William C. Norris Institute

Innovation through Entrepreneurship

About Us

  • About the William C. Norris Institute
    The mission of the William C. Norris Institute is to stimulate innovation by supporting entrepreneurship. A unit of the Opus College of Business, the Norris Institute provides a real-life learning platform by including students in the process of reviewing opportunities, making investments, and assisting portfolio companies. It also enhances the university’s business programs by providing a source of seed capital to catalyze entrepreneurial activity that results in beneficial technology-based products and services.

    Specifically, the Institute provides start-up equity and assistance to Minnesota entrepreneurs who submit innovative, well-planned business strategies that address important unmet needs. Preference is given to St. Thomas alumni and students, and to businesses with the potential to provide good jobs to unemployed or under-employed individuals.

    Since joining the University of St. Thomas in 2001, the Norris Institute has invested each year in three to five technology-based start-up companies.

    The Norris Institute office is in Suite 435, Office 430 of Schulze Hall on the downtown Minneapolis campus of the University of St. Thomas. The street address is 46 South 11th Street, on the corner of Harmon Place and South 11th Street. Public parking is available at street meters and in ramps at 11th and Harmon, 11th and LaSalle, 9th and LaSalle and 10th and Hennepin.

  • william_norris_About William C. Norris (1911-2006)

    William C. Norris was the founder and chairman emeritus of Control Data Corporation. He founded the company in 1957 and retired as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer in 1986. From 1988 through 2000 he chaired the non-profit William C. Norris Institute, which supported initiatives to:

    • improve K-12 and higher education through development and implementation of technology;
    • stimulate technical training in Russia; and
    • create good jobs by supporting development of innovative, socially beneficial technology by Minnesota entrepreneurs.

    Mr. Norris became an entrepreneur after service in World War II, when he started Engineering Research Associates, Inc. (ERA), in St. Paul, Minnesota. ERA pioneered the development of the digital computer and in 1951 merged with Sperry Rand Corporation. Mr. Norris headed the Univac Division of Sperry Rand through mid-1957, when he and other engineers left to start Control Data Corporation.

    Under his leadership, Control Data pioneered large-scale scientific and engineering computers, computer services, and the utilization of technology in education. Its PLATO computer-based education and training program was the world’s major pioneering effort in applying computer technology in education. Mr. Norris also pursued new business opportunities by working with the public and non-profit sectors to address major social problems such as unemployment, blighted inner cities, and declining rural economies. Small business incubators and Job Creation Networks supported by Control Data across the country led to more than 1,000 new companies and 13,000 jobs. And Control Data assisted its own employees to develop and spin off more than 80 technology-based new companies.

    During his 29 years as CEO of Control Data, Mr. Norris led many collaborative initiatives involving government, universities, and business and industry. For example, in 1983 he conceived and, with Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, initiated the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation, which was based in Austin, TX until being dissolved in 2004. The company had more than 60 members and associate members that collaborated on research and development among themselves and with government laboratories and universities. Mr. Norris was instrumental in the drafting and passage of the National Cooperative Research Act of 1984 and the Technology Transfer Act of 1986, leading to the creation of the Small Business Innovative Research program.

    In Minnesota, Mr. Norris helped organize and lead the Northwest Growth Fund, Minnesota Seed Capital Fund, Minnesota Cooperation Office, Minnesota Wellspring, and the Greater Minnesota Corporation (later Minnesota Technology, Inc.). With Control Data and chairman Norb Berg’s help, he established the William C. Norris Institute. These initiatives supported entrepreneurship and sought to improve Minnesota’s economy by assisting small companies in creating jobs.

    In 1986, Mr. Norris was awarded the National Medal of Technology by President Reagan, who cited him for “substantial contributions to the development of digital computer technology, leading to the founding of a successful computer and computer services company, and for his innovative application of computers to societal needs, as well as his initiation of cooperative efforts which promise to maintain U.S. competitiveness in microelectronics and computer technology.”

    Mr. Norris also is a recipient of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers’ Founders Medal, and of the National Business Incubation Association Founders Award. In 1995 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Minnesota High Technology Council. In 2001 he received a lifetime achievement Tekne Award from the Minnesota High Technology Association and Minnesota Technology Inc. In 2005 the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations selected Mr. Norris as a recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, presented for outstanding contributions to the United States. In 2008 Mr. Norris was posthumously named to the newly created Minnesota Science & Technology Hall of Fame and the University of Nebraska Computing Hall of Fame.

  • Inaugural William C. Norris Award for Social Entrepreneurship Presented to Norb Berg

    Norb Berg, retired vice chairman of the board at Control Data Corporation, had the idea that led to the creation of the William C. Norris Institute in 1988. The University of St. Thomas honored Berg with the inaugural William C. Norris Award for Social Entrepreneurship at a luncheon on June 5, 2014.