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Wisconsin Entrepreneurial Bootcamp Alum Extends Global Reach of Entrepreneurship Training

By Kimberly Vavrick

January 28, 2016

Padraic Casserly, a Minnesota native and University of Wisconsin–Madison alumnus living in East Africa teaching biomedical engineering at Jimma University, a public university in Jimma, Ethiopia, is sharing entrepreneurial skills that he learned at the Wisconsin School of Business halfway around the world.

Thanks to his participation in the WSB’s Wisconsin Entrepreneurial Bootcamp (WEB) while earning his master of science in engineering, he was offered the opportunity to revamp his department’s entrepreneurial curriculum, bringing essential business skills to engineering students.

“When I started at UW–Madison, all I knew was that I wanted to study abroad and pursue a degree in science or engineering,” Casserly says. “Now, my goals are to further develop my skills so that I can maximize my contributions to the fields of global health, appropriate technology development, and economic development in Africa.”

Jimma University students and faculty
Jimma University students and faculty (L to R) Kidist Hailu, student; Yonas Kebede, student; Jafer Serajo, student; Padraic Casserly, instructor, department of biomedical engineering; Gamada Gudina; and Amanuel Walelu, student. Kebede and Serajo hold a prototype for a physical rehabilitation device for patients recovering from lower extremity injuries.

After completing his bachelor’s degree in 2010, Casserly went to Accra, Ghana working as a Public Health Surveyor for African Partners Medical. He personally invested in an African friend’s business, and that inspired him to pursue his own business education so that he could return to Africa to bring entrepreneurship training to the community.

“At the time, I was working on an extracurricular project to develop a low-cost, locally manufactured piece of emergency medical equipment with some undergraduate biomedical engineering students in Ethiopia and my graduate advisor, Dr. Amit Nimunkar,” Casserly says. “An important aspect of that project, which was completely missing from our approach, was a business model for our product. Knowing that I needed to develop my business acumen, I applied for the WEB in 2012 while I was earning my master’s in engineering at UW-Madison.”

WEB was developed in 2007 by Dan Olszewski, director of the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship, and Anne Miner, professor emerita at the Wisconsin School of Business, with support from donor John Morgridge (BBA ’55), former chairman and CEO of Cisco. The intensive one-week program infuses UW–Madison STEM graduate students with basic entrepreneurship skills that they need to establish themselves in business.

“These students tend to focus much of their training in the research area,” Olszewski says. “Being a successful researcher today requires you to have an entrepreneurial perspective. Much of their academic training in their home field is about the technology and the science. They are amazingly skilled on that dimension. They haven’t spent much time learning how to determine customer needs or how you take a product to market.”

Dan Olszewski
Dan Olszewski, Director of the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship at the Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

In October, when Casserly got the opportunity to retool his department’s entrepreneurship offerings, he realized that he could ostensibly bring a version of the WSB’s WEB program to his school—and he reached out to the Weinert Center for guidance.

“I wanted to focus on Lean Startup Methodology because it encourages students to get out of the classroom and test their business models in the public forum,” Casserly says. “They have to think critically and creatively. This type of project-based learning improves critical thinking and problem solving skills more than traditional learning techniques, and students in a developing country like Ethiopia need these skills to overcome the innumerable challenges on a daily basis.”

Olszewski responded to the less-than-standard alumni request.

“Most of the questions I get from past students and alumni are that they have a business idea they are thinking of pursuing and are looking for advice,” Olszewski says. “Both from a geographic standpoint and a unique teaching standpoint, this was a first.”

“Since I’ve begun teaching in mid-October, Dan Olszewski has also checked up on me to make sure everything is going well and has reassured me that he is available for advice should I need it,” Casserly says.

Providing support for a brand new entrepreneurship program in Ethiopia exemplifies WSB’s dedication to the Wisconsin Idea around the globe, he adds.

“It is both the mission of the School and the Wisconsin Idea that lives are improved outside of the classroom,” Casserly says. “Even though I technically teach entrepreneurship inside of a classroom, this room does happen to be in a very poor, but quickly developing, country far from the classrooms of the University of Wisconsin. I’m looking forward to helping the students develop their own business ideas and then test them publicly.”

Learn more about the Wisconsin Entrepreneurship Bootcamp at the Wisconsin School of Business.