James Dahlberg

Morgridge Trustee James Dahlberg honored for entrepreneurial achievement

James Dahlberg, Morgridge trustee and former interim chief executive officer, is among three outstanding innovators to receive 2024 Chancellor’s Entrepreneurial Achievement Awards.

James Dahlberg
James Dahlberg

Estabished in 2011, the awards recognize individuals with ties to the University of Wisconsin–Madison who have contributed to economic growth and social good, served as entrepreneurial models for the UW community, and inspired the campus culture of entrepreneurship. Through their achievements, these outstanding entrepreneurs exemplify the Wisconsin Idea — UW–Madison’s longstanding commitment to benefiting the world beyond the boundaries of campus.

“UW–Madison is a hub of innovation and entrepreneurial excellence, driven by our alumni, students, staff and faculty and their curiosity, passion for problem-solving, and desire to make a difference,” said Chancellor Jennifer L. Mnookin. “I am delighted to recognize three outstanding members of our Badger community who are shepherding life-changing innovations into the world, all while creating jobs, economic impact, and social capital.”

Throughout his career, Dahlberg has fused academic excellence with an entrepreneurial mindset, translating basic research into powerful technologies for leading startups. He played a key role in merging UW innovation with entrepreneurship, impacting the campus and beyond.

After joining UW–Madison’s School of Medicine and Public Health in 1969, Dahlberg’s research on DNA and RNA led to multiple patents through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF). During the 1980s biotech boom, Dahlberg co-founded Cambridge BioTech Corp, and in 1993, he and UW chemistry professor Lloyd Smith co-founded the UW spinout Third Wave Technologies. Third Wave went public in 2001 and was sold in 2008 for $580 million. Its intellectual property was later licensed by Exact Sciences, now a multibillion-dollar cancer screening and diagnostics company. Dahlberg’s discoveries not only benefitted countless patients but also contribute to Madison’s standing as a national center for biohealth innovation.

“Jim never lost his commitment to an academic research career,” says Morgridge CEO Brad Schwartz. “And along the way, he came up with something that would be useful, and he helped turn it into a company. That to me is an academic entrepreneur. And he demonstrated for everybody that it could be done.”

An inventor on 37 U.S. and international patents, also served as science adviser to Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle. His many honors include membership in the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the European Molecular Biology Organization.

The Office of the Chancellor, in partnership with the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association, recognized 2024 recipients of the Chancellor’s Entrepreneurial Achievement Awards during the annual awards event on April 18.

Other 2024 winners include:

Mark Bakken, ‘89, Founder and Managing Partner, HealthX Ventures

Mark Bakken leads Madison-based HealthX Ventures, a digital healthcare-focused venture capital firm. Since 2015, HealthX has raised $137 million, invested in 34 companies — 17 of which started in Wisconsin. A UW–Madison computer sciences graduate, Bakken rowed for crew as a student and worked for the Division of Information Technology before founding his first startup, Goliath Networks. Bakken serves on the boards of the Wisconsin Technology Council and the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, and he is a mentor for Creative Destruction Lab-Wisconsin.

Dorri McWhorter, President and CEO, YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago

A Wisconsin School of Business graduate, Dorri McWhorter is renowned for her social enterprise business leadership. As President and CEO of the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, McWhorter has worked to modernize membership offerings and create partnerships with Nike and Peloton. She is a 2019 Inductee into the Chicago Innovation Hall of Fame, and her civic and philanthropic leadership include board service for Common Impact, 1871 (Technology Business Accelerator), and the Wisconsin School of Business External Advisory Board.