Southern Methodist University announced today it has landed the largest gift from a non-alum in its more than century-long history.
The donation—its historic amount wasn’t disclosed—was given by William Spears, founder and CEO of Dallas-based sustainability solutions firm Cenergistic, and will go toward boosting innovation and entrepreneurship at the university’s Cox School of Business.
“I hope that, through this gift, the Cox School will be a positive driver for pioneering innovation and enterprising development across Dallas,” Spears said in a statement.
Funding future innovators
Funding from the gift will help set up the William S. Spears Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership within the business school. In addition, it will help SMU launch the Spears Accelerator to help get student- and faculty-formed businesses off the ground, along with supplying student ventures with capital via a newly created fund.
The donation will also create a new competitive scholar program and internship program for students to travel to the East Coast and London, England.
Executive director, speaker series are to come
Eventually, the Spears Institute will be led by an endowed executive director and will bring business leader expertise to the university through a newly created speaker series.
The gift will also likely have an impact beyond the SMU campus, as a majority of its business school students come from out of state and around 75% of its graduates stay in the Dallas area for work. According to a 2021 economic study by the university, SMU had a total economic impact on North Texas of around $7 billion.
“The Cox School of Business is a pioneer in the business education field, known for training outstanding business leaders and innovative thinkers,” said Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson in a statement. “Now, through the Spears Institute, Dallas and SMU can expand our thriving partnership and make our city an even more dynamic hub for entrepreneurial activity.”
SMU aiming to raise $1.5 billion
Spears’ gift comes amid a $1.5 billion “SMU Ignited” fundraising campaign—the largest of any private Texas university—that SMU kicked off last September, with around $645 million committed at the time. The campaign will help the university invest in student and faculty research as SMU looks to land the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education’s R1 classification. The campaign will also help SMU provide financial aid to eligible students, along with helping the university expand partnerships with corporations and nonprofits.
The William S. Spears Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership won’t be the first academic institution bearing Spears’ name. Oklahoma State University’s business school, Spears’ alma mater, is also emblazoned with his name following a 2004 donation that the school said was the largest gift in its history at the time. Originally from Tulsa, Spears’ ties to SMU come from his wife and stepdaughter—both of whom are alumni of the university.
Joining other local business leaders in supporting SMU
Spears joins a lineup of other local business leaders who have made significant donations to the university. Other local SMU funders include the foundation of financial services firm CEO Gary Weber, ClubCorp (which recently rebranded to Invited on its path to a potential IPO) founder Robert Dedman Sr., and oil billionaire Ray Hunt.
“The Spears Institute will accelerate groundbreaking innovation at the Cox School by expanding student potential and broadening faculty outreach,” said Matthew Myers, dean of the business school, in a statement. “Through our partnership with William Spears, the SMU Cox School will strengthen its ability to prepare our students to tackle grand challenges, spark bold new ideas and become industry front-runners.”
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