BY KEVIN MOE
Entrepreneurship is at the very heart of the Carlson School. In fact, much of the school’s existence is owed to the generous contributions of individuals longing to give back to the entity that helped them launch their successful businesses. The school itself is named after legendary entrepreneur Curt Carlson, whose significant donations in the 1980s led to the construction of the school’s present home. Carlson also initiated the school’s entrepreneurship program in 1986 with the endowment of the Curtis L. Carlson Chair in Entrepreneurship.
The first to hold this chair was Professor Dick Cardozo, who helped create the school’s initial entrepreneurship classes. He also headed up the school’s newly named Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, created through a leadership gift from Bob Buuck, ’70 BS, ’72 MBA, the co-founder of American Medical Systems. Like Carlson, Buuck also established a chair, the Robert E. Buuck Chair of Entrepreneurship. He also has served on the center’s advisory board for the past 15 years.
Focusing on start-ups, technology commercialization, and innovation, the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies brought a fresh perspective to business education and attracted students seeking to learn how to create their own opportunities. In 2007, the center was renamed the Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship, following a $6 million gift from the founder and president of CSM Corp. “It is imperative that we invest in developing the next generation of entrepreneurs,” Holmes said at the time. “The Carlson School can play a lead role in improving the entrepreneurial business community in Minnesota.”
Indeed it has, judging by the number of businesses that got their start inside its doors. “The center is an important laboratory where we train future entrepreneurs, taking advantage of our faculty’s renowned research expertise and the experience of our community’s successful entrepreneurs,” says Professor Shaker A. Zahra, the academic director of the center and the current holder of the Robert E. Buuck Chair of Entrepreneurship. “Under the leadership of Director John Stavig, the center has become one of the Carlson School’s key areas of excellence and distinctiveness.”
Stavig, ’86 BSB, returned to his alma mater to direct the Holmes Center following a private equity career investing in and running early-stage communications firms. “I’ve always felt that entrepreneurial talent was the scarcest and most essential ingredient to creating a thriving start-up community,” he says. “The center is a long-term investment in helping to create this capability. I can’t imagine a more rewarding way to give back to my school and community.”
Led by the transformational gift from Holmes, the center has raised endowments of more than $10 million to fund entrepreneurial scholarships, internships, competitions, seminars, seed capital funds, and experiential courses. More than 40 alumni benefactors have generously invested in creating a dynamic environment that supports and nurtures this next generation of entrepreneurs.
Supporting the Center
Throughout his career, Roy Wetterstrom, ’86 BSB, has founded several companies, including Micro Modeling Associates, Inc., which later became Plural, Inc.; and Revo Brand Group. However, when he graduated, there was not much in the way of entrepreneurial studies at the Carlson School. This was unfortunate because of his strong personal interest in the subject. So when he learned the school was devoting more time and resources to entrepreneurship, he knew he needed to be a part of it.
“It combined a passion of mine and something that is important for the school and the state,” he says. “Entrepreneurship drives job creation and economic growth. We need to develop more capable entrepreneurs.”
Wetterstrom has been actively involved with the Holmes Center since 2000 in a multitude of ways: as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence, a member of the advisory board, and a mentor, to name a few. He is currently the volunteer undergraduate director of the center and is in his eighth year of co-teaching the Entrepreneurship in Action class.
As president and co-founder of StarTec Investments, LLC, Joy Lindsay, ’99 MBA, works with entrepreneurs every day. “They are smart, creative, passionate, and fearless people,” she says. “But it is a very difficult path to be a successful entrepreneur. The Holmes Center provides young entrepreneurs with a blend of course work and hands-on experiences to give them the tools they need to start and grow new companies or to be innovative in existing companies.”
Lindsay’s first interaction with the center was back in 2005 when she was asked to be a “board member” for a new class Stavig was starting called Entrepreneurship in Action. “It was amazing what the students learned and what they were able to accomplish,” she says. “I can’t tell you how impressed I was, both with John Stavig and the center, for providing such a great learning experience for students, and also with the incredible talent, passion, and boldness of the students who participated. I’ve been a big fan of the center ever since.”