In case you've never noticed, entrepreneurs can be pretty fervent proselytisers for the startup life, touting the many benefits of entrepreneurship—whether it's the innovation and wealth creation that benefits society or the personal rewards to entrepreneurs in terms of a sense of efficacy and financial security.
Increasingly, as we've been reporting, boosters of entrepreneurship see universities as great allies. These institutions don't just shape the aspirations of young people; they are often local economic engines, as well.
The latest campus gift for entrepreneurship comes from Irwin Zahn, who founded General Staple Company in 1954 in New York City's Garment District. The company started as an industrial stapling and stitching business. He soon realized that there were opportunities to be had in the blue jeans craze of the 1960s, and envisioned a machine that could improve the stopper at the bottoms of zippers. His initial concept grew into a global electronic interconnect company, later named Autosplice, Inc. After nearly 60 years, Zahn sold his business in 2011.
Zahn recently founded the Moxie Foundation, a philanthropic vehicle based in San Diego "dedicated to enriching and empowering individuals and communities by advancing educational achievement and entrepreneurial success, personal health, and the environment." A key component of the foundation's work is supporting entrepreneurship. Past philanthropy created the Zahn Innovation Center, a startup incubator at City College in Harlem, from which Zahn graduated in 1948.
San Diego State University recently announced a $5.1 million endowment gift from Zahn's Moxie Foundation to create the the Zahn Innovation Platform (ZIP), the Zahn Chair of Creativity and Innovation, the Zahn Professorship of Creativity and Innovation, and the Irwin Zahn Spirit of Innovation Prize, which will be awarded to one SDSU graduate per year to cover his or her student debt. SDSU also has a Zahn Innovation Center, which was established in 2012. This latest gift will expand the center as a "commercial and social incubator to support entrepreneurship on campus."
As entrepreneurship gifts keep on coming (I've written about several of them, lately), it's worth noting that SDSU recently broke into the top 25 on Forbes' list of America’s Most Entrepreneurial Universities. There's some prestige to be had here, too, and as entrepreneurship continues to be a hot topic, expect funders to continue to lend their support.
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Zahn has supported SDSU through the Moxie Foundation two times before, and it's worth remembering that this latest gift builds on past efforts. We often note how donors, pleased with how their money is being spent, double down or refine an earlier effort. This definitely seems to be the case with Zahn. If you have any doubt, here's Zahn in his own words: "We have enjoyed watching the success of those involved with the Zahn Innovation Center and believe that this endowment will help expand the influence of innovation and changemaking to all corners of the campus...and beyond."
With Zahn retiring from business in San Diego and starting a philanthropic vehicle dedicated to supporting the region, the stars are really aligned for SDSU. The Moxie Foundation, by the way, says that it is not accepting unsolicited proposals at this time, but those working in San Diego and in entrepreneurship might want to keep an eye on this funder.