Surging Demand, New Donors: Behind Campus Gifts for Entrepreneurship

Two big gifts earmarked for campus entrepreneurship programs suggest that big donors are showing no signs of losing interest in this niche anytime soon. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The first is an $18 million gift from three alumni siblings that will more than double the size of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s undergraduate entrepreneurship program. The gift from the Shuford family is the largest single one-time gift by a living individual or family to the college. 

The second gift, to the tune of $20 million, comes from Tandean Rustandy to his alma mater, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. The gift will support expanded research and programming in social innovation and entrepreneurship through the newly named Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation.

Both gifts share a common similarity rooted in Economics 101: Donors find themselves responding to surging demand.

In the case of UNC, the gift will add faculty to meet the demand of students who want to enroll in the minor or entrepreneurship courses. It will also support twice the number of student internships at entrepreneurial firms worldwide and will encourage "problem-based" learning throughout the college and university.

Rustandy’s gift, meanwhile, comes as the Rustandy Center is developing an "increasingly ambitious approach to research that informs best practices in organizations geared toward social impact." 

I'll revisit these gifts in a moment. But I first wanted to step back and get a larger lay of the land.

Anecdotal evidence suggest that enthusiasm for budding entrepreneurs—from both foundations and individual donors—is on the rise. Therefore, it's worth asking two questions. First, what explains this enthusiasm? And second, can we expect it to continue?

The answer to the former question points to an imperfect storm of socioeconomic developments. 

Roughly two years ago, my colleague Kiersten Marek wrote a piece titled "Trendwatch: Foundations Get Serious About Backing Entrepreneurs and Businesses." The piece addressed a post-Great Recession reality: Foundations saw suffering in the wake of the recession and mobilized to back solutions. Helping people start new businesses—traditionally a key source of job growth in the U.S.—is one way to expand opportunity for young people who might otherwise find themselves living back at home. 

But the other factor, here, is that many of the newer donors emerging in philanthropy made their fortunes as entrepreneurs—and they like the idea of orienting students at their alma maters in this same direction. That's a departure from earlier times, when campus donors were more likely to be established business types who made their millions in "legacy" industries like manufacturing, executive management, and finance. 

James Hynes, for example, is a successful entrepreneur in the telecommunications field. He and his wife Anne gave a $15 million gift to Iona College to establish the Hynes Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

One would assume the gift would focus solely on business students. Yet, the couple seeks to ingrain the "entrepreneurial mindset" across the entire student population. "Students from any major will benefit from learning and elevating their creativity, their innovation, and leadership skills into an entrepreneurial mindset," said Ms. Hynes.

Then there's Silicon Valley real estate investor Jon Freeman. Freeman gave $1.5 million to Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship to explore the best ways to "replicate effective social business models." While Freeman doesn't hail from the tech world, the gift borrows heavily from the Silicon Valley performance measurement mindset.

Freeman's gift echoed a $25 million gift to Santa Clara University from alumnus Jeff Miller and his wife Karen, to rename the Center for Science, Technology, and Society as the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship.

Or consider UC Berkeley alumni Kevin Chou and his wife, Dr. Connie Chen. At 36, Chou is abnormally young in a higher education space dominated by baby boomer and silent generation donors.

After graduating in 2002, Chou co-founded San Francisco-based mobile game company Kabam. In late 2016, he sold the majority of Kabam's assets to a South Korean firm in an $800 million deal. The couple gave UC's Haas School of Business $25 million to "inspire current and future Haas students to become entrepreneurs." 

All these gifts reflect the intentions and life experiences of the donor. The emergence of more diverse donors has also laid the groundwork for sub-niches within the field, like veterans-oriented entrepreneurial giving.

Which brings me back to news out of North Carolina and Chicago.

The Shuford family created Shurtape in 1955 as a division of Shuford Mills, a textile firm established in 1880. Three members of the Shuford family contributed to the gift: Stephen, who is the CEO of Shurtape Technologies, his sister Dorothy Shuford Lanier, and alumnus Jim Shuford, CEO of STM Industries, a manufacturer of fiberglass, Kevlar, and carbon materials. 

The Shufords are a fifth-generation family with roots in the manufacturing sector, yet the mechanics of their gift are forward looking. By expanding the UNC's entrepreneurship program, the family, channeling James and Anne Hynes, want to "touch every student with these skills, even if they’re not in the minor," said Jim Shuford.

Tandean Rustandy, meanwhile, is the founder of the Jakarta, Indonesia-based PT Arwana Citramulia Tbk, one of the best-performing ceramic tile manufacturing companies in world. He received his degree from Chicago Booth's Executive MBA Program Asia in 2007. The Rustandy Center will work with nonprofit, for-profit and government organizations, serving as a "resource for the university community as well as nonprofit leaders, social entrepreneurs and others committed to social impact."

By framing entrepreneurship as a mechanism to address social and economic challenges, his gift bears some similarities to that of Jon Freeman.

One takeaway, here? The mechanics of entrepreneurship gifts have quietly evolved. Such gifts used to be relegated to business schools; now donors are pushing the "entrepreneurial mindset" across the entire student population. Similarly, curricula previously mirrored that of the conventional business school course load. Now, donors are funding a more interdisciplinary approach, embracing the concepts of social entrepreneurship.

And what does the future of entrepreneurial giving look like? By this point, the answer seems pretty obvious. Given the confluence of surging demand, an ever-changing economic landscape, and the emergence of new and younger donors, one can't help but be bullish on the field moving forward.