Illinois Gets $5 Million For Entrepreneurship

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Gies College of Business. Courtesy photo

A year after the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign received a $150 million gift, the school recently announced another multi-million donation. The school’s Academy of Entrepreneurial Leadership has received a $5 million gift from alumni Bruce N. Barron and the REAM foundation in honor of Steven N. Miller, and will be renamed Origin Ventures Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership, the Gies College announced last week.

“The REAM Foundation’s and Bruce’s generosity provide a tremendous boost to our College and specifically to our focus on innovation and entrepreneurship,” Gies College Dean Jeffrey R. Brown said in a prepared press release from the school. “This is a major gift that will enable us to further our efforts in entrepreneurship and enhance our position as a leader in the teaching and fostering of young entrepreneurs.”

The Board of Trustees met in March 2018 to discuss the decision to rename the academy, stating that: “Origin Ventures is a successful, well-respected, Chicago-based venture capital firm that invests in entrepreneurs. Its two founders are University of Illinois alumni who have been raising and providing seed money for entrepreneurs and startups for nearly 20 years. They have been strong supporters of the innovation mission in the Gies College of Business and have assisted the College in furthering its efforts in entrepreneurship, partnering with the College in the teaching, and fostering of young entrepreneurs.”

Bruce N. Barron (left) and The REAM Foundation’s Steven Miller. Bruce N. Barron and The REAM
Foundation have committed a $5 million naming gift to Gies College of Business’ Academy for
Entrepreneurial Leadership to support entrepreneurship at the University of Illinois. Photo
courtesy Gies College of Business.


The academy was established in the early 2000s, and received an initial grant of $4.5 million from the Kaufmann Foundation in 2004 to spread the spirit and knowledge of successful entrepreneurship throughout the university. One of the initiatives already established is the iVenture Accelerator, which houses more than 100 student entrepreneurs. Both Baron and Miller have served as mentors to the students in the iVenture Accelerator.  

“Having one-on-one mentoring and being taken seriously by leaders such as Steve and Bruce is life-changing for our students,” Brown continued in the release, adding that the 2017 iVenture Accelerator cohort raised more than $3 million in funding. “It builds their confidence as well as their skills and in the end, improves their ventures.”

The iVenture Accelerator includes an 11-month program that has supported close to 40 student-run startups in Illinois. Other programs at the academy include EntreCORPS, a student-run organization that provides free business consulting to startups in the community, and Entrepreneurs Without Borders, also a student-run organization, that focuses on training students to learn and be entrepreneurial in subsistence markets such as Uganda, Tanzania, and Honduras.

“This generosity will provide transformational opportunities for students to learn through building new companies and nonprofits — one of the most challenging and rewarding sets of puzzles in management,” said Noah Isserman, faculty director of the Origin Ventures Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership.


The $5 million gift will be invested into workshops, lectures, and experiential learning programs to better support student entrepreneurs at the university’s academy. Funds will also be allocated to invest in new student ventures, making it possible to realize more student dreams.

“This generous gift enables us to advance one of our top priorities — innovation — and to further fostering and investing in young entrepreneurs,” Brown said. “It is important for us to prepare students for the startup economy of today and in the future.”

The school further shared that the leadership has been working to develop a community of support for teaching and nurturing disruptive thinking and the incubation of ideas since the academy’s establishment and hope to continue engaging even more partners in future.


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.