When Ed White Jr. was an undergraduate at Georgia Tech, he witnessed the university and the Atlanta business community working together on a number of business ventures, which provided him with memorable hands-on experiences that he recalls to this day.
Those memories were in the back of White’s mind at a UNF reception last year when President John Delaney told the assembled guests that Florida can no longer rely on tourism, agriculture and housing as the only legs of the state’s economic stool but must develop a knowledge-based economy.
White, president of Auld & White Constructors in Jacksonville, said the two experiences meshed into an idea promoted by Interim Dean Dr. Peter Braza in UNF’s College of Computing, Engineering and Construction to establish an endowment that would provide UNF with its first economic venture fund. The company established the Auld & White Economic Venture Endowment Fund with a $150,000 commitment over four years. The state will contribute an additional $75,000 in matching funds with the goal of enhancing and promoting long-term economic growth in Northeast Florida through engineering and computing initiatives.
Under Braza’s plan, faculty members are invited to submit proposals each spring. A committee composed of members of the CCEC Dean’s Leadership Council and Braza will judge the proposals to determine which qualify for venture capital. The three main criteria will be whether a developed product has marketability, whether there is a potential for new jobs and whether students will develop entrepreneurial skills.
White doesn’t want to put rigid goals on the program at this point. “Honestly, most of their projects may not be successful, but we are trying to be stimulating and get students and faculty to think entrepreneurially,” White said. “That’s the key to economic development.”
After a track record is established, White said he would welcome investments in the fund by other companies. “UNF is a jewel in our community and it could be much more in terms of research and development,” he noted.
White added that it’s more important to take some risks at this point than to be concerned with what the first project will be. “We don’t know what success looks like, but we have faith in the concept. We know it can work,” he said.
Braza said he would like this to serve as a pilot project that might influence other First Coast companies to take a similar leadership role in stimulating innovative technology.
“We are grateful to Auld & White for this gift and for the opportunity it gives to our students and faculty to explore new areas which may not have been possible if we had to rely strictly on state funding,” Braza said. “The College of Computing, Engineering and Construction has maintained a long history of working with the business community. This endowment will nicely benefit our college and the Northeast Florida region.”
Auld & White, a full-service construction firm headquartered in Jacksonville, is renovating UNF’s Founders Hall, which is on track to be LEED Silver certified by the U.S. Green Building Council.