Beyond the Startup: A Big Gift Aims to Foster an "Entrepreneurial Mindset" Among Students

News out of New Rochelle, New York points to another big boost for entrepreneurship and innovation on campuses. The $15 million gift from James and Anne Marie Hynes to Iona College establishes the Hynes Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and provides endowment funding for the institute moving forward. It also establishes the couple as the largest lifetime donors in this school's history

The Hynes Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation will have an interdisciplinary curricular focus for students in any major and create new majors and minors in entrepreneurship. In addition, a "community incubator" will get students outside the classroom to gain hands-on, shared learning experiences.

I find alumni entrepreneurship gifts interesting because more often than not, the real story isn't the dollar amount or the number of new positions created, but the curriculum-related details of the gift itself. Often, these gifts resemble donor-sponsored roadmaps to help students navigate a competitive and ever-changing global economy. What practical strategies and tools do donors think will help students succeed?

To that end, I was struck by the institute's goal of encouraging students in any major to have some sort of entrepreneurial experience. This is a subtle but important point. Back in the day—think during the first Clinton administration—"entrepreneurship" was strictly for business majors. What's more, the ideal endgame was pretty simple: Business majors take entrepreneurship classes and, in turn, become successful small business owners.

Clearly, much has changed in the last 20 years. Any student with an internet connection and a good idea, regardless of his or her major, is an entrepreneur in waiting. And not necessarily one focused on making money, either. There are lots of entrepreneurs making their mark in the creative and nonprofit sectors, these days. But the skills and hands-on experience needed to succeed in this way aren't taught in your typical anthropology or European history class.

Mrs. Hynes puts the point this way: "Students from any major will benefit from learning and elevating their creativity, their innovation, and leadership skills into an entrepreneurial mindset.

"Whether building water filtration systems in Africa, enriching young minds in classrooms around the country, developing public policy or scientific solutions to life's great questions, or founding and leading businesses large and small, we all need to cultivate the essential skills supported by the Hynes Institute."

As with recent entrepreneurship gifts to schools like Michigan State University, East Carolina University, and San Diego State University, the Hynes gift comes from an alumnus who had a successful career in the business world as—you guessed it—an entrepreneur. 

Mr. Hynes holds a B.A. and an honorary doctorate from Iona, in addition to an MBA from Adelphi University. He's also a successful entrepreneur in the telecommunications field. Mrs. Hynes, meanwhile, holds a B.A. in mathematics, an M.S. in management science and a law degree from Pace University, and is a member of both the New York and Connecticut bars. She serves on numerous boards and is the president of the Hynes Foundation.

"We wanted to do something for Iona College that would have lasting and far-reaching benefits for all students, present and future," said Mr. Hynes. "We are underwriting academic innovation and transformation. We believe the entrepreneurial mindset is not only necessary in starting businesses, but it is invaluable in any career or vocation."