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Farley Gift to Endow Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center

James Farley and his wife, Nancy, have made a significant gift to to endow the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

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October 9, 2008 | by Megan Fellman
EVANSTON, Ill. --- Entrepreneur and Northwestern University alumnus James Farley and his wife, Nancy, have made a significant gift to the University to endow the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, Northwestern President Henry S. Bienen announced today (Oct. 9).

In honor of the gift from the James N. and Nancy J. Farley Foundation, the center will be named the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Mr. Farley received his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Northwestern in 1950.

The center, which was established last year, is designed to take engineering beyond application of the sciences to the creation of businesses that capitalize on innovations. The center serves as a resource for students, faculty and alumni from across the University.

Through interdisciplinary courses, business plan development, advising, professional services and funding, the center provides engineers and others with the skills and knowledge to be successful entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs.

"I was an entrepreneur, and we built our company from a dry start," said Mr. Farley, a McCormick alumnus and the retired chair and chief executive officer of the multinational corporation SpeedFam-IPEC. "I've been an entrepreneur interested in entrepreneurship for a long time, so when I heard Northwestern was considering starting this center, I knew it was an area I wanted to support."

Any engineer has to be entrepreneurial, he says, even if they aren't interested in starting their own business. While he always relied on his engineering background, Mr. Farley says the classes that helped him the most involved business.

"You have to speak the language of accounting, whether you're in business for somebody else or in business for yourself," he said. "If you don't talk their language, you won't get very far. The business side is very, very important."

Julio M. Ottino, dean of the McCormick School, says the gift will lay the foundation to foster student, faculty and alumni entrepreneurship.

"This center fills a very clear need for undergraduate and graduate students in engineering and across Northwestern," said Ottino. "It is no exaggeration to say that the Farley Center, together with our emphasis in design-thinking, will move innovation to a new plane. The gift from Jim and Nancy is an investment in the future of innovation."

The gift comes on the heels of the center's first year. One of the center's first initiatives, a two-quarter course called NUvention: Medical Innovation, brought together 82 students from four schools (McCormick, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University School of Law and Feinberg School of Medicine) to teach them how to develop a medical device and create a business plan for the idea. The center raised more than $230,000 from more than 10 companies and venture capitalists to fund the program, and 11 provisional patents were filed.

The center is in the process of creating more interdisciplinary courses like NUvention: Medical Innovation that, instead of focusing on medical devices, will focus on energy or Web-related companies.

Another newly developed course is Principles of Entrepreneurship, which was first taught last spring by William White, professor of industrial engineering and management sciences, and Michael Marasco, director of the center. More than 100 undergraduate students, representing almost every school at Northwestern, enrolled. The center currently offers a total of four classes at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Faculty and staff associated with the center advise several entrepreneurship-focused student groups. And the center has begun offering a portfolio of services to faculty to help them evaluate the commercial potential of research and structure their innovations into businesses.

"It's exciting to have such a great endorsement from such a successful alum," said Marasco, who has formed an advisory board for the center that will help direct use of the new funding. "The gift will allow us to continue to expand entrepreneurship beyond the school level."

Other possible initiatives include offering grants to students and faculty to launch their businesses; creating a venture capital fund or "pre-seed" fund that gives potential entrepreneurs funding in the early stages of business creation; and connecting alumni with students and faculty members through events and an "angel network" of potential investors.

"There are tons of great ideas in these buildings, and very few get out," said Marasco. "I'd like the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation to be a one-stop shop for how to evolve an idea into a business."