Alumnus Creates Fund To Jumpstart Innovation by Recent Grads
By Ken Walters
Carnegie Mellon is the go-to place for budding entrepreneurs.
Jonathan Kaplan, known for revolutionizing consumer electronics with his Flip video camera, and his wife, Marci Glazer, are hoping to spark that belief with a substantial financial gift the couple recently gave to create the Open Field Entrepreneurs Fund (OFEF) at Carnegie Mellon. The fund will provide early-stage business financing to alumni who have graduated from CMU within the past five years.
President Jared L. Cohon announced the gift at commencement.
“We believe it will make a mark for Carnegie Mellon and say to the world, ‘If you want to be an entrepreneur, this will be the place to come,’” Cohon said. “Jonathan cares about this university, and he’s joining with us to help spark entrepreneurship here, to make Carnegie Mellon the destination for entrepreneurs.”
Since making the announcement, Kaplan has moved on to his next business venture, a chain of restaurants in San Francisco called The Melt, which specializes in grilled cheese sandwiches. Once opened in August, restaurant patrons may place their order via smartphones and receive a scannable code that allows them to pick up the order and pay in one quick move.
An independent advisory committee including Kaplan and his classmate Peter Stern will be appointed annually to approve and mentor applicants for the OFEF. Stern is founder of Datek Online and another successful serial entrepreneur who also will be providing financial and advisory support for the OFEF.
“My colleagues and former classmates are very interested in joining me in our effort to fund young entrepreneurs and help them to create exciting new businesses in all areas and disciplines,” Kaplan said.
Applicants must present a business plan to the committee for review, outline how they will use Open Field funding and agree to become part of the Open Field Entrepreneurs incubation environment. The OFEF will provide $50,000 in matching funds to recipients.
In addition to receiving financial support, OFEF recipients will gain access to other funding sources, receive personalized mentoring and attend an annual OFEF business workshop. The university will provide legal and accounting support for OFEF recipients.
“It is just wonderful that the advisory council isn’t going to pass judgment solely on business ideas,” Kaplan said. “We are going to judge if entrepreneurs are passionate about what they want to do, if they have a plan to execute against, and if they are able to raise money externally from people who believe in them. Then we’ll give them the tools and technology to help them achieve their goals.”
Cohon said the funds will provide benefits far into the future and told the graduating students that he hoped the gift would spur future opportunities.
“When you’re successful like Jonathan, we expect you to contribute back to the fund to replenish it, to build the fund back up, so we can keep supporting future alumni,” he said.
Kaplan created a self-defined major at Carnegie Mellon that included business administration, engineering and design. His training prepared him for being an entrepreneur.
“Our goal with this effort is to provide Carnegie Mellon graduates with the opportunity to realize their innovative spirit and start new businesses,” said Kaplan, former CEO of Pure Digital and five-time entrepreneur. “We’d like to make Carnegie Mellon the destination of choice for young entrepreneurs.”
While not disclosing the value of his gift, Kaplan said he anticipates the fund to eventually reach $25 million within the first five years.
“One of Carnegie Mellon’s greatest strengths is its ‘innovation ecosystem’ — turning ideas and innovations into next generation businesses that spur economic growth and development,” said Rick McCullough, vice president of research and founder of Plextronics, a CMU startup company that is now the world leader in developing active layer technology for printed electronic devices.
Later this year, CMU will create and launch an online application for alumni to submit their proposals. To learn more about the OFEF, visit www.cmu.edu/openfield.