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
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
& 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.