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Catching Up With Adam Bock: Seasoned Entrepreneur and Teacher

by Greg Forkins Wednesday, June 20, 2018

This semester we had the pleasure of sitting down with Adam J. Bock to learn more about his extensive career, both within and outside of the university.

Adam is a Madison native and spent his childhood in Wisconsin before attending Stanford University for his undergraduate studies. Having always been interested in aviation, Adam studied aeronautical engineering at Stanford. Despite his passion for the aerospace industry, he started his career as a consultant at Monitor, a strategy consulting firm established by Michael Porter. At Monitor, Adam enjoyed the opportunity to work with and learn from so many interesting people, and perform core strategy work for such clients as AT&T, Herman Miller, and Heineken. After more than three years at Monitor, Adam left to pursue his MBA from the Wisconsin School of Business.

It was not until he arrived at UW-Madison that Adam learned about the entrepreneurship specialization program. There he enjoyed working with such esteemed faculty as Professor Robert Pricer and taking entrepreneurship courses like WAVE. As part of the WAVE class, Adam consulted for a biotech company named Gala Design, which had spun out of UW-Madison. The connection with Gala Design was a serendipitous one for Adam, as it started him down a fulfilling and very successful career in biotech.

After completing his MBA and consulting with numerous biotech firms, Adam helped found Stratatech Corporation in 1999. Adam and his co-founders built Stratatech around a patented technology for stem cell research and regenerative medicine. Although he helped launch the company, Adam moved on before the company scaled. Years later, in 2016, Stratatech was acquired by Mallinckrodt, a pharmaceutical company out of the UK, for $187 million.

While working at Stratatech, Adam was approached by two angel investors, Tom Terry and Larry Landweber, who had the idea to establish an angel network. Adam was hired to help found and manage Early Stage Research (ESR), which became one of the first two angel networks in Wisconsin. Despite Adam’s background in biotech, ESR focused mostly on IT companies. He facilitated over $5M in angel investments to early-stage IT startups, including UltraVisual Medical Systems, which later merged with Emageon before a successful IPO. After five years with ESR, Adam switched from investor to advisor, and began consulting with startups as part of the TechStar program. He specifically worked on commercializing technologies that were developed at Wisconsin-based research institutions.

This experience commercializing technologies from universities led Adam to his next few roles. After leaving TechStar, Adam was approached by a team from Northwestern University that had developed a patented technology for a biosynthetic adhesive. With these teammates, Adam co-founded Nerites Corporation in 2004. In the following years, Adam helped negotiate the license from Northwestern, raise private capital, and set up the Company's lab operations before moving on to other opportunities. Nerites was later acquired for $20 million in 2011. Adam was then recruited by one of the Nerites investors, a University of Nebraska alum, to advise Nebraska's tech transfer office on start-up venturing activity. As a result of this work, Adam became the founding CEO of Virtual Incision Corporation (formerly Nebraska Surgical Solutions). While in this role, Adam raised financing, oversaw the development of a prototype, and led preliminary animal testing of the technology.

Among all the lessons that Adam learned while running Virtual Incision Corp, one important realization was that he did not enjoy being in the CEO role. Adam reports that while he loves being in the midst of action for startup companies, he prefers to be in more of a background support role. This realization coincided with the time that Adam was finishing a book with Professor Gerard George of UW-Madison, entitled Inventing Entrepreneurs, which was the result of their joint academic research on entrepreneurs. Adam really enjoyed the academic side of entrepreneurship, and so in 2007 he decided to get his Ph.D. in Innovation and Entrepreneurship from the Imperial College in London. He continued to study with Professor Gerard George, and their research during his Ph.D. turned into a second book, Models of Opportunity.

After completing his Ph.D. in 2010, Adam and his family moved to Scotland, where he worked at the University of Edinburgh. In addition to teaching courses on entrepreneurship, Adam was in charge of facilitating connections between the business school and the rest of the university. The goal was to provide students of other disciplines with business skills and training in entrepreneurship. After three years in Edinburgh, Adam moved back to Madison and began teaching courses on entrepreneurship and management at both Edgewood College and UW-Madison. He is currently a Lecturer in the Management & Human Resources department at the Wisconsin School of Business, where he enjoys interacting with students and continuing his research. He recently wrote The Business Model Book, co-authored with Professor Gerard George, which teaches its readers “how to create, test, adapt, and innovate successful business models for any company in any situation.” He utilizes these lessons at his current entrepreneurial venture, Cellular Logistics Inc., which is an early-stage life science venture based on a technology that attempts to treat and prevent heart failure.

If you haven’t noticed by now, Adam has experience in just about every role in entrepreneurship: founder, CEO, investor, board member, advisor, researcher, and teacher. When reflecting on his varied experiences, he reports that teaching is his favorite role. “I’ve always had fun teaching,” Adam reflects, largely because he loves getting to know and support his students. His students benefit from the care and effort that Adam puts into his teaching, and his courses are favorites among students. He was recently awarded with the National 3E Award from the United States Association of Small Business and Entrepreneurship (USASBE) for the best experiential entrepreneurial classroom activity. Read More

When asked about how entrepreneurship has changed in Madison since he was a student here, Adam reflects that there is much more enthusiasm around the university’s role not just as an engine for knowledge, but for innovation as well. He is excited about the possibilities and what sort of commercial impact can be the result of these efforts by the university.

As a teacher of entrepreneurship courses, Adam has a direct impact on this sort of innovation that comes out of the university. When pressed about his role in teaching students about entrepreneurship, Adam reports that his goal in class is “not to create entrepreneurs,” but rather to teach his students to “develop and utilize an entrepreneurial mindset.” This is important, Adam says, because “this mindset allows people to see new opportunities that others don’t. So we also need entrepreneurs on management teams at existing companies, not just at startups.” For those students who want to work at a startup, however, Adam’s advises them to go in for the right reasons: “you shouldn’t start a company to make a lot of money, but rather because there’s something you want to accomplish.” To do so, he encourages all of his students to “get out of the building” – to get involved, go where the technology is, join clubs, and network. To become a successful entrepreneur, Adam reports, “there is no shortcut or substitute for putting the time in.”

Adam certainly knows what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur, and so his students are keen to pay attention to his advice. His students, along with the rest of us here in the UW community, are lucky to have Adam J. Bock on staff.