For some time, I’ve been arguing that there’s nothing in the typical university’s portfolio of commercialization activities that necessarily needs to be dependent on government grant support. In fact, universities are free to ask private donors to fund anything from the basic operations of the tech transfer office to the costs of running a proof-of-concept or commercialization center.

That universities have typically not asked for such support, but rather have waited for a motivated donor to drop it in their lap unbidden,1 is a function of opportunity cost. Every time a university president makes an “ask” of this kind, that’s one less donor who can be asked for a dormitory, a professorship, or a financial aid fund. To date, few presidents have been able to convince themselves that that are donors who will consider funding commercialization activities who would not otherwise be giving to more conventional entries on the “table of needs.”

Now (my thanks to Cameron Ford at the University of Central Florida’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation for pointing this out to me) we have a real, live example of a university capital campaign that actually prominently features such requests: the $125 million Innovate Carolina campaign launched last month by UNC Chapel Hill. The campaign is modest in size, but daring in what it includes. After the break, you can read or download from Scribd the eight-page “case statement” for the campaign.

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  1. e.g., Desh Deshpande at MIT. []