turn students’ passion into their profession by connecting them to a vast network of entrepreneurs, investors and researchers on campus.
Dines, assistant director for new ventures at UW’s Office of Corporate Relations, helps create connections to corporate entities and supports many organizations that provide outreach to students with big ideas.
Dines is an organizer for Startup Weekend, which takes place this weekend and is a compressed exercise in how to launch a new venture.
“In a way, I serve as a coach for helping faculty, students, staff form companies,” Dines said. “You have a softball coach, a soccer coach, a football coach and now we had a startup coach.”
Dines began working at UW in 2001 as assistant director for business development, which was a new position at the university at the time.
Dines founded, operated and sold three different startups. He said UW was searching for someone who had firsthand experience at all stages of working with startup ventures including negotiating with investors, meeting with customers and selling a company.
One of Dine’s biggest responsibilities is helping to build relationships between UW and both large and small companies. He said the benefit from his work comes from fostering connections with these industries as a way to help UW commercialize research and help companies train entrepreneurs.
This widespread network allows him to expand resources for UW at both an industrial and collegiate level, he said.
In 2002, as a way to connect with leaders from other universities for support and collaboration, Dines co-founded the Midwest Research University Network, a coalition of research schools from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin.
The network is distinct in its location between the coasts, which are already well-established venues for entrepreneurship, Dines said.
“My sense was if you create a venue that brings a lot of smart people together, they’ll probably come up with something clever to do on their own,” he said. “And I thought what better place to do this than a university setting.”
Dines said making the university system the central point of the organization was ideal because students are smart, patient, eager to make the world a better place and still in the process of making their goals concrete.
In the last decade, there has been a general movement toward raising awareness about the feasibility of making one’s own ideas a reality, which prompted him to adopt the same efforts on campus through his management role for the Wiscontrepreneur program.
From 2007 to 2012, the program worked to create widespread access to students interested in identifying problems that need solving and building their own career around it through startup opportunities, Dines said.
Dines said the experience of Startup Weekend is not necessarily about creating the next big idea, but rather learning about the process and getting excited to do more.
“The concentration of bright people and interesting research provides a fertile environment for doing some of these creative things, and when you combine that with startup cultures, a lot of cool stuff goes on here,” he said.