Sanford’s $5M gift ignites LIU entrepreneurship

Cut above: Philanthropist T. Denny Sanford and friends officially open the new innovation/entrepreneurship institute bearing his name at Long Island University-Post.

A $5 million grant from a distinguished philanthropist has Long Island University riding high atop the regional innovation wave.

With a boost from celebrated entrepreneur T. Denny Sanford, LIU has cut the ribbon on the T. Denny Sanford Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute. The university officially celebrated the opening of Phase I of the project – covering 3,935 square feet of newly renovated space inside Bush-Brown Hall, adjacent to the LIU Post campus in Brookville – in a May 5 ceremony.

The opening marks a “bold initiative” that exemplifies how academia and industry “can collaborate to provide a business education that meets the needs of 21st century students,” according to LIU – themes reinforced by University President Kimberly Cline during the ribbon-cutting event.

“[Long Island University] is shaping an entrepreneurial culture powered by innovation and ingenuity,” Cline said. “We are proud to join with T. Denny Sanford as we take the next great step forward in our history of leadership in business education and our commitment to cultivating a creative spirit alongside genuine business intelligence in our students.”

The president was joined at the ceremony by Brookville Mayor Dan Serota, LIU Chairman of the Board Eric Krasnoff and Sanford, a South Dakota businessman best known as the founder and owner of consumer banking conglomerate First Premier Bank and chairman and chief executive officer of holding company United National Corp.

The well-known philanthropist is also the namesake of Sanford Education Programs, a nonprofit program designed to create positive societal change through the development of nonprofit leaders and future educators with an inspirational bent.

While the Sanford Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute is certainly focused on the development of for-profit commercial enterprises, it fits nicely with Sanford’s educational mantra, according to the benefactor.

“Helping LIU students discover and develop an entrepreneurial mindset is an investment that will have ripple effects throughout the Northeast and across the globe,” Sanford said Friday. “The Sanford Institute at LIU will create the next generation of innovators, problem-solvers, job-creators and industry leaders, guided by LIU’s world-class faculty.

“[They will] launch careers and ventures that will transform our world.”

Teaching moment: Sanford and LIU President Kimberly Cline at the May 5 ribbon-cutting.

The Sanford Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute will be led by Robert Valli, dean of LIU Post’s College of Management. Valli – an internationally renowned expert on innovation ecosystems and the convergence of education, business and technology – boasts an expansive professional background, including leadership roles at CSFirstBoston, now a division of Swiss multinational investment-banking services provider Credit Suisse, and the philanthropical Ewing M. Kauffman Foundation.

The dean referenced the opening of the new Sanford institute as “a shining example of why it’s such an exciting time to be at LIU.”

“The opportunity to partner with T. Denny Sanford is a demonstration of the formidable reach and relevance of this university, as well as the university’s never-ending commitment to preparing our students for the demands of a rapidly evolving economy,” Valli said in a statement.

The Sanford Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute will also be shepherded by LIU Post’s incoming Vorzimer Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship, a newly endowed position, with “additional scholars and practitioners joining the university to participate in an innovative collaborative research model built on the study of entrepreneurship across disciplines,” according to the university.

The recruitment of startups and entrepreneurs is underway, although Phase I has already attracted a number of early-stage enterprises. Among the Sanford Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute’s first clients are eParel LLC, a software firm developing a web-based technology platform to help the hospitality industry better track employee uniforms; 2012 startup (and Kickstarter success story, to the tune of $25,000) Bayside Brewery; cloud consultancy and IT services provider AcornLogic IT; and online idea-crowdsourcing innovator Savvyroo.

Also taking advantage of the state-of-the-art research center are two LIU-based organizations: the Steven S. Hornstein Center for Policy, Polling and Analysis and the Generations Institute, an academic center geared specifically toward improving the lives of younger populations through the use of cutting-edge data tools and new policy solutions.

With Phase I of the Sanford Institute project complete, LIU is now focused squarely on Phase II, which is slated to attach an additional 12,000 square feet of incubator space to Bush-Brown Hall. The university has received $500,000 in funding through the state’s Regional Economic Development Council program for that project, with construction scheduled to begin this fall.

The circa-1926 university is also establishing the Sanford Scholars Program, an effort to recruit “the most passionate student innovators from across the country to join a formal program of immersive experiences.” The program will feature leadership workshops designed to help students “face entrepreneurship challenges” while engaging in “a dedicated program of personal development and coaching to prepare them for successful careers,” the university said.

It’s been a busy, and especially generous, couple of weeks for Sanford, who on April 19 gifted $28 million to National University in San Diego – the largest single gift in that school’s history – to fund the rollout of three national initiatives addressing needs in teacher education, children’s social skills and nonprofit fundraising under the Sanford Education Programs banner.