Published: April 17, 2018 By

Boulder entrepreneur Dan Caruso and his wife Cindy—both active philanthropists—are donating $2 million to support innovation, entrepreneurship and diversity at CU Boulder.  

The Carusos have supported entrepreneurial activity on campus for more than a decade. Now, they are boosting their financial support because of the campus’s strategic focus on innovation and entrepreneurship—especially within the Leeds School of Business and College of Engineering and Applied Science.

Bobby Braun, Cindy Caruso, Dan Caruso and Sharon Matusik

From left: Bobby Braun, dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science; Cindy Caruso; Dan Caruso; and Sharon Matusik, dean of the Leeds School of Business (Credit: Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado Boulder)

Through The Caruso Foundation, the couple is giving $1 million toward the future connection between the business and engineering buildings, and another $1 million to support entrepreneurial activities that foster new business creation, diversity and inclusion.

“Partners like the Carusos are essential to driving our efforts forward and strengthening the bridge between CU Boulder and our world-class community of innovators,” said Chancellor Philip DiStefano. “Gifts like this demonstrate that Boulder’s own innovators and entrepreneurs see the value in our efforts to drive collaboration and diversity.”

In honor of the gift, a planned building expansion that is slated to connect the Leeds School of Business and the College of Engineering and Applied Science will include a space dubbed the “Caruso Connection” to mark the intersection of the two highly ranked programs.

While the scope of the proposed project is still being finalized, current early concept designs call for a 67,260-square-foot addition and remodel. It is intended to be a place where students, faculty, staff and the community are inspired to innovate and collaborate in meet-up areas, an auditorium, flexible classrooms—all with a Flatirons view.

The Carusos are also committing $1 million to an array of programs that foster diversity in engineering and business, including the business school’s End the Gap initiative, New Venture ChallengeNational Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT)Catalyze CU and StartUp Colorado. The gifts will be distributed over five years.

For Dan Caruso, founder, chairman and CEO of Boulder-based Zayo Group Holdings, a global provider of communications infrastructure services, pairing engineering with business comes naturally. He earned his engineering degree from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana and his MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He was inspired to increase his investment in CU Boulder because of the focus on innovation, entrepreneurship and cross-campus collaboration being led by deans Sharon Matusik of business and Bobby Braun of engineering.

“We are showing our support for everyone at CU and the surrounding business community who embraces the critical and positive role that innovation and entrepreneurship play in our society,” he said. 

Boulder: A startup hub

Caruso said that both deans understand the vital connection between rapidly evolving technology and business success, the importance of experiential learning, and the opportunities that come with being located in one of the nation’s top innovation and startup hubs: Boulder.  

The city’s reputation as an innovation leader isn’t a coincidence. The university’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative, charged with cultivating entrepreneurial mindsets across the CU Boulder campus, also connects faculty and staff with entrepreneurial leaders and organizations in the community, creating powerful synergies that help make Boulder unique.

“The university and community can feed off each other,” said Caruso, who also founded the Boulder Think Tank, an informal gathering of Boulder’s most impactful serial entrepreneurs, in 2016. “A lot of students come here because of their interest in Boulder’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

The Carusos are also passionate about the importance of diversity in general, and women in leadership. The College of Engineering and Applied Science has set a goal to have half of its undergraduates be women within five years; 38 percent of the current freshman class are women. The Leeds School of Business aims to have 50 percent of the students at Leeds be women by 2020, up from 43 percent today.

“Diverse businesses outperform businesses that aren’t diverse when it comes to innovation and longevity,” Dan Caruso said. “From a societal standpoint, we want to draw people into a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem. It’s a way for us to give back as well.”

Matusik said she is excited to unlock all of the potential that the donor-funded addition connecting business to engineering holds. The expansion, pending CU Board of Regents approval later this year, is targeted for completion in December 2020. She added that the Carusos’ support is especially meaningful “because of all they do to drive our entrepreneurial ecosystem forward.”

“This building connection symbolizes what is important to higher education in the future -- connecting across disciplines, with entrepreneurship and innovation at the center,” Matusik said. “This connection between our two colleges, and how it allows us to bring in the business community, will better prepare all of our students to lead in the future.”