Quint and Rishy Studer gave the University of West Florida $1 million on Thursday toward the creation of a hub for innovative thinking and training in business.
The announcement came at the Voice of Pensacola building in downtown Pensacola.
The University of West Florida’s Center of Entrepreneurship will focus on community building, education, research and supporting small-business development.
The idea deeply enhances the University’s downtown presence and restores the educational and community-building components missing from the Maritime Park since UWF withdrew from the original plans for the park that included research space, classrooms and a maritime museum.
The building is one aspect of a $20-million investment the Studers have proposed for parcels 3, 6, and 9 at the Maritime Park. The school and the convention center represent roughly $14 million of that investment, Quint Studer said.
Our goal is make this a national story,” said Studer. “We want to be the next Austin, but a little bit better. This isn’t a college campus. This is a community campus.”
The UWF College of Business is developing degree and certificate programs in entrepreneurship and will launch an MBA with an emphasis on entrepreneurship in the fall.
One of the first marquee events the Center for Entrepreneurship will host is “EntreCon,” a two-day workshop in entrepreneurship Nov. 5-6. The Studer Community Institute is helping produce that event.
The convention center is important to UWF as it expands its business offerings because it can be used as a real-world practicum for students in the hospitality program.
Brendan Kelly, UWF’s vice president for university advancement, called the center a unique vehicle for change that solidifies the university’s ties to the community.
“You’re a real university when you can take a high school student and make them an accountant,” Kelly said. “This will be a center point for bringing people together without an agenda.”
The center aims not only to help create the business owners of the future and give students real-world experience. It aims to be a hub for continuing education for the business community — without the pursuit of a degree being necessary.
It also aims to tap into Pensacola’s business community for knowledge, mentorship and expertise, Studer said.
Ken Ford of the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, golf legend and entrepreneur Jerry Pate, and Kirk Ball of Fisher Brown Insurance were among Pensacola business leaders who will share their experience knowledge at center, Studer said.
UWF President Judy Bense, who cited her own story as an entrepreneur in building the university’s archaeology department, touched on a theme she has returned to often in speeches.
Northwest Floridians are used to making their own way in the world — and the center is another manifestation of that spirit.
“I know many of our graduates leave here. They don’t want to,” Bense said. “This center will help those graduates stay here.”
Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward said the goal is to have the Studer leases to the City Council next week for their action.