Polsky Center Receives $5 Million Gift from Booth Alumnus

A gift from David Kessenich, MBA ’96, and his wife, Colleen, will propel new groundbreaking work and faculty-led research at the Polsky Center

Photo of David Kessenich and Professor Steven N. Kaplan

Chicago Booth alumnus David Kessenich, MBA ’96, (pictured left) and his wife, Colleen, have made a $5 million gift to support the work and faculty-led research of the Polsky Center, which includes naming the faculty director position, currently held by Professor Steven N. Kaplan (pictured right), the Kessenich E.P. Faculty Director at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago announced today that it has received a $5 million gift from University of Chicago Booth School of Business alumnus David Kessenich, MBA ’96, and his wife Colleen. This gift will be used to support the groundbreaking work and faculty-led research at the Polsky Center. In addition, the faculty director position will be named the Kessenich E.P. Faculty Director at the Polsky Center. Polsky’s current faculty director is Steven N. Kaplan, the Neubauer Family Distinguished Service Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance at Chicago Booth.

David Kessenich, who is chairman, co-founder, and managing partner of Denver-based private equity firm Excellere Partners (E.P.), was a former student of Professor Kaplan. After Kessenich graduated in 1996, and progressed in his career after making a switch from investment banking to private equity, he stayed in close contact with Kaplan.

Kessenich was asked to present in Professor Kaplan’s Entrepreneurial Finance and Private Equity class frequently over the years, helping MBA students understand how to develop a fundraising pitch for investors. Kessenich was also invited to serve as a member on the Private Equity Council, which is an elite group comprised of private equity investors and alumni who provide ongoing support and guidance to the Polsky Center and its Svider Private Equity Program.

Through this involvement with the Polsky Center, Kessenich learned about the many offerings at the Polsky Center, and how MBA students are supported in a variety of ways including how to career change into private equity. Being in private equity, Kessenich was also interested in furthering additional faculty-led research in this field.

“I felt there couldn’t be a better way to honor Steve than to leave a legacy in support of the work he has pioneered,” remarked Kessenich in describing his motivation for his gift.

A Legendary Scholar

When it comes to private equity research as a whole, Professor Kaplan’s work is widely-acclaimed and has had a tremendous impact in the field. A Fortune Magazine article once referred to him as “probably the foremost private equity scholar in the galaxy.”

He ranks among the top 60 in paper downloads and in paper citations (out of over 280,000 authors) on SSRN (Social Science Research Network). He is the co-creator of the Kaplan-Schoar Public Market Equivalent (KS-PME) private equity benchmarking approach. Professor Kaplan and Antoinette Schoar, developed this method to measure the wealth multiple effect of investing in the private equity investment.

And while his reputation as a private equity scholar is widely-known, Kaplan is also responsible for establishing Booth as one of the nation’s top graduate entrepreneurship programs.

Establishing Booth’s Reputation in Entrepreneurship

In 1996, the same year that the Polsky Center’s Edward L. Kaplan, MBA ’71, New Venture Challenge (NVC) was launched, the then dean of the business school, Dean Robert Hamada, decided that the University of Chicago needed a strong entrepreneurship program. He asked Professor Kaplan to create the program.

The Kauffman Foundation provided a $1 million grant to help Kaplan start an entrepreneurship center at the business school, which would be later named the Polsky Center. By 1998, an entrepreneurship concentration was introduced and Professor Kaplan hired Ellen Rudnick, MBA ’73, as the Center’s first executive director while he remained faculty director of the Center.

Today, entrepreneurship is the No. 1 concentration at Booth, the school ranks as one of the top graduate entrepreneurship programs in the nation, and offers 35 classes taught by 39 faculty.

Polsky Center Expansion

As Booth’s reputation is entrepreneurship has grown, the resources of the Polsky Center have also expanded. The Polsky Center is now a university-wide resource at the University of Chicago, helping students, faculty, staff, and alumni launch and scale their businesses. More and more offerings are being added to the Polsky Center suite of services. For example, this year, the Polsky Center added a fifth track of its nationally-ranked Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge accelerator program that is dedicated to helping all University of Chicago alumni around the globe get support for their startup ventures.

In addition, the University of Chicago technology transfer office is now part of the Polsky Center, and has a dedicated team of scientists and technology licensing professionals on staff to support faculty researchers by protecting their intellectual capital and licensing their research to external partners.

The Polsky Center also has a community-facing mission, providing support and mentorship to local community entrepreneurs on Chicago’s South Side who are not affiliated with the University of Chicago. Through Polsky’s 34,000 square-foot co-working space and startup incubator in Hyde Park called the Polsky Exchange, these entrepreneurs gain significant resources for growing their businesses.

Kessenich believes that this continued growth and expansion of the Polsky Center will enable new opportunities and differentiate the University. “It is such an exciting time—the combination of the Center’s origination at and continued association with Chicago Booth, Professor Kaplan’s two decades of faculty leadership, and now the expansion to the entire University perfectly positions the Polsky Center to drive innovation, new ventures and cutting-edge research,” remarked Kessenich.

To learn more about Kessenich’s gift, please read the story here.

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