As a lifelong entrepreneur and innovator, Naples philanthropist Frank Daveler knows a good idea when he sees it.
In his 101-plus years, he and his late wife, Ellen, launched and sold more than a dozen companies in aerospace, engineering and manufacturing.
Daveler is, to many minds, the epitome of an entrepreneur, so his decision to invest in FGCU’s entrepreneurship program from its beginnings reflects a strong belief in its potential for success. A large part of that is due to the leadership of another career entrepreneur who has nurtured the program’s rapid growth, Sandra Kauanui.
That’s why when Daveler recently made a $4 million pledge to the School of Entrepreneurship he insisted on acknowledging its director, who has become a close friend. In recognition of his generosity and their close partnership, the school has been named the Frank and Ellen Daveler and Sandra Kauanui School of Entrepreneurship.
“He started making donations for seed funding for our program when we really had nothing,” Kauanui says. “He has always been very supportive of our students and alumni through scholarships and mentorship. This was something he says he had when he graduated from college. He really cares about what he’s doing. It’s not about ego.”
Like his ground-breaking innovation that helped pilots take flight at high speeds more safely, Daveler’s support of Florida Gulf Coast University has given wings to ambitious entrepreneurs with high-flying ambitions. What started as an entrepreneurship minor has grown into a major. Kauanui used the success as a springboard to create the FGCU Runway Program, a free business incubator for students.
Now, the School of Entrepreneurship is home to one of the fastest-growing majors on campus.
And, late last year, FGCU was named the top college or university in Florida and 30th in the country for undergraduate entrepreneurship studies, according to The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine. More than 400 businesses have been started by FGCU students and alumni since August 2016, a tribute to Kauanui and the school’s success as well as a boost to economic growth.
“She’s doing a beautiful job,” says Daveler, who still enjoys mixing with students, listening to their ideas and sharing his business wisdom. A quote on his business card says, “Results are obtained by exploiting opportunities, not by solving problems.” Words he has lived by.
“An entrepreneur has to be capable of taking charge,” Daveler tells students. “To do that, you must know every part of the business you’re involved in and how to improve it. You have to look for new and better ways of doing things. You have to hire people who are capable and make sure they are on the right track.”
One of those eagerly absorbing Daveler’s knowledge was Jakub Adamowicz, a 2019 graduate and part of the original Runway Program class, who founded RoomDig, an app that helps college students find housing and roommates. He says he was able to avoid many pitfalls of starting a business because of what he learned at FGCU, and he was able to move ahead faster. The School of Entrepreneurship is helping put the university on the map within the technology industry, he says.
“It all started with Mr. Daveler and Dr. Kauanui — none of this would be possible without them,” Adamowicz says. “They’re not doing it for themselves. All they’ve done is all for the students. They really taught me to look beyond myself. A lot of people go into business to accumulate wealth, but what they’ve taught me about investing in future generations, and giving back to people that don’t have access to resources, has been life transforming. Because of them I plan to stay here and keep growing my tech company.”
John Ciocca, a junior interdisciplinary entrepreneurship studies major, finds inspiration in Daveler’s commitment to doing business with purpose. Ciocca founded a social network called youBelong for people with special needs, inspired by a brother who has Down syndrome.
“It’s really cool to be in the room with Mr. Daveler and listen to his stories,” Ciocca says. “He has always been about being passionate about having a mission in life, being able to make a difference.”
There’s no question Daveler has made a lasting difference at FGCU, as the school that now bears his name continues to grow in enrollment, reputation and presence on campus. His latest gift will help fund programming and facilities, including a space in the school for alumni entrepreneurs.
In the meantime, Kauanui looks ahead to the school eventually offering graduate programs and becoming a college.
“This brings the school to a whole new level,” she says. “One of our goals, Frank’s and mine, was to build something to last, to benefit students for generations. Making this gift and naming this school builds something to last.”