Carnegie Mellon University’s “hub for entrepreneurship,” the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship, got its official start Tuesday in the best possible way — surrounded by CMU innovators hoping to take their companies to the next level.
James Swartz, the co-founding partner of Accel Partners, a venture capital firm that has helped fund some of the country’s most successful tech startups — including Facebook, DropBox and Spotify — gave $31 million last year to make the Swartz Center a reality.
While many of the center’s programs are already up and running, and its physical space slated for completion in mid-2018, Tuesday’s LaunchCMU event served as the official launch of the center. There, Swartz encouraged attendees to support one of the 30 presenters whose ideas and companies were born out of their time at CMU.
“We anticipate launching additional funding vehicles that will add to the successful seed program now in place,” Swartz said.
Swartz, a Coraopolis native who earned his master’s from CMU in 1966, said he wanted to support CMU because of the education it afforded him, and also because he believes Pittsburgh is poised to innovate at a higher level than at any point in its history.
“Today, there’s a very strong ecosystem of technical community that’s developing around the Carnegie Mellon core engineering, research and academic excellence that’s always been there,” Swartz said. “The time is now to change the game and accelerate it even further, and so I thought this was the right thing to do now.”
The center, a hub for the university’s entrepreneurial efforts, will have a 12-member advisory board of successful entrepreneurs, CMU announced Tuesday. In addition to existing programs like Project Olympus, CMU’s business incubator that since 2007 has launched more than 130 companies, the center will offer scholarships, fellowships and access to mentors, and will encourage collaboration with other colleges within the university. It will be housed in the David A. Tepper Quadrangle.
Dave Mawhinney, director of the Swartz Center, said he chose to join Swartz because he felt, as a fellow CMU grad who has launched several successful companies, that the center will eventually serve as a huge draw for innovators and entrepreneurs in Pittsburgh, and is already poised to offer CMU students tools they might not get in a more traditional environment.
“It’s really a mixture of academic and experiential learning at the highest level; we have courses taught by practicing entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to help prepare students for what they’re going to face upon graduation, but entrepreneurship is really learning by doing, so we have a lot happening outside the classroom to help students along that path,” he said.