You wouldn't think that someone who lasted barely two semesters at a university would bestow a huge donation on the place after striking it rich as a tech entrepreneur. But that's exactly what Brendan Iribe did last week, making a $31 million gift to the University of Maryland two months after selling his company, Oculus, to Facebook for $2 billion.
In analyzing this gift for the tech section, I note how Iribe was inspired by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who has gotten into big-time philanthropy notably early in his career.
But what I find interesting is how Iribe chose UMD at College Park as the recipient of the gift, despite the fact he dropped out during his freshman year to start his first company with another UMD student, Michael Antonov.
On the other hand, I can't say I'm surprised, since a number of other tech winners have given big to the schools they walked away from. Most notably, Michael Dell has given tens of millions of dollars to the University of Texas at Austin, which he famously left after starting a computer business in his dorm room.
The reason that these gifts make sense is that ex-students can have huge affection for institutions where they didn't receive degrees, but where they got something else: ideas, business partners, and the gumption to start a company.
In Iribe's case, he was on campus long enough to meet Michael Antonov and to get the confidence to strike out in the tech field.
In making his gift, Iribe commented: “The University of Maryland was an inspiration for me, and the relationships I made there have lasted a lifetime."
Iribe also said that he likes the idea of helping other science students develop themselves, and that's another key point: A lot of philanthropists want to create opportunity for others, and giving to education is the obvious way to do that. If you don't have an alma mater, the place you dropped out of is the next closest thing.
All of which is to say that university development departments should be keeping close tabs on not just their grads, but really anyone who spent time on campus as a student.