A pair of venture capitalist alums of the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois have combined to pledge $5 million in support of entrepreneurship at Gies. Bruce N. Barron and The REAM Foundation, co-founded by Steven N. Miller, made the commitment to the college’s Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership which will be renamed the Origin Ventures Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership.
Barron graduated from the college with an undergraduate degree in 1977, while Miller graduated ten years later in 1987. (BS’87). Together, they co-founded the venture capital firm Origin Ventures in 1999. The REAM Foundation gift is in honor of Miller.
“The REAM Foundation’s and Bruce’s generosity provide a tremendous boost to our College and specifically to our focus on innovation and entrepreneurship,” says Dean Jeffrey R. Brown in a statement. “This is a major gift that will enable us to further our efforts in entrepreneurship and enhance our position as a leader in the teaching and fostering of young entrepreneurs.”
THE ACADEMY WILL HELP STUDENTS BECOME ENTREPRENEURS
The Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership was created in 2004 with a $4.5 million grant from the Kauffman Foundation. Its purpose is to infuse entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking across every academic discipline of the University of Illinois in curriculum development, in research, and in economic development and public engagement. It’s that type of thinking that excites Miller and Barron.
“Origin Ventures invests in great entrepreneurs,” Miller says. “Bruce and I see this naming gift as doing exactly that . . . investing in the education and development of great entrepreneurs. It’s perfectly aligned with the vision of our firm, and with our values. We look forward to this investment in the Origin Ventures Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership benefitting Gies College of Business, the University, and the people of Illinois for many years to come.”
“The academy,” Barron says, “will help students to become entrepreneurs, and this gift will indirectly be investing in more and more startups, and in doing so, hopefully we’ll create more jobs and more wealth and help sustain those activities in the state.”
‘GIFT WILL HAVE A DEEP IMPACT ON THOUSANDS OF STUDENTS’
“This gift will have a deep impact on thousands of students,” says Noah Isserman, faculty director for the iVenture Accelerator, one of the programs under the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership umbrella. “Steve and Bruce’s contributions go beyond even this extraordinary investment. They have been advisors and mentors to students, especially our student entrepreneurs who are learning through building companies and nonprofits. Their support of Illinois students and programs will help others follow their inspirational example.”
Miller sees the gift as coming at a critical time. “There’s no question what the fiscal situation of the state government is, and that its support for the University of Illinois and for Gies College of Business is dwindling,” he says. “If we’re going to maintain the excellence the University of Illinois has achieved over a century and a half, that takes resources. Since those resources are not going to come from the State of Illinois, they can only come from increasing tuition, which is not preferred; obtaining research grants, at which the university already excels; and raising philanthropic dollars. Contributed funding is the resource that the University traditionally has not fully tapped, because it wasn’t as necessary. Now, I think it’s imperative.”
In addition to serving as Vice President of The REAM Foundation, Miller is chair of the Dean’s Business Council for the Gies College of Business, and has served on the council for 11 years. He also established the Steven N. Miller Entrepreneurial Scholarships and the Diane N. and Steven N. Miller Centennial Chair in Business at Illinois. He and Barron regularly come to Champaign each semester to guest lecture and meet with students.
“The venture capital community both in Chicago and nationwide is recognized for its giving and its philanthropy,” says Barron. “It’s part of how we want to give back, and our alma mater is a great place where we can do that.”
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