I've written about several different gifts to foster entrepreneurship on school campuses of late. Whether it's the $25 million social entrepreneurship gift that alumnus Jeff Miller and his wife gave to Santa Clara University, or the $31 million that venture capitalist James R. Swartz and his wife gave Carnegie Mellon, more donors are getting excited about helping nurture the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Not surprisingly, these funders often have business backgrounds, with experience starting and investing in different ventures. In the case of that Santa Clara University gift, location also matters, and the fact that the school is in the heart of Silicon Valley is relevant. Carnegie Mellon, meanwhile, is a prominent school with plenty of monied alumni and ties around the country—not to mention a rich history of fostering innovation.
Now comes news of a recent $5 million gift from J. Fielding Miller and his wife Kim Grice Miller to create a school of entrepreneurship at East Carolina University (ECU). ECU is located in Greenville, North Carolina, about 80 miles from Raleigh, and the school is heralding the Miller School of Entrepreneurship as the first school of its kind in the region.
The school will serve as a hub for ECU students "preparing to bring an entrepreneurial mindset to their communities," and will build on outfits already at the school, including the Office of Innovation and Economic Development, and the Small Business Technology and Development Center.
This is a further indicator that more donors are excited about bolstering entrepreneurship on college campuses, even in regions one wouldn't first expect. Indeed, to some donors, a key appeal of such gifts is that entrepreneurs nurtured at a local university can spark more economic growth in regions that need it. We've written about this same thinking around campus gifts for scientific research and healthcare, which can be important drivers of local prosperity. A school with a strong plan to spur economic growth in its region can get nice traction with certain kinds of donors.
In this case, the funds are coming from Miller and his wife Kim, who are both alumni of ECU. As we often say at IP, alumni couples often have twice the loyalty to their alma maters. Mix that double loyalty with deep pockets, and you have a recipe for some nice gifts. We've seen this again and again.
As well, Miller has the kind of background we have come to expect with these kinds of gifts. After graduating with a degree in business marketing, he went on to found CAPTRUST, a financial and investment advisory firm in Raleigh. So the the Millers haven't been pulled too far from their alma mater, either. Miller has served on the ECU board of trustees, the ECU Foundation board of directors, and the ECU business advisory council.
As Miller puts it, "entrepreneurship gave me the opportunity to achieve independence, the ability to profit from hard work, and the capacity to give back in a meaningful way... I hope this gift will encourage other ECU alumni and entrepreneurs to support this effort and extend the school’s impact even further."
It's also worth noting that the Millers have a family foundation that focuses on the region as well. In case there was any doubt of the couple's regional focus, it's called the Miller Family Foundation of Wake County. Past philanthropy through the foundation has involved the couple's alma mater, also.
So to reiterate: Unique motivations may drive funders committed to certain regions and institutions, particularly spaces that aren't always in the limelight, and these motivations definitely seem to be at work here.
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