Brown University to open entrepreneurship center

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University Hall on Brown University's Providence campus.
University Hall on Brown University's Providence campus.Gretchen Ertl for The Boston Glo

With $25 million from a wealthy alumnus, Brown University plans to open an entrepreneurship center aimed at encouraging students to turn their classroom learning into innovative ventures.

Called the Jonathan M. Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship, it will be open to all Brown students regardless of their areas of study, as well as to students from the Rhode Island School of Design. The gift by Nelson, a 1977 graduate who founded the private equity firm Providence Equity Partners, will be used in part to build a facility for classrooms and workspace where faculty and students can collaborate on developing products and services. It will also house entrepreneurs-in-residence.


“Brown already has the students to make an entrepreneurship program a success,” said Jonathan M. Nelson, whose $25 million gift led to the center’s creation.
“Brown already has the students to make an entrepreneurship program a success,” said Jonathan M. Nelson, whose $25 million gift led to the center’s creation.Kevork Djansezian/Reuters

Brown said on Tuesday the center will take an "action-oriented and interdisciplinary approach" by partnering with existing university centers, schools, and departments — from engineering and medicine to sociology and public policy — and by offering hands-on experience, mentoring, and research opportunities.''

"The vision for this center is to provide the tools and real-world exposure that will increase the chances of success for Brown students aspiring to be tomorrow's entrepreneurs," Nelson, a member of the Corporation of Brown University, the school's governing body, said in a statement.

Brown already has a master's-level program in "innovation management and entrepreneurship" and a student group called the Brown Entrepreneurship Program, among other resources intended to fuel entrepreneurial spirit. But the school said there is still growing demand among its students for more on-campus support of innovation.

In a statement, Brown president Christina Paxson said the center "positions Brown to amplify our impact, extend our reach, and educate the next generation of Brown students with the knowledge and practical skills to actively engage in entrepreneurial activities in the United States and around the world."

Nelson, the chief executive of Providence Equity Partners, which manages $45 billion in assets in sectors such as media, communications, and education, has been a longtime financial supporter of Brown. He was the lead donor to the school's Nelson Fitness Center and has endowed two professorships. He is also co-chair of Brown's recently launched $3 billion fund-raising campaign.


Nelson said Brown's "open curriculum," which allows students to largely design their own course of study rather than take prescribed classes, makes the school an ideal place to invest even more resources in entrepreneurship.

"Brown already has the students to make an entrepreneurship program a success — independent thinkers who are collaborators, self-motivated, and multidisciplinary in their approach," he said. "These students self-select into Brown and are aspiring entrepreneurs. We're filling a demand."

Sacha Pfeiffer can be reached at sacha.pfeiffer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @SachaPfeiffer.