Ron & Alexis Fowler Gift Creates Social Entrepreneurship Collaboration for USD, Univ. of St. Thomas

Ron and Alexis FowlerRon and Alexis Fowler have made a major gift to support the scope and scale of social entrepreneurship ecosystem at both USD and St. Thomas University in Minnesota.

The University of San Diego and University of St. Thomas announced today a joint initiative that will increase the scope and scale of social entrepreneurship ecosystem at their respective universities and participating universities around the world. Made possible by Ron and Alexis Fowler, who pledged a multi-million-dollar commitment, the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge will expand USD’s very successful Global Social Innovation Challenge to include St. Thomas.

“Our vision for the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge is to significantly increase the number of social entrepreneurs creatively tackling humanity’s biggest problems,” said donor and former USD Board Chair Ron Fowler. Adding, “USD and St. Thomas have both demonstrated their ability to successfully nurture and lead innovative students. Working together, sharing common ideals and practices, Alexis and I expect to see more ventures successfully transition to advanced stages of prototyping, financial sustainability, and start-up.”

“The Fowlers have been very generous to USD. Their latest pledge of $2.6 million will help USD advance its efforts to develop global ethical and responsible leaders committed to the common good through social innovation and social entrepreneurship,” said USD President James T. Harris III. “We are grateful for their financial commitment and look forward to collaborating with the University of St. Thomas campus to increase our collective global impact.”

Launched in 2011 as a joint program of USD’s School of Business and Kroc School of Peace Studies, the Social Innovation Challenge (SIC) inspires college students to tackle humanity’s pressing problems through social innovation and entrepreneurship. In 2014, USD expanded the program to include local universities in the San Diego, and in 2016 to include the Tijuana, Mexico region. In 2018, the SIC was expanded again to include student teams from universities around the world and renamed the Global Social Innovation Challenge (GSIC). In its inaugural year as a global challenge, student-led teams from 27 universities in 12 countries across six continents competed in the GSIC. To date, winning teams have received over $377,000 in seed funding and invaluable in-kind support from incubators, accelerators, coaches, and mentors.

USD Kroc School Dean Patricia Márquez said, “By working together, the new USD-St. Thomas program will propel social innovation on both campuses, improve the quality and quantity of entrepreneurial opportunities, expand national and international reach, and build a global movement based on people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership.”

The Fowler’s pledge to USD commits $2.5 million to the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge, and $100,000 to the Fowler Business Concept Challenge in USD’s School of Business.

Through the University of St. Thomas Schulze School of Entrepreneurship, the Fowler Business Concept Challenge has provided students at St. Thomas with an entrepreneurial springboard to explore new, creative innovations to solve both business and societal problems. 

“For more than a decade, Ron Fowler’s support has served as a catalyst for new business ideas among St. Thomas students,” St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan said. “We are eternally grateful for his support, which has inspired so many entrepreneurial ventures. His vision to bring together USD and St. Thomas to support global social innovation through an intercollegiate competition will expand our reach and generate invaluable impact for generations to come.”

Together, USD and St. Thomas will work to significantly increase the number of universities participating in the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge each spring. USD will focus its efforts on targeting institutions in at-risk countries and areas of conflict. St. Thomas will target regional, national and international participants. Both universities will work to connect its students, faculty, and entrepreneurs with the global entrepreneurial community.

2019 Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge Update

This year’s Fowler GSIC is well underway. While others in the U.S. and around the world are working on their ideas, 12 USD semifinalists have already been identified and are preparing to compete for two spots in the global finals. The 12 USD teams will give their pitches during the USD Social Innovation Showcase on Friday, May 3 at 4 p.m. in the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice Theatre. They will be competing for $10,000+ of seed funding, including a People’s Choice Award, and the two teams to advance to the Global Finals, June 14-15 in the KIPJ Theatre, will be determined.

— Pamela Gray Payton

Ryan T. Blystone contributed to this story


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