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Entrepreneurship Fund to seed and support student commercialization of new ideas

Ralph S. O'Connor gift will build program for undergraduates as part of innovation ecosystem
Posted December 21, 2014
Ralph S. O’Connor and his wife, Becky, in front of the sculpture Red Sails, a gift from the O’Connors to Johns Hopkins University. IMAGE: homewoodphoto.jhu.edu Ralph S. O’Connor and his wife, Becky, in front of the sculpture Red Sails, a gift from the O’Connors to Johns Hopkins University. IMAGE: homewoodphoto.jhu.edu

Ralph O’Connor’s name may be most closely associated with the Recreation Center that bears his name on the Homewood campus. But the long-time supporter, trustee emeritus, and alumnus has recently directed his philanthropy toward a different kind of competition. The Ralph S. O’Connor Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Fund will offer our student-scholar-inventors the means to bring their fledgling ideas through design and development to commercialization.

“Hopkins undergraduate students are brilliant young women and men with so much to offer the world,” says O’Connor, A&S ’51. “With financial support for their ideas and the right guidance, the university can provide students a new outlet for their creativity and ambition. My hope is that the O’Connor Fund will open a new era for entrepreneurship at Hopkins.”

Providing more opportunities for faculty and student partnerships with external investors and industry, and offering entrepreneurship support across a range of activities, are important priorities of both the Rising to the Challenge campaign and President Ronald J. Daniels’ Ten by Twenty vision for the university.  Through seed grants and program support, the O’Connor Fund will help undergraduates develop their entrepreneurial ideas and connect with internal and external partners who can guide them.

Each year teams of students, self-directed or with faculty mentorship, form to develop solutions to a wide range of societal challenges. The solutions they devise often have a high potential for societal impact as well as commercial success. In some cases, students work on projects that begin within the context of a specific academic course, but continue long after the course is complete. Student teams will now be able to compete for $5,000 to $10,000 seed grants through the O’Connor Fund, obtaining key funding to advance their design and commercialization efforts.

The O’Connor Fund also will allow the university to deliver commercialization programs and resources to our students and hire a staff member with expertise in providing guidance and direction to student entrepreneurs. The program will offer resources for writing business plans; obtaining marketing, legal, and accounting information; filing for IP protection; and fostering connections with the Hopkins network of alumni, parents, and external investors.

“The O’Connor Entrepreneurship Fund including the support of a student venture coordinator gives the university and its students new resources to put their ideas to work,” says Christy Wyskiel, Senior Advisor to the President responsible for Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures. “As we build out resources for student and faculty entrepreneurs, we hope that this gift for entrepreneurship will inspire other Johns Hopkins friends to add their support for new and innovative programs.”