Gee: Chambers donation about much more than a building or name

MORGANTOWN — A brand new building, a brand new name, and potentially limitless opportunities for young entrepreneurs — that’s what former CISCO CEO John Chambers, WVU President Gordon Gee, and Dr. Javier Reyes envision at West Virginia University.

Reyes, the Dean of the College of Business and Economics, is tasked with steering a generous contribution from Chambers into a path forward for students looking to take the first step’s into the state’s innovation economy.

“We have been doing that for some time, but we really think that scaling this up so that we can take a leadership role — not only within the University but obviously within the state — to keep our young people here,” said WVU President Gordon Gee.

In an appearance Monday on MetroNews “Talkline” with Hoppy Kercheval, Gee said he envisions a successful model that first entices students to launch their careers in West Virginia — and then entices them to remain in West Virginia.

“40 percent of the ‘Z’ generation — this is the new kids coming into college — want to be entrpreneurs,” Gee said.

Gee cited Chambers contribution to WVU and Brad Smith’s recent contribution to Marshall as big reasons to try and keep the talent local.

“They have left the state to go on and find their fortune elsewhere,” Gee said. “Well, it’s now time for them to stay here and come home. The only way we can do that is to create an environment, a training, and a set of options to make that happen.”

Dr. Reyes will coordinate Start-up West Virginia, the brainchild that will come out of Chambers’ donation of resources and time.

“I think it means that we have a completely new platform on which we’re going to stand,” he said. “A new identity that defines where we are heading with technology, innovation, and business education.”

“We’re bringing in some new resources and some new assets to ensure that we can diversify the industrial landscape of this state, focusing on start-ups and trying to attract more talent to our state — and retain them.”

That, Gee said, is enormously important — as the Rust Belt, Appalachia, and the non-coastal western states are often forgotten when it comes time to invest in new businesses.

“95 percent of the venture capital in this country has been found on the east coast or the west coast,” Gee said. “Nothing in the middle.”

Start-ups are a risky business though. According to a study conducted by the Harvard Business School, around 75 percent of venture backed companies fail. Gee, in fact, suggested that number was closer to 90 percent. The key, though, is providing West Virginia University with the resources to capitalize on the 10 percent who do succeed.

“We will now have substantial resources in this small state to start funding start-up ventures,” Gee said. “Nine out of ten of them fail. If we hit one or two of them, we’re going to be very successful indeed.”

“And,” Gee added, “I think we will.”

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