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$1M gift supports Binghamton University’s Entrepreneurship Program

By : Susanne Thiel

Wanda and Ray Osterhout sign a document with President Lois B. DeFleur to create a $1 million endowement to support a distinguished professorship in enterpreneurship in the School of Management.
Windsor couple has established a $1 million endowment to support a distinguished professorship in entrepreneurship in the School of Management. The Ray and Wanda Osterhout Distinguished Professorship in Entrepreneurship will support the continued growth of one of the school’s most innovative new programs, designed to prepare graduates with hands-on knowledge needed to launch successful new businesses in today’s complex economic environment.

“Too many cities and communities rely on a single or a handful of corporations,” said Ray Osterhout, retired group vice president and underwriting and marketing manager for the United States Swiss Reinsurance Corp., the world’s second-largest reinsurance firm. “We need a more diverse economic engine and I think entrepreneurship is the way to go. The economy is like an investment portfolio. Diversification is the key to survival.”

President Lois B. DeFleur thanked the Osterhouts for their generosity and vision. “Their gift will provide our business students with a superior understanding of entrepreneurial theory and practice, as well as opportunities for experiential learning and mentoring to help them succeed in the marketplace,” DeFleur said. “In addition, these ideas can potentially create new businesses and renewed economic activity in our region and state.”

Upinder Dhillon, dean of the School of Management, said the person chosen for the professorship will research as well as teach and coordinate entrepreneurial activities in the community. “This gift will transform us and move us to the next level,” Dhillon said. “We plan to take a leadership role in entrepreneurial training and work with this area to support economic efforts and encourage new business.”

A search will begin next fall to fill the post by fall 2005. The Entrepreneurship Program was launched in 2002 with a gift from alumnus Barry Goodman ’79 and his spouse, Alison Aronson, and supplemented with gifts from others. The program is fully supported by private giving, Dhillon said.

Students are chosen to participate in the program by submitting two-page business plans outlining their entrepreneurial ideas. In the classroom, students choose the top five ideas and form teams to further develop plans.

At the end of the semester, the teams are judged by a panel of successful businesspeople, Wall Street alumni and real-life venture capitalists. The winning team receives a cash prize, including $2,500 seed money if the team launches its business in the Southern Tier.

“Ray and Wanda Osterhout are thoughtful and generous individuals who want to give back to their community by strengthening the University, which they see as the community’s strongest asset,” said Thomas Kelly, vice president for external affairs.

Osterhout earned his bachelor’s degree in 1954 from Syracuse University and completed a five-year Chartered Property Casual Underwriter certification program at Bryn Mawr. In 1980, after working with a New York-based company for several years, he and a partner launched their own re-insurance company based in Stamford, Conn. But the company did not have the financial resources to compete with the industry giants based in Zurich and Munich, Germany.

While working for Swiss Reinsurance, Osterhout invested in a private insurance start-up based in Nashville, Tenn. The company recently enjoyed a very successful IPO. Osterhout serves on the company’s board of directors and chairs its nominating and governance committee, and its compensation committee.

“Entrepreneurship is very close to my heart,” said Osterhout, “and I wanted to see if we could do something in that line for our community. This gift is right up our alley. I have experience in developing a company and it’s something that I enjoy. Only in America can you do these things.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08