Charitable Gift Totaling $2.9 Million to Help Young Entrepreneurs in Florida

USF's Muma College of Business will launch the Frank and Ellen Daveler Entrepreneurship Program

Frank and Ellen Daveler

TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 23, 2016) – The next generation of start-up leaders are getting support to make it in the business world from a couple who began launching businesses seven decades ago. Naples entrepreneurs Frank and Ellen Daveler donated $2.9 million to the University of South Florida's Muma College of Business to spearhead a state-wide effort to educate entrepreneurs.

The transformational estate and cash gift will establish the Frank & Ellen Daveler Entrepreneurship Program at USF with a mission to help undergraduate students launch prosperous and sustaining businesses.

The Davelers, accomplished entrepreneurs in the aerospace, engineering, and scientific instrument manufacturing arenas, chose to make the gift to USF because of its proven history of graduating successful students and entrepreneurs. Plus, they know from experience that young entrepreneurs need help the most when they're starting their careers.

"That's the critical time," Frank Daveler said. "We observed over the years that 50 percent of these companies fail, many for a lack of preparation and for not understanding the importance of having the right product and the right people working with you. An educational program that can help students better understand these things could make a big difference for fledgling companies' survival and success."

"We are so grateful for the Davelers' support and that they've chosen to partner with USF in fostering a new generation of entrepreneurs," said Joel Momberg, CEO of The USF Foundation. "This incredible gift will enhance USF's reputation as an educational leader in entrepreneurship."

The University of South Florida is one of the best schools in the country at teaching students how to start businesses from the ground up, according to rankings released by Entrepreneur magazine and the Princeton Review.

USF's graduate program is the only Florida university listed among the nation's leading entrepreneurship education programs for 2016. The graduate program is ranked No. 11 overall and is also the fourth-highest rated program among public universities. It's the ninth consecutive year that USF's interdisciplinary Center for Entrepreneurship has been ranked on the Top 25 list.

The Frank & Ellen Daveler Entrepreneurship Program will build on that success, focusing first on West Central Florida – namely Hillsborough, Pasco, Polk, Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota, Collier, Hardee, Highlands, and Lee counties. It will provide financial awards and host entrepreneurship competitions, eventually expanding statewide to help fund the education of students at any accredited Florida university.

The estate gift will also fund up to $50,000 annually in scholarships for USF business students who are the first in their families to attend college.

Frank Daveler enrolled in Drexel University's mechanical engineering degree program and completed two years in a co-op program that required intermittent work periods at regional corporations. He left the program to accept a job offer from an engineering company, Drever Co., that was owned and managed by an individual registered engineer.

"Mr. Drever was the boss, and that appealed to me -- at an early age to be in charge! I was his assistant chief engineer and I wanted to be like him. I wanted to be involved in my own business," said Daveler.

"Because of the War Manpower Commission, we had to remain in the job or be drafted," Daveler said. Instead of finishing his degree program or fighting overseas, Daveler continued developing alloy plate for tanks and battleships. Before the war ended, he met and married his co-worker, Ellen and together they founded their own engineering services firm, Associated Industrial Engineers. Later the couple would start and invest in numerous companies in the engineering, manufacturing and technology sectors – learning invaluable lessons in business along the way.

After that firm was sold, the two jointly founded, led, and invested in a number of engineering, manufacturing, and technology companies. One of their first partners, Charles Close, was the namesake for Drexel University's Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship. Later, the Davelers became minority partners in one of Close's ventures, including one that is now a division of Ametek, Inc., an S&P company.

"Your associates and partners are vitally important!" Daveler said, noting that this is one of the key things he hopes students in this program will learn.

"I had a number of successful businesses but at one point, I found myself trying to resuscitate a business that was close to failure, primarily due to the economy," Daveler said. He points out that there are a number of reasons businesses fail – having the wrong product, having the wrong partners, or by not paying attention to the world going on around them.

"I want this to help students understand the importance of all of these things so that they can succeed," Daveler added. "That's my vision for this program."

Moez Limayem, dean of the USF Muma College of Business where the USF Center for Entrepreneurship is housed, said that the Davelers' vision mirrors USF's.

"USF is one of the best at teaching its students how to start and grow a new business and this gift will help us prepare future entrepreneurs for the kind of success that the Davelers achieved over their lifetimes," said Limayem. "This will help us create educational opportunities for nascent entrepreneurs."

The dean highlighted that the center's faculty includes academics and seasoned entrepreneurs such as Michael Fountain, who founded or co-founded eleven new ventures, three of which became publicly traded companies.

"We want to train students to write and execute a business plan," said Fountain. "But we want to do much more. We want to place them in internship or workplace educational experiences and we want them to learn from mentors and other entrepreneurs."

The Frank and Ellen Daveler Program's online financial award application will open in March and the inaugural Daveler Entrepreneurs – for USF and other Florida universities – will be announced in May.