Millions to Foster Social Entrepreneurship on a California Campus. Will More Follow?

Several of my bright-eyed college friends hopped aboard the social entrepreneurship train after graduation, conjuring up innovative ideas, and carrying them out with the help of collectives like StartingBloc, a five-day program in Los Angeles that brings together "entrepreneurs, activists, educators, and innovators working to create change." I certainly had never heard of social entrepreneurship until I graduated. I also wonder if some of my peers could have benefited from formal college coursework in this area, rather than juggling their first day jobs with their passion push into social entrepreneurship—or "SocEnt," as some call it. 

Philanthropic efforts to nurture social entrepreneurship on campus are not new. One long-standing effort in this area is the Dell Social Innovation Challenge program, which began in the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service in the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. Since 2007, the Dell Social Innovation Challenge has engaged student social entrepreneurs from over 100 countries and awarded more than $800,000 in seed funding to over 90 ventures. 

What we haven't seen so much, though, are big individual donors putting their money behind this kind of campus work. Could such gifts become a bigger thing? You'd think so, given the huge interest right now in using business models and strategies to make the world a better place. 

One sign of this heightened area of giving is a recent $25 million gift to Santa Clara University by alumnus Jeff Miller, and his wife Karen, which will rename the Center for Science, Technology, and Society as the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. That's right—an entire center dedicated to social entrepreneurship, at a school in the heart of Silicon Valley.

The gift, one of the largest ever to Santa Clara University, will allow the center to "increase its capacity to support more entrepreneurs, as well as expand SCU's influence in social entrepreneurship and impact investing." In addition, the gift will also support fundraising for a STEM facility, an education area that is red hot among campus donors right now. 

It's worth mentioning a few things about the couple behind the gift. Jeff Miller certainly knows plenty about entrepreneurship and the tech world. He worked at Intel, where he met his wife Karen. Miller was also a venture partner with Redpoint Ventures, where he mentored CEOs of enterprise and infrastructure software companies. He was also CEO of Documentum, an enterprise document management software company. These days, Miller is the president of JAMM Ventures, a business consulting company.

What's more, the Millers have been heavily involved with Santa Clara University. The couple has given to the school in the past. Miller has also served on the center’s advisory board, which he has chaired since 2011, and as a trustee of Santa Clara University since 2012. The newly renamed Miller Center is also the site of the Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI), which "supports social entrepreneurs who are developing innovative solutions that provide a sustainable path out of poverty." Well, Miller has been a mentor at GSBI since 2006. 

One final note on the Miller Center. The three departments within the outfit aim to "positively impact the lives of 1 billion people by the year 2020 by empowering social entrepreneurs globally." The global implications of this kind of work are particularly interesting, especially as funders of one of the oldest areas of modern philanthropy— global development—look for new ways to solve the world's problems.

Related: IP Profile of Jeff Miller