The university’s young School of Entrepreneurship has captured the imagination of hundreds of FGCU students, and area entrepreneurs are stepping up to help them succeed.
Among those supporters is Brian Rist, owner of Storm Smart, who recently pledged $1 million toward construction of the Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation building, with a portion designated for the Newton Ethical Leadership Initiative, which will help expand ethics-based education.
“We’ve been lucky,” he said. “Southwest Florida has been very good to us. Why wouldn’t we give back to make it a better place?”
Three-quarters of the gift will go to the entrepreneurship building while the remainder will benefit the ethics program.
“Brian has been a tremendous supporter,” said Sandra Kauanui, director of the School of Entrepreneurship. “He’s been involved as a judge when students competed for seed funding, has been a mentor and speaker and has hired one of our students as an intern. He’s fully engaged.
“It meant so much that his donation provided the final $750,000 we needed to get the $4 million match that made it possible to construct the entrepreneurship building. It was a lot of validation.”
Rist is clearly a fan of Kauanui’s work as well.
“To see what ‘Dr. K’ is doing, getting the school ranked in the top 30 in the nation in three years, No. 1 in the state of Florida, was so impressive,” he said. Seeing the students’ enthusiasm and creativity added to his enthusiasm for the program.
“When I was in college, I know how naïve I was,” he recalls. “I had no experience. To see these students coming out of her program with all of this knowledge – it’s amazing.”
The other portion of the gift goes to the ethics initiative.
“Ethics isn’t all that sexy. It doesn’t get a lot of attention,” Rist said. “But I believe one of our shortcomings of our time is ethics. We don’t teach or talk about ethics as much as we should. It would be a much better world if we were teaching ethics.”
In appreciation for Rist’s commitment, the FGCU High School Ethics Competition will now be called the Rist Family Foundation High School Ethics Competition, and a sign honoring the foundation will also be prominently displayed in the entrepreneur building.