News & Media

WiSys names UW-Eau Claire’s Ann Rupnow ‘Innovation Champion’

EAU CLAIRE—Ann Rupnow’s leadership in the Eau Claire entrepreneurship community and strong support of budding entrepreneurs at UW-Eau Claire make her a 2021 WiSys Innovation Champion. 

The WiSys award recognizes UW System leaders, faculty, staff, students or community partners who have played an integral role in building a culture of innovation at a UW System regional institution. 


Rupnow, UW-Eau Claire’s entrepreneurship program manager, collaborated with WiSys and community leaders to pilot a new program, known as WiSys VentureHome, to build local startup hubs around the state to support entrepreneurs in their local communities. 

Working with UW-Eau Claire and local coworking space CoLab, WiSys launched their first startup hub, or “VentureHome,” in Eau Claire in February 2020. Rupnow was the point person for UW-Eau Claire leading up to the launch and currently serves as the co-chair of the WiSys VentureHome-Eau Claire steering committee, along with CoLab’s Manager Elaine Coughlin. 

“People like Ann turn ideas into reality. Her passion for entrepreneurship was instrumental in bringing together university and community stakeholders around a shared vision of supporting scalable startups,” said Adhira Sunkara, WiSys’ manager of innovative ventures. “UW-Eau Claire, and the Eau Claire community as a whole, are lucky to have such a top-notch collaborator working for them.” 

Ann Rupnow, middle, UW-Eau Claire’s entrepreneurship program manager, holds her 2021 WiSys Innovation Champion award. She is congratulated by UW System President Tommy Thompson, left, and WiSys President Arjun Sanga, right. Rupnow received the award at a special reception at the Brittingham House in Madison on Aug. 18.

A key component of WiSys VentureHome is the Level Up! seed accelerator, which offers select entrepreneurs a five-month action-oriented program to take their business ideas to the next level, culminating in a pitch to investors. 

Rupnow has played a big role in getting more than a dozen startups ready to jump into the marketplace since WiSys VentureHome-Eau Claire began operations. ParityBlu, a startup created by three UW-Eau Claire graduates and one UW-Madison alum, was among the businesses that graduated from Level Up! 

ParityBlu CEO Sam Fitzhenry said his team valued Rupnow’s mentorship and support as they built their business around an app that unifies and streamlines use of multiple Bluetooth-enabled devices. 

“Ann continually went the extra mile to build our networks and introduce opportunities that helped grow our company and solve problems,” said Fitzhenry. “Ann dedicates herself to guiding entrepreneurs through the most challenging territories of a startup, and always continues being an insightful and engaging leader. We are so glad to have received such an opportunity to work with her.” 


Expertly guiding budding entrepreneurs isn’t new for Rupnow.  

She is the faculty advisor for UW-Eau Claire’s Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization and its offshoot student-run coffee supply business Blugold Roast LLC. The nonprofit, university-branded company offers students valuable hands-on business experience. 

“Working with students, I love that aspect of my job,” she said. “It’s fun to help them open their minds to see what can happen, what they can do.” 

Ann Rupnow, UW-Eau Claire’s entrepreneurship program manager, speaks with a student (UW-Eau Claire Photo).

Rupnow has also been a valuable partner and advocate for WiSys programming at UW-Eau Claire, including being a strong supporter of the WiSys Quick Pitch research communication competition and the entrepreneurial Startup 48 event, which is a qualifier for WiSys’ Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament. 

When it comes to the Innovation Champion award, Rupnow said she is honored, but must share credit for her success with great collaborating partners. 

“I’m really not just being humble, I can’t take credit for all of the great work that’s being done,” Rupnow said. “It’s the result of strong, collaborative efforts. I’m just honored to be a part of those successes.” 

WiSys is a nonprofit organization that works with faculty, staff, students, and alumni of the UW System to facilitate cutting-edge research programs, develop and commercialize discoveries and foster a spirit of innovative and entrepreneurial thinking across the state.