News | October 26, 2021

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FGCU entrepreneurs receive $4 million gift

Rist Family Foundation invests in the future

Florida Gulf Coast University’s Daveler & Kauanui School of Entrepreneurship celebrates a $4 million gift from the Rist Family Foundation. Led by the entrepreneur’s entrepreneur, Brian Rist, and his wife, Kim, the foundation is no stranger to FGCU. This is its second substantial gift to the university in the last two years.

“I got involved with the university almost a decade ago,” said Brian Rist. “I’ve watched it grow. I’ve watched the things they’ve done and how they’ve changed Southwest Florida. That motivates my family and me to get more involved.”

photo shows FGCU donors
The Rist Family Foundation, led by Brian Rist, and his wife, Kim, has made its second substantial gift to the university in the last two years. Photo: Tiffany Shadden.

The school’s institute will now be known as the Rist Family Foundation Institute for Entrepreneurship in recognition of the gift. The institute is responsible for the Daveler & Kauanui School of Entrepreneurship’s outward-facing community engagement, including the Runway Program and the Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program. The funds will be distributed over several years, focusing on specific needs within the school.

In 2020, the foundation pledged $1 million toward construction of the entrepreneurship school’s building, Lucas Hall, with a portion designated for the Newton Ethical Leadership Initiative to help expand ethics-based education.

“Support like Brian’s is what makes our school so unique,” said Sandra Kauanui, director of the school. “He is providing the resources that will last a very long time. It will continue to support the school for many years. Having his name on the institute gives us the drive to be as successful as he’s been.”

Rist founded Storm Smart, a hurricane protection products company. As the business grew, so did his interest in philanthropy. It’s a lesson Kauanui hopes her students will learn.

“He’s not only successful, but he’s also taken care of his people and the community. That sends a message we want to send to our students. Give back when you’ve been successful,” Kauanui said.

Kauanui is the reason for Rist’s interest in the School of Entrepreneurship.

“Her passion, her drive, her tenacity is what just blew me away,” Rist said. “The commitment that she’s made to that school and those students is the driving force behind it. I’ve also watched her start to put other pieces in place. Not only is she passionate, but she has an army behind her that is equally as passionate.”

Among her lieutenants is Eric Arseneau, assistant director of the school.

“We’ve always thought optimistically about our goals, but this gift allows us to stretch them even further,” he said. “We’re expanding our academic offerings and making college more affordable with scholarships for even more students. I am confident the result will be more exceptional entrepreneurs who will lead our region’s economic and societal success in the decades to come.”

That’s what Rist expects.

“I think I’m the winner in this deal,” Rist said. “I come from a background of entrepreneurship. I only wish I had gotten the head start those students are getting now.”

For more information on the Daveler & Kauanui School of Entrepreneurship, visit its website.