Derby Entrepreneurship Center Receives $1 Million Grant from Cummings Foundation

The 10-year grant will support entrepreneurial programming, helping students acquire skills that will help them launch careers in business, product design and development, social enterprises, and more

The Cummings Foundation recently awarded the Derby Entrepreneurship Center at Tufts a $1 million sustaining grant to boost entrepreneurial education programming. 

The funds will support students interested in developing an entrepreneurial mindset and skillset, including both aspiring founders of new ventures and students who wish to apply the entrepreneurial method to build careers in business, product design and development, the creative arts, social enterprises, and more. The 10-year grant is part of Cummings Foundation’s $30 Million Grant Program, which awards $30 million to 150 nonprofits each year.

“We are blown away by the generosity of Cummings Foundation in selecting us for one of only two $1 million grants this year,” said Elaine Chen, Cummings Family Professor of the Practice in Entrepreneurship and director of the Derby Entrepreneurship Center. “A 10-year grant gives us the runway and stability to continue to deliver and grow our innovative programming in entrepreneurship education and make long-term investments to uplevel our ability to better serve an ever-increasing group of interested students and alumni at Tufts.”

The funding comes at a pivotal period in the development of the program, which was named in 2021 after a $10 million gift to Tufts from Jack Derby and his wife, Jan, and experienced steady growth. In addition to students who are interested in new venture creation, the program has seen a surge in students who have diverse interests and are looking to build their entrepreneurial mindset and skillset, said Chen.

Kevin Oye, the executive director of the Gordon Institute, which houses the Derby Entrepreneurship program, described the entrepreneurial mindset as “curiosity to deeply understand people’s needs, creativity to ideate novel solutions, and a bias for action to experiment and build innovative solutions incrementally.” Those traits, he noted, are “valuable life skills for all students in any context, be it in for-profit, nonprofit, government, or non-government organizations.”

“Developing their entrepreneurial mindsets and skillsets will enable our students to enhance their social mobility as they graduate and apply these skills with higher impact, resulting in faster career growth,” he said.

Take Jun Yoon, A18, EG20, who came to Tufts from South Korea with a passion for helping refugees, said Oye. As an undergraduate international relations major, Yoon took a class in entrepreneurship for social impact, and discovered how an entrepreneurial mindset could identify new ways to assist refugees. 

Inspired, after completing his undergraduate degree he joined the Master of Science in Innovation and Management program, where he partnered with Amanda Wang, EG19, a finance major from China. Together, they identified a critical need for English language training among refugees and immigrants, as existing programs meet only 5% of the demand.

While still graduate students, Wang and Yoon launched Potencia to provide one-on-one English language tutoring for refugees and immigrants, starting with a pilot with just one tutor and three students. Oye said the two chose to forego corporate careers to form a 501C nonprofit and scale up Potencia. Today, the startup has established six chapters in Boston area universities, provided over 1,000 learning hours, and aims to expand its services across the U.S.

Often the biggest obstacle for students is the fear of failure, Oye said. But developing an entrepreneurial mindset provides students with the agency “to be curious, be vulnerable, be willing to put their ideas out in the world, and to be receptive and resilient to learn from their failures. This mindset will help them drive high impact, wherever they may go after graduating Tufts and throughout their lives.”

Derby Center students gain core skills in marketing and sales, finance and operations, product management and entrepreneurial strategy, as well as communications, team collaboration, networking, leadership, and management, Chen said. “Plus, through working with our extensive network of alumni mentors, our students also get a jump start in expanding their professional network,” she said. “Most importantly, they learn that to have impact, you have to take the personal responsibility to lead at any level.”

Chen added that Bill Cummings, A58, H06, J97P, M97P, and Joyce Cummings, H17, J97P, M97P, have been extraordinary benefactors to many parts of Tufts, and their generosity has made a tremendous impact. “We are deeply grateful for their continued trust and confidence in us and look forward to taking the center to the next level with this new funding,” she said.

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