(The following news release is being distributed today to the news media.)
The William C. Norris Institute and the University of St. Thomas Graduate School of Business today announced plans to jointly pursue their common ideals of economic development through entrepreneurship.
Plans to merge the Bloomington-based institute into the downtown Minneapolis-based graduate school were announced at a luncheon at St. Thomas today attended by the staff of the institute and university.
A giant in the development of the nation’s computer industry, Norris founded Control Data in 1957 and was its chairman and CEO until retiring in 1986. He is widely regarded as a pioneer in the development and use of technology, the role of business in addressing social problems, and the importance of entrepreneurs in developing small businesses.
The William C. Norris Institute was established 12 years ago to catalyze change in education and to provide management assistance and early-stage financing to small businesses.
Plans for the merger, and the creation of what will become an $8 million seed-capital fund, were outlined at today’s luncheon by A. R. “Tony” Potami, president and CEO of the Norris Institute, and Dr. Ted Fredrickson, dean of the Graduate School of Business. The merger is subject to the expected approval by the boards of the institute and St. Thomas.
The institute will move to the university’s downtown Minneapolis campus, where it will become part of the John M. Morrison Center for Entrepreneurship at the Graduate School of Business. Norris, Potami, and his associate, Michael Moore, will make the move to St. Thomas.
According to the merger agreement, the mission of the William C. Norris Institute of the University of St. Thomas will be to “collaborate with faculty, students and staff, community organizations, and government entities to catalyze entrepreneurial activity and support small-business development and job creation, with special attention to disadvantaged urban and rural areas.”
The institute will begin operations with a seed-capital fund of $4 million. Half of that will come from St. Thomas, and the other half is a gift to the project from Norris, who founded the institute in 1988 when he retired as chair of the Control Data Corp. At age 89, Norris remains active as chair of the institute’s board.
The university’s $2 million share of the fund is coming from a $50 million gift to St. Thomas earlier this year from Best Buy Co.’s founder Richard Schulze. Plans are to raise an additional $4 million to bring the fund’s total endowment to approximately $8 million.
“Few business leaders, in this country or elsewhere, have thought as long and as deeply about the role of business in society,” observed the late author and Northwestern University professor James Worthy in his 1987 book on Norris, Portrait of a Maverick. “Norris articulated a philosophy that calls for applying the massive resources of the corporate world to providing better opportunities to those for whom doors to the good life have been closed.
“He may not be the only big businessman who has shown a genuine concern for the neglected and forgotten of society,” Worthy wrote, “but he is certainly one of the few who tried deliberately to fashion business policies to help lift them into the mainstream of American life.”
Commenting on the merger, Norris stated, “Throughout my business career I have seen how innovation and creation of good new jobs begin at the entrepreneurial level, yet management and capital resources for start-ups are woefully inadequate. This relationship with St. Thomas will provide the full range of resources to help entrepreneurs start innovative companies in the various communities of our state.”
“This is an ideal marriage,” Potami said. “We at the institute have come to admire St. Thomas and how it has focused on small business development and entrepreneurship, which are integral to the mission of one of America’s largest and most respected business schools.”
“The work of Norris and his institute blends perfectly with our mission as an urban university,” Fredrickson said. “For years we shared common goals; today we share our strengths. It is a great honor to have Mr. Norris, one of the great pioneers of American business, in residence at St. Thomas. He will be an inspiration to our students.”
For the first time, Fredrickson said, St. Thomas will have access to a seed-capital fund as well as the institute’s seed-fund management experience. The institute, meanwhile, will be able to tap St. Thomas’ many programs for entrepreneurs.
“Not only will our students have the opportunity to serve as consultants and interns with companies involved in the Norris Institute’s initiatives,” Fredrickson said, “but the students themselves will have an opportunity to apply for the seed-capital funds if their entrepreneurial efforts help create new jobs in disadvantaged areas.”
“Each year our students create outstanding business plans that are seldom implemented because of the lack of start-up capital,” he added. “The seed capital fund being created with this merger has the potential to spawn dozens of new job-producing businesses for this area.”
Thirty-eight percent of St. Thomas’ undergraduates, or 1,966 students, are enrolled in the Division of Business this fall. Of those, 222 are majoring in entrepreneurship, up from 136 students four years ago. The university’s entrepreneurship program was named last year’s National Model Undergraduate Program of the Year.
The Graduate School of Business, fourth-largest in the country with 3,025 students, offers MBA concentrations in venture and franchise management.
The graduate school’s Morrison Center for Entrepreneurship is home to the Institute for Franchise Management and the Small Business Development Center.
Other resources include the Center for Family Enterprise, which provides academic and outreach programs dedicated to family businesses; the Small Business Institute, in which students teams get real-world experience assisting metro-area businesses; and the FastTrac program for entrepreneurs, which serves Minnesota small businesses and was named best in the nation for three consecutive years. For the past four years, FastTrac graduates have won state entrepreneurship awards.