Entrepreneurs repay colleges with donations

Young alumni give back to schools that helped them succeed

March 07, 2000|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

As a University of Maryland engineering student in the early 1980s, Brian Hinman found College Park a less than ideal place for generating innovative business ideas.

Two decades, three start-up companies and millions of dollars later, Hinman -- a 38-year-old veteran player in the fast-bucks world of Silicon Valley -- is donating $1.7 million toward the creation of a "living-learning" program to bring would-be entrepreneurs together in a wired-up dormitory.

Hinman is one of a handful of young, Maryland-bred entrepreneurs taking baby steps toward giving away their newfound wealth to enrich the universities that taught them how to make it.

While fund-raisers across a range of nonprofit causes have criticized high-tech boomers for not giving enough, university development officers say that they're seeing signs of a change -- and that more gifts may follow from the examples being set.

To the young and suddenly wealthy, universities can seem a comforting port in a storm of pitches for giving. They're established, familiar to the donor and often can take credit for having helped an entrepreneur succeed.

Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates, who has the world's largest charitable foundation, made some of his first donations to universities, including $20 million to the Johns Hopkins University for an institute on population and reproductive health. A 1998 study by Silicon Valley Community Foundation found that education was a much more popular target for giving in that high-tech corridor than across the rest of the country.

"These people have instant wealth, and they're looking for meaningful things to do with it," says Eugene Tempel, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. "Universities have been around since the 12th century, and there's some stability there. It's a proven kind of institution."

`Not so easy a task'

Jeong H. Kim, a telecommunications start-up founder who gave $5 million to UMCP in 1998 and $1 million to Hopkins last year, agrees.

"Giving money turns out to be not so easy a task," says Kim, a Potomac resident on the Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland. "You don't have time to deal with these things. So we do the easy things, like giving back to something you have a belief in to begin with."

Kim, 39, earned his bachelor's and master's degrees at Hopkins and completed his doctorate at UMCP. He remembered the schools when the Landover company he founded and named for his daughter, Yurie Systems, began to flourish. In 1998, Lucent Technologies Inc. bought Yurie Systems for $1 billion, netting Kim $500 million.

In addition to the gifts to Hopkins and UMCP, Kim has given about $500,000 to Stanford University for an institute for international studies and about $100,000 total to several secondary schools he declines to name.

"I think the educational opportunity I had in this country allowed me to realize my potential," says Kim, whose family emigrated from South Korea when he was 14.

Kim's $5 million represented the largest gift anyone younger than 40 has given to UMCP. But officials there are hoping that milestone won't stand.

At Hopkins, J. Barclay Knapp Jr., the 43-year-old chief executive of what could soon be Great Britain's largest cable company, gave $10 million to his alma mater last year to endow the deanship of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences in memory of his father.

`A growing factor'

Several other young, high-tech entrepreneurs who don't want their gifts publicized have recently given several million dollars to Hopkins for scholarships, said Robert Lindgren, vice president for development and alumni relations for the Johns Hopkins institutions. "They're certainly a growing factor," he says.

Hoping to capitalize on the inroads, Baltimore's newly launched Giving Project, an initiative of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers and a host of local nonprofit organizations, is planning a series of meetings to introduce area entrepreneurs to the idea of giving.

But universities find they must gingerly approach the newly wealthy -- moving with enough speed to capture their interest, yet finding time with executives whose schedules are packed with business.

"Just the face time, if you will, is a challenge," said Sheldon Caplis, vice president for institutional advancement at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, which has been courting several young, successful alumni for major gifts.

`A large payback'

C. D. "Dan" Mote Jr., hired as president at UMCP because of his fund-raising success at the University of California, Berkeley, says the key to approaching such donors is to make the pitch short, focused and creative.

"You have to have a good idea, a short presentation, and obviously a large payback," Mote says, "and they will invest philanthropically in these ideas."

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