Another Donor Gives Big to Bolster Campus Entrepreneurship

Gifts for entrepreneurship on campus have been coming fast, a trend we've highlighted at IP in recent months. In one gift I wrote about, billionaire couple Robert and Janice McNair gave $8 million to establish the McNair Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. That gift is part of national push by the couple to fund entrepreneurship on campus and the McNairs have funded similar outfits at the University of St. Thomas Houston and Northwood University in Midland, Michigan.

Related: A Donor Making a National Push to Fund Entrepreneurship on Campus

Last year, Rice University established Entrepreneurship@Rice, a concerted effort to transform the school into "the Entrepreneurial University," bringing together a collection of "curricular and co-curricular activities meant to prepare students for the process of entrepreneurship." The McNair couple's gift should be seen within this context. Other efforts like business incubator Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship and OwlSpark, a student startup accelerator, are also part of this nascent work. 

Recently, Rice University received a $16.5 million gift from alumnus Frank Liu and his family through their charitable foundation to launch the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Lilie). Lilie will feature new and expanded entrepreneurship courses as well as project funds with the goal of encouraging Rice students to pursue and achieve success in entrepreneurial endeavors. Lilie "aims to provide students from across the university with entrepreneurial knowledge and problem-solving skills to succeed in a world where such capabilities are increasingly critical for meaningful and influential careers."

We've noted that a number of donors in this space have business backgrounds, and Liu is no exception. He graduated from Rice in 1978 with a bachelor’s in civil engineering and founded Lovett Homes, InTown Homes and Lovett Commercial, where he's developed residential, retail and commercial real estate in Houston for more than three decades.

One effort backed with these new funds, the Lilie Venture Challenge, aims to bring the the startup accelerator experience into the academic year; typically, this comprises a summer project. As well, the incoming Rice Class of 2020 can take advantage of the Lilie New Entrepreneurs Grant, given to matriculating freshmen to fund worthy early-stage business ideas. This reveals that schools like Rice aren't just looking at the implications of an entrepreneurial skillset down the line for graduates, but are also hoping to attract budding entrepreneurs to the school in the first place.