Polsky Center Expands Its Reach
An $8 million commitment from Chicago energy entrepreneur Michael Polsky, '87, enables Booth's Polsky Center to expand its
mission to support entrepreneurship and innovation across the entire university.
Polsky's gift amplifies the $7 million he gave to Chicago Booth in 2002 to establish the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship, whose Edward L. Kaplan, '71, New Venture Challenge competition (NVC) and other programs attract top students and strengthen the school's position as a growing leader in entrepreneurship. With the additional funding, the center has been renamed the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
Polsky is founder and CEO of Chicago-based Invenergy LLC, a leading clean energy company that develops, owns, and operates utility-scale wind, solar, and natural gas-fueled power generation facilities in North America and Europe.
Polsky's gift has the potential to assist University of Chicago engineers, doctors, and scientists in commercializing their technologies. Two hotbeds of innovation at the university in particular could benefit from the gift: the Institute for Molecular Engineering and the Institute for Translational Medicine. The two institutes aim to advance research in areas such as energy, health-care practice, community health, and the environment.
"I would like to see the University of Chicago become the premiere school in innovation and entrepreneurship," Polsky said in an interview.
One new initiative supported by Polsky's gift is a fellowship program that brings together students and professionals interested in designing concepts to solve societal problems. Program participants are exploring how to improve the quality of patient care with the support of the Institute for Translational Medicine and in partnership with the University of Chicago Medical Center and the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
"Can we improve the existing process and give patients a better experience? The idea is to step back, observe, and work collaboratively to find better ways," said Ellen Rudnick, '73, executive director of the Polsky Center and clinical professor of entrepreneurship.
The gift also broadens the New Venture Challenge to support a competition for the University of Chicago undergraduate community. Booth faculty members will train mentors for this undergraduate competition.
"Supporting undergraduate interest in entrepreneurship wouldn't be possible without this gift," Rudnick said. - Judith Crown
More Electives, Global Collaboration, and Capstone in Store
for Executive MBA Students
A series of curriculum changes are under way for the Executive MBA Program, including a new capstone course, more elective courses, and an additional week of study with global colleagues. The changes will take effect for students entering the program in June.
Booth has more than 500 Executive MBA students studying on campuses in Chicago, London, and Singapore.
The capstone course will enable students to pull together concepts and tools they've learned into a presentation in front of a panel of investor-judges. "This is meant to get students thinking on the level of a business unit director, CEO, or entrepreneur," said Michael Gibbs, faculty director for the Executive MBA Program and clinical professor of economics.
Students will have the opportunity to choose a track of elective courses in one of the following areas: corporate finance, capital markets, entrepreneurship, marketing, strategy, and leadership and management. A two-week block of electives will be taught at Harper Center on the Hyde Park campus, enabling students to interact with more Booth faculty than they would have done in the past. Students will now spend five weeks in the classroom with their global classmates - three weeks in Chicago, one week in London, and one week in Singapore.
The Executive MBA Program also has added a Leadership Exploration and Development (LEAD) course to its curriculum, similar to the LEAD course that has been taught in the Full-Time MBA Program for more than 20 years, but tailored for mid-career professionals.
A Founding Gift for the Social Enterprise Initiative
More than a decade ago, John Edwardson, '72, made a $250,000 gift to the Full-Time MBA student group Giving Something Back, which organizes volunteer opportunities, such as tutoring in inner city Chicago schools, and also raises funds for local charities.
"I want students to begin giving back before they have a lot," Edwardson said in an interview, recalling his motivation for the gift. "Then it's easier for them to give a lot when they have more."
Now Edwardson, the retired chairman and CEO of computer distributor and IT services supplier CDW LLC, is himself giving a lot more.
In January, Edwardson committed $5 million, the founding gift, to Booth's Social Enterprise Initiative (SEI). The initiative was launched last year in response to growing student interest in pursuing careers that can help alleviate social problems in the United States and around the world. "I'm struck by how many students are interested in giving back," Edwardson said.
The funds will be used to support the core activities of SEI, which include helping students pursue careers and launch businesses in the social sector, matching alumni interested in board service with nonprofit organizations, and supporting faculty research. Booth's business plan competition for social ventures has been named the John Edwardson, '72, Social New Venture Challenge.
Edwardson had a distinguished corporate career. He served as president of United Airlines during the 1990s and led Vernon Hills, Illinois-based CDW through a buyout by Chicago private equity giant Madison Dearborn Partners LLC. In 2006, he received Booth's Distinguished Corporate Alumni Award for his successful track record. He is chairman of the Council on Chicago Booth and a member of the University of Chicago Board of Trustees.
The native of downstate Illinois has an affinity for philanthropy. For eight years beginning in the early 1990s, he worked with families whose mothers were serving time for murder, driving the children for visits regularly to the state prison in Dixon, Illinois. That work, Edwardson recalled, "was necessary to keep me grounded and understand what other people are living with."
Now that he has retired, Edwardson is directing his full energy to social causes. For example, he is co-chair, with former commerce secretary and onetime White House chief of staff William Daley, of Advance Illinois, a nonprofit working to improve public education in the state.
Edwardson learned about the Social New Venture Challenge when he was vacationing in Africa. At a game preserve in Botswana, he recognized a student by a Booth jacket he was wearing and struck up a conversation. The student was from Mexico City and had a business proposal that would help Mexican farmers bring their produce from the fields to market more efficiently. Edwardson was intrigued, and when he returned to Chicago, he sat in on student presentations and judging at the Social New Venture Challenge. Last year's winner was LuminAid Lab, whose members designed an inflatable, lightweight solar-powered lantern for use primarily in disaster relief.
"The Social New Venture Challenge resonated with what I have thought we needed to be doing at Booth for people who want to change the world," Edwardson said. "How do we help them learn to do that? It's rewarding to see this many MBA students wanting to make a difference, spending a lot of time coming up with ideas and plans on how to make things happen." - Judith Crown
Photo by Vincent Vernet