University of Wisconsin–Madison

DreamUp WI initiative to boost middle class in Dane County announces finalists

CONTACT: Rebecca Schwei, (608) 890-1100,

MADISON – UW–Madison has chosen three finalists – Thrive Dane, EARNdane, and Clock’d –  to advance to a national competition seeking ideas to expand and strengthen the middle class.

Two years ago, Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic initiative founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt, tapped UW–Madison to lead a local effort to produce innovative ideas that could increase the net income of 10,000 Dane County families by 10 percent. The competition is known as DreamUp Wisconsin, and is part of Schmidt Futures’ Alliance for the American Dream initiatve.

The university solicited proposals for the second round competition last summer. Seven semi-finalists competed in January for the opportunity to pitch their ideas to a Schmidt Futures appointed committee in Salt Lake City this March.

A 12-person committee, made up of community leaders and university faculty and staff, selected three finalists. Schmidt Futures has committed to supporting at least one team from each of the four partnering universities: UW–Madison, the Ohio State University, Arizona State University, and the University of Utah. These teams will then further develop their ideas and compete for up to $1 million this summer.

The DreamUp WI finalists are:

  • Thrive Dane, which has proposed a culturally responsive, closed-loop referral system that coordinates, tracks and responds to the self-identified social needs of vulnerable families in Dane County, with a specific focus on reducing racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities in well-being. In their plan, Health care providers will administer a universal screener for social needs and establish a risk-stratification system to connect high-risk clients to a community-based network of services. Partners include the Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness, Dane County Health Council, and UW—Madison Population Health Institute.
    Hayley Chesnik of United Way Dane County relayed that “we are confident their initiative offers a successful model of partnership and strong solution to achieving economic prosperity and health equity for families in Dane County. We look forward to traveling to Utah in March to share their collective vision of growing the middle class and supporting a more equitable Wisconsin.”
  • Clock’d, a Madison-based startup that allows workers in the foodservice and hospitality sectors to pick up open shifts that local businesses post at will through the Clock’d app. The proposal seeks to expand the use of Clock’d in the Dane County and Milwaukee regions and to develop job training and other assistance to workers. Clock’d is currently partnered with the WI Restaurant Association and is in the process of expanding its network.
    “We look forward to pitching our company to Schmidt Futures, and showing them how here in Madison, putting the right opportunities in the hands of people can make a world of difference,” says Marc LaPierre, the company’s chief executive officer.
  • EARNdane, whose Empowering Employee Advancement puts individuals at the center of their career advancement by providing the information, tools and connections they need to increase their net income. The EARNdane mobile platform offers an Opportunity Calculator to forecast net income changes, as well as customized referrals and real-time connection to employers, workforce training providers and community resources. Partners include Employment and Training Association, City of Madison, Workforce Development Board South Central WI, United Way of Dane County, Latino Academy of Workforce Development, and the Urban League of Greater Madison.

“Our organization is excited to move forward as part of the EARNdane team,” says Baltazar De Anda Santana, executive director of the Latino Academy of Workforce Development. “EARNdane will empower entry-level workers in Dane County by providing them with the digital tools and information needed to make critical financial decisions, realize their career dreams, and increase their earnings.”

Chancellor Rebecca Blank, who helped select the finalists, says she was pleased to see so many first-class proposals submitted. “DreamUp is a shining example of the Wisconsin Idea in action – a true university-community partnership to improve the well-being of Wisconsin residents, with high potential to produce innovative initiatives that could be implemented around the country,” she says. “Choosing among these proposals was a daunting task. I believe we have selected three proposals that address serious problems in very different domains and that have a high probability of success.”

Lawrence Berger, who is leading DreamUp Wisconsin on behalf of UW-Madison’s Institute for Research on Poverty, added, “We were once again awed by the quality and breadth of the proposals we received. These community-university partnerships have immense potential to increase shared prosperity in Dane County. We are excited to further support not only the three finalist teams but all of the participating teams to further refine and seek resources to implement their ideas.”

For more information on DreamUp Wisconsin, visit

For more information on the Alliance for the American Dream, visit

For more information on Schmidt Futures, visit