Jonathan Nelson ’77 — namesake of the Nelson Fitness Center — donated $25 million to launch a new entrepreneurship center, the University announced Tuesday in a community-wide email. The center aims to integrate current student groups, course offerings and faculty entrepreneurial leadership by serving as an interdisciplinary space for entrepreneurship learning.
The funding will jumpstart progress on creating a new physical space and hiring staff for the center, Provost Richard Locke P’17 said. The $25 million gift is part of the Brown Together fundraising campaign, but Locke expects that more alums will donate as plans develop, given that “there’s a strong appetite to support entrepreneurship” among alums.
The new center will “coordinate curricular activities” by working with departments to identify what current course offerings provide students and “determine what gaps exist” in those offerings, Locke said. Entrepreneurship courses exist outside the Business, Entrepreneurship and Organizations concentration, and the center will serve as a centralized space to ensure the offerings are unique and diverse, he said.
The University’s aim is to staff the center with “entrepreneurs-in-residence so students are interacting with people who have a lot of experience,” Locke said. Nelson’s gift will support the University in hiring a director with “real experience as an entrepreneur,” he added.
Matthew Donato, director of CareerLAB, said that he hopes to support and work with the new center by bringing entrepreneurial employers and alums to campus.
Donato said he would be excited to expand opportunities that expose students to “hands-on, direct experience with entrepreneurial ventures” by working with the center, he said.
CareerLAB currently offers iProv — a summer social entrepreneurship experience in Providence — and Innovate Winter Break — a two-week immersive learning experience in various start-ups, non-profits and entrepreneurial internships in four major U.S. cities.
The center will also be a “hub to coordinate a lot of the co-curricular activities” by providing space, resources and support to student entrepreneurship, Locke said. It will work with established University programs, such as the Swearer Center for Public Service’s Social Innovation initiative to avoid “replicating efforts,” he added.
Student entrepreneurship leaders are also excited by the prospect of a centralized space for their efforts. Ali Paul ’18 and Valentin Perez ’18, co-presidents of the Brown Entrepreneurship Program, voiced their enthusiasm for the center and the University’s focus on entrepreneurship.
Brown EP’s mission is to “ignite the entrepreneurial spirit on College Hill,” Perez said. He added that the group works closely with other student groups to foster a sense of collaboration, which he credited to previous co-presidents Benjamin Pruzan ’17 and Luke Camery ’17.
Paul said she expects the new center to extend that collaboration and serve as “one central entrepreneurship community on campus.”
The group works closely with the Swearer Center, and it has found that the center’s leadership has been receptive to their opinions as student leaders on fitting student needs, Paul said.
“We’re really hoping that Brown EP and other student groups will stay at the heart of entrepreneurship on campus,” she added. “The University support will only propel our mission and make it easier to empower entrepreneurs on campus.”
Locke said that his goal is for the center to be “student-focused” and have a “broad appeal to students across campus,” providing a wholesome experience that is applicable to any student regardless of their field of study. He added that the center will offer programs that “blend together liberal arts with entrepreneurship, which is very Brown.”