Entrepreneurship and Innovation Gifts Catalyze Creativity

by Garrett Starr, Office of Development Communications

Students are powering the new Entrepreneurship and Innovation (E and I) Initiative at the University of San Francisco and many donors have already made leadership investments in the initiative.

The heart of USF’s new E and I Initiative is an early-stage project incubator which will enable all students with the support and skills they need to succeed. What makes USF’s incubator unique is how it enacts the school’s core mission, values, and emphasis on inclusion and diversity.

“Our mission is to reach every USF student and we are underway,” said initiative co-lead and University Library Dean, Shawn P. Calhoun. “Our place in the Bay Area entrepreneurial ecosystem will be ideal. While we are at the heart of Silicon Valley and the epicenter of global entrepreneurship, USF is the only university in San Francisco with an E and I Initiative.”

The initiative aims to be inclusive of students from all backgrounds, especially those historically underrepresented in the startup space. Students from any program, at all levels of study — undergraduate through doctorate — and alumni are welcome to participate.

The initiative emphasizes career readiness alongside incubating new projects, with the guiding principle that entrepreneurial skills are applicable in almost every vocation. To that end, the incubator provides access to workshops, mentorship, partnerships, networks, pitch competitions, micro-funding, and other resources for budding projects. Enthusiasm is already high, with over a dozen students preparing ideas and pitches, and participating in a startup summit on April 25.

“This is ultimately an initiative that helps our students have the kind of impact they envision when coming to the University of San Francisco,” said E and I Faculty Director and Associate Professor, Johnathan Cromwell. “Regardless of the discipline or domain, all students need to identify a core problem, come up with a novel solution, build it, and then get feedback from others to make it sustainable.”

Funding has been made possible, in part, by an initial seed gift by USF Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Eileen Fung, coupled with generous support from entrepreneurs Christopher Seiwald, Arthur Tay ’81, Trey Roldan ’03, Max Diez ’04, Joe Mandato, who received an honorary degree through the School of Management in 2014, and several others.

Investor in the initiative and serial entrepreneur, Trey Roldan ’03, said, “The chance of success for any new project is significantly increased when you can align yourself with mentors and advisors that have had a track record of success in similar endeavors. The E and I incubator does just that — it provides the resources for entrepreneurs to ensure that they can align with expertise to avoid early mistakes.”

According to Switch On Business, a site dedicated to entrepreneurship, USF is a top 15 school in the country for producing entrepreneurs, with over 30% of graduates eventually starting their own company locally.

The University of San Francisco has a history as a place where entrepreneurs thrive. Starbucks was started by USF grads who brewed coffee for enjoyment.

By supporting all students who are driven to build their own projects, the E and I Initiative is a catalyst on campus where any idea can be nurtured and uplift the USF community and greater global communities.

USF Board of Trustees member Max Diez ’04, an E and I investor and founder and CEO of his own venture capital firm, said, “Encouraging students to engage in entrepreneurial activities helps develop a kind of ‘muscle memory’ for navigating the complexities of project creation. This experience teaches them to attempt new projects without fear of failure, fostering an essential trait for any entrepreneur: resilience.”

The initiative will operate under the philosophy that learning how to innovate is a form of literacy — a benefit for life.  

Former USF faculty, E and I investor, and entrepreneur Joe Mandato said, “Entrepreneurship is a positive way of thinking. As an entrepreneur, you need not only vision but also passion and a bias to execute against that vision. This way of thinking will serve you well no matter what career you pursue or where life takes you. The culture of a program such as E and I will benefit students no matter what.”

You can support the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Initiative at USF. If you have any questions or want to learn more, please reach out to Diana Johnston, Senior Director of Principal Gifts, at

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