Summerville part of IU initiative

Retired Columbus entrepreneur Gregg Summerville says the IU Founders and Funders program could help keep graduates, companies and jobs in Indiana.

A retired Columbus entrepreneur is joining a new effort to help fellow Indiana University grads give back to their alma mater.

Local business leader, philanthropist and IU booster Gregg T. Summerville is among the founding class of “pledge takers” lending his support to the Bloomington-based university’s Founders and Funders Pledge campaign.

“The idea behind this, one of the complaints you hear about the universities — Indiana and Purdue — is kids graduate from there and leave the state,” Summerville said.

“This is an effort to try to keep them in the state, keep companies in the state and create jobs,” he said, through making a greater pool of funding available to startup companies with what he called “IU DNA.”

IU says the pledge campaign “will allow IU-affiliated entrepreneurs and investors to leverage a portion of their future venture success to support fellow innovators.”

Summerville seems a natural to kick off such an initiative. A distinguished alumnus, he earned a bachelor of arts degree in zoology and animal biology from IU in 1969 and an MBA in finance in 1972 and now serves as a member of the advisory board of IUPUC.

Summerville also serves on the board of directors of IU Ventures, the university’s early-stage venture and angel investment arm, which launched the Founders and Funders pledge effort May 19 in collaboration with the IU Foundation and the IU Alumni Association.

IU says the program will enable its “expanding community of venture founders, equity holders and investors to leverage a portion of their future success in support of the university’s efforts to build a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem in Indiana and beyond.”

Summerville provided examples of some of the startups that already have benefitted from the existing IU angels venture capital network. These have included companies that, among other things, expedite payments to vendors and contractors in homeowner insurance matters, help manage dental insurance claims and payments, and in one case, support fine artists in their professional development.

The latter is a networking website called Summerville said the site allows performing artists such as opera singers and stage actors to create profile pages including performance videos, showcase their experience and cultivate contacts. Thousands of performers and artists are already using the site.

Half or more of the business pitches in entrepreneurial environments may break even or lose money, but Summerville said the nature of venture capital is “you’re panning for gold, and hope you get a big nugget.”

And while Summerville is on a list of successful IU alumni lending their time and money to this effort, he said he’s been moved by something else: “A lot of the founders of these companies don’t have two sticks to rub together, but they have agreed to give 5 or 10%” of future earnings to the IU Founders and Funders Pledge.

“There are a whole lot of people out there who have gone to this university and benefitted in some way and just want to pay it forward,” he said. “This is just another way to do it.”