Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Ryan, Ferro to donate $4 million to launch Northwestern incubator

Ryan, Ferro to donate $4 million to launch Northwestern incubator

 - Pat Ryan Jr.
Pat Ryan Jr.
A pair of veteran Chicago tech entrepreneurs are helping bankroll a startup incubator launching later this year at Northwestern University.
NU trustees Michael Ferro Jr. and Pat Ryan Jr. each are donating $2 million to help fund the Garage, a space for Northwestern students to turn their ideas into startup companies.
Inspired by the lore of Silicon Valley, where legendary companies such as Hewlett-Packard Inc. and Apple Co. were started in garages, the facility for student entrepreneurs will be built in a new parking garage on campus and open as early as next fall.
The Garage grew out of a broader effort initiated by university President Morton Schapiro and led by venture capitalist Peter Barris aimed at boosting innovation across the campus. It's modeled on Harvard University's Innovation Lab andStanford University's Design School. Mr. Barris led a group of trustees to visit Harvard and Stanford last year to get ideas about how universities can play a role in innovation.
Mr. Ryan, a Northwestern alum who founded Chicago software company Incisent Labs, led the subcommittee that developed the Garage concept. He and his wife, Lydia, decided a few weeks ago to make a $2 million challenge grant.
“I wanted to make sure we got this right,” Mr. Ryan told me.
 - Michael Ferro
Michael Ferro
Mr. Ferro and his wife, Jacky, quickly stepped up as well, donating through their family foundation.
“Every top university has something like this. We should have this at Northwestern," Mr. Ferro said. "The best place to have an incubator is at an urban university.”
In addition to being Northwestern trustees, Messrs. Ferro and Ryan have been active with the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, which played a critical early role in helping Chicago's startup tech community get rolling over the past decade.
Startups are of particular interest to Mr. Ferro, CEO of Merrick Ventures, an investor in Wrapports, owner of the Chicago Sun-Times and several other companies. Though he's best-known for starting Internet software company Click Commerceduring the dot-com boom, Mr. Ferro said he started his first software company when he was a freshman at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“I was one of those guys,” he said.
Another alum, whose name was not made public, donated $1 million for the buildout of the 12,500-square-foot space, which will be designed by Gensler.
Messrs. Ryan and Ferro's gifts will be used for operations and programming. They said the university will match their contributions. Northwestern has not yet responded to an interview request.
With funding underway, the two say the next job is finding an executive director to run the Garage. It might have a head start, however. The tech incubator inside the Merchandise Mart, 1871, just completed a months-long national search for a CEO that resulted in local entrepreneur (and Northwestern alum) Howard Tullman taking the job.
From the Kellogg School of Management to the McCormick School of Engineering, Northwestern has been ramping up its entrepreneurship efforts in recent years, adding staff and increasing opportunities for students to participate in business-plan competitions and start companies.
“(President Schapiro) wants entrepreneurs to be at Northwestern, no matter what school it's in,” Mr. Ferro said. “When students look at Northwestern, if they want to be entrepreneur, it's a great place to be. There are lot of startups happening at Northwestern.”
It's beginning to pay off, with a string of startups from Northwestern students, including SwipeSense, NuMat andNuCurrent. Groupon Inc. was started by Andrew Mason, a music major at Northwestern. It was backed by Mr. Barris, a Northwestern alum and Chicago native who leads one of the nation's largest venture-capital funds, New Enterprise Associates.
Although the Garage is inspired in part by the success of 1871, it will be different in one key aspect, Mr. Ryan says.
“It provides an opportunity for students to take their projects, where they think it can become a company, and gives them a place to work on it,” he said. “If it goes to the next level, it can go to a place like 1871. If a great company comes out of it, that's a real bonus. But it's great learning whether they start a company or not. It's the perfect bridge between academic learning and entrepreneurship.”
Follow John on Twitter at @JohnPletz.

Total Pageviews


Blog Archive