Behind a $1 Million Gift to a NYC Public School by a 31-Year-Old

One of the key trends in philanthropy we're watching closely is early giving by young entrepreneurs who've scored big. The old modelmake your pile first and give it away lateris going out. The new model stresses making a difference now. Mark Zuckerberg is, of course, the poster boy for this trend, putting aside $2.5 billion for philanthropy by the age of 30. But there are many others like him.

A case in point: Martin Shkreli, now 31 years old, who once made Forbes’ “30 Under 30 in Finance” list and is emerging as a promising new philanthropist of the millennial generation. This Wall Street hedge fund investor turned life sciences entrepreneur recently announced a $1 million gift to Hunter College High School, a public school in the city. The gift marks one of the largest gifts ever made to an individual non-charter New York City public school.  

Shkreli is from Brooklyn and attended Hunter from 1994 to 2000. Most of his gift will be going toward new technology and teaching resources for the school’s science and guidance programs.

Here we should pause to say something else about young philanthropists: Education is a big cause for these givers. They're young enough to remember vividly what it's like to be a student, and also to have strong links with their alma maters. In Shkreli's case, he still talks about his math teacher at Hunter and is just one of many Hunter grads with a close attachment to the school, which may be the closest thing to an elite private high school in the New York City system. It's for intellectually gifted kids, and is located on the Upper East Side. You can just imagine the trench warfare among well-heeled New York parents to get their kids into that place.

But before you dismiss Shkreli's gift as yet another example of elite philanthropists sprinkling cash on their own worlds of privilege, consider his background: He grew up in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, in an Albanian-American family, far away the glittering world of Manhattan. For him, Hunter was a big escalator upward. 

“Beyond its great teachers and academics, Hunter encouraged me to think creatively and to challenge conventional wisdom,” Shkreli explained. “Hunter is a wonderful educational incubator and I’m hoping the endowment set up in my name will help train a new generation of students to stay ahead of the curve and also motivate them to always see around the corner.”

How much money Shkreli has, and where his philanthropy is headed, are unknowns, but we’ll definitely keep him on our radar. After all, if he's writing big checks now, early in the game of making his fortune, just think what he might be doing down the road, when he's a lot richer. (Nearly every dude like Shkreli, we've noticed, only gets richer; never poorer.) 

Shkreli formed a biotech company called Retrophin in 2011 and launched a new life sciences company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, in 2014. As a guy who holds several drug patents, we wouldn’t be surprised to see some philanthropic support for science research and STEM education in his future. The focus of his biotech company is on rare diseases, so there could be some future support for disease research and treatment thrown in there too. Of course, it's all speculation at this point—one of our favorite hobbies at IP.