CORVALLIS - A $4 million gift from Oregon State University alumnus Ken Austin and his wife, Joan, (pronounced JO-ANNE) will make OSU one of the first universities in the U.S. to establish a residential learning program focused on starting up, incubating and spinning off successful new companies founded by students.

The gift from the Austins, an entrepreneurial couple who co-own one of Oregon's most successful companies, Newberg-based dental equipment manufacturer A-dec, Inc., will also enable the state to release $14 million in state bond funding to renovate aging Weatherford Hall, a majestic campus dormitory with a colorful history that has stood empty awaiting repairs for almost a decade.

The new program in entrepreneurship, to be housed in the renovated residence hall, will bring students, professors and visiting business leaders together in a live-in setting designed to catalyze new business ventures started by students who have a penchant for entrepreneurial endeavors.

The residential element will offer students the chance to pursue their business ventures "24/7" - an experience most entrepreneurs say is a key to early success.

Officials say the learning environment will be far richer than standard classroom settings because visiting professors, executives, and the program's director will reside in apartments within the building, which will enhance synergy and communication.

Intended to stimulate economic growth and create new jobs in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, the program will be administered by the OSU College of Business and will draw top students from other OSU colleges, including Engineering, Forestry, Pharmacy and others, said Sabah Randhawa, interim dean of the OSU College of Business.

"This new program very intentionally creates a unique learning environment at OSU where cross-disciplinary new venture teams can live, learn, work and create together," Randhawa said. "Although it will focus initially on business and engineering students, we ultimately want students from many disciplines to participate in order to provide a creative, diverse atmosphere where entrepreneurial ideas will become tomorrow's new companies - with guidance from seasoned entrepreneurs and visiting professors."

Ron Adams, dean of the OSU College of Engineering and a strong advocate of academia working closely with businesses to develop mutually beneficial relationships, says the new program is all about economic impact.

"This is an ideal marriage of business with engineering and other disciplines because it will create new jobs here in Oregon and beyond," Adams said. "Michael Dell founded Dell Computer Corporation in a college dorm room. The next Dell could be launched here at Oregon State, in this new facility."

Although renovation of Weatherford Hall will not be complete until the fall of 2004, the first class of entrepreneurial students will enroll and begin coursework in fall 2003, Randhawa said.

In addition to single-, double- and triple-occupancy residence hall rooms that will accommodate 285 students, the renovated Weatherford Hall will feature a cyber-café, business incubator spaces, a library, seminar rooms, and five apartments to house visiting faculty and business leaders who will come to campus to offer seminars, guest lectures, and ongoing courses about how to turn new ideas into successful business ventures. The new program is has already drawing interest from business leaders. Bernie Newcomb, E*Trade co-founder and OSU College of Business alumnus, has agreed to fund the program's cyber café. Silicon Valley venture capitalist Walter Kortschak and Portland business leaders Craig Berkman, Jim B. Johnson, James Winters, Allen Alley and others have expressed support for the new program and interest in helping teach student entrepreneurs.

"I look forward to personally participating as a visiting entrepreneur when it opens and to seeing the innovative new companies that emerge," said Alley, CEO of Pixelworks, Inc. "This program definitely puts OSU at the cutting edge nationally in the development of the next generation of business leaders."

The Austins, whose company employs nearly 1,000 people, said they were inspired to give to save Weatherford Hall, a "grand old landmark at OSU that needs to be preserved," and to help give young people the opportunity to follow their dreams.

"Through our involvement, we want to encourage young potential entrepreneurs to pursue their passions as we have done," Joan Austin said. "After watching the success of the Austin Family Business Program at OSU, we feel this new enterprise can add so much to the educational experience of students."

The Austins funded the Austin Family Business Program at the College of Business in 1985. At the time, it was only the second such program in the country to focus specifically on the needs of family-owned businesses. The new entrepreneurship program in Weatherford Hall will link to the Austin Family Business Program.

"Ninety to 95 percent of all businesses in the state of Oregon are family-owned," noted Ken Austin. "By encouraging entrepreneurs and aiding them in the success of their businesses, the students, the university and the state of Oregon will all be winners."

The Austins, who have also made major contributions toward other OSU projects, including the Austin Auditorium in the LaSells Stewart Center, the CH2M HILL Alumni Center, the Valley Library renovation, and many OSU programs, will be honored at a 10:30 a.m. public ceremony at The Governor Hotel in Portland on Dec. 13, and then tour Weatherford Hall with students and faculty.

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Ron Adams, 541-737-3101