$10 Million Gift Champions Entrepreneurship and Innovation

Jack and Jan Derby’s philanthropy names the Derby Entrepreneurship Center at Tufts and creates a lasting legacy for a popular teacher and former director of the innovation hub
Jack and Jan Derby, pictured standing at the beach in Rye, New Hampshire, have provided a $10 million gift to ensure that entrepreneurial thinking and innovation will thrive at Tufts University for years to come.
Through their gift, Jack and Jan Derby ensure that entrepreneurial thinking and innovation will thrive at Tufts for years to come. Photo: Alonso Nichols
June 24, 2021

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Innovative ideas find fertile ground at the Tufts Entrepreneurship Center, and Jack Derby has helped them flourish as one of the center’s most popular teachers and its former director. Thanks to a $10 million gift to Tufts, now Derby and his wife, Jan, are ensuring that those ideas thrive for years to come.

The gift creates a $9 million endowment that will name the Derby Entrepreneurship Center at Tufts and ensure the university will continue to help students develop an entrepreneurial mindset and the skills to turn ideas into successful ventures.

In addition, $1 million supports a new multidisciplinary academic building and names its first-floor atrium as the Jack and Jan Derby Lobby. Joyce Cummings Center, which will house the Derby Entrepreneurship Center, is set to open in January 2022 on the Medford-Somerville campus.

The gift creates a meaningful legacy for Jack Derby, who has taught sales and marketing at Tufts for two decades.

“It is a privilege to teach at Tufts,” said Derby, founder of and strategic advisor with Derby Management. “I share President Monaco’s vision to take entrepreneurship and innovation to the next level and to reach across all the schools throughout the university, encouraging exciting collaborations among students, alumni, faculty, and staff.”

That mission goes hand in hand with supporting the larger aspirations for Joyce Cummings Center, he said. The Jack and Jan Derby Lobby will make a positive first impression “the moment you walk in the door,” he said. “It will be bright, wide, and open,” a fitting expression of the building’s academic and research mission, with its focus on fostering dialogue and collaboration. “We are honored to be associated with this inviting and welcoming space.”

President Anthony P. Monaco expressed his thanks for the Derbys’ philanthropy, saying it speaks to their commitment to Tufts’ vision for the Derby Entrepreneurship Center as a dynamic hub that engages the Tufts community, and well beyond.

“Jack and Jan Derby have made an extraordinary gift that directly ensures the ongoing vitality of innovation and entrepreneurship at Tufts as it also helps pave the way for Joyce Cummings Center to become an exciting new gateway to the university,” he said.

“With this remarkable show of support, we can continue to offer the highest quality curricula and guidance to our students as they create novel solutions to real-world problems. We can fuel the dreams of generations of students to come, in a building that fosters innovations that better the world for all.”

Jianmin Qu, dean of the School of Engineering, said he is “deeply grateful to Jack and Jan Derby for their generous gift. Their philanthropy will have a lasting benefit for the entire university community and the wider world.”

“This gift comes at a milestone moment for the Derby Entrepreneurship Center at Tufts,” he said. “Tufts has shown it has strong entrepreneurial momentum, and the center will build on these achievements to connect more people and create new opportunities for innovation.“

Elaine Chen, Derby Entrepreneurship Center director and Cummings Family Professor of the Practice in Entrepreneurship, also welcomes the investment. Enrollment in courses and other programming, including workshops and accelerators, is increasing steadily. Today, the entrepreneurship minor is the largest minor among undergraduates and the center recently partnered with the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life to offer a second minor, entrepreneurship for social impact.

“We are thrilled that Jan and Jack Derby have made such a generous investment in entrepreneurship,” she said. “Their gift celebrates and empowers past, present, and future innovators and entrepreneurs at Tufts.”

The gift, she said, "will catapult 20-plus years of entrepreneurship education and co-curricular programming to a new level as we continue to build a vibrant and sustainable innovation ecosystem within the Tufts community."

Jack Derby's passion for teaching led him to Tufts in 2006, to what was then known as the Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies Program. His courses in sales and marketing draw on his decades of experience, spanning nine startups and leadership roles, including CEO of Mayer Electronics, president of CB Sports, president of Litton Industries Medical Systems, CEO of Datamedix Corporation, and executive vice president of Becton Dickinson Medical Systems.

His involvement with Tufts expanded when he was named director of the entrepreneurship program in 2017. One of his first goals was to secure the program's elevated status as a center--a name change that sharpened its mission and recognition as a university-wide resource. Growth encompassed new courses, the hiring of additional faculty, and a significant increase in the number of events at which students engage with entrepreneurs within the Tufts community.

Concurrent with his director role, he also held the Cummings Family Professorship of the Practice in Entrepreneurship, established by William S. Cummings, A58, H06, J97P, M97P, trustee emeritus and founder of Cummings Properties.

Derby’s deep convictions about teaching at the university level are informed by his own experience as an undergraduate, when the majority of his classes consisted of one-way lectures with little to no engagement with either professors or fellow students.

His frustration was fresh in his mind as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania, where he taught English. “I promised myself that I was never going to teach students the way I was taught in college,” he said. Instead, he began to explore how to spark imaginative thinking and engagement. Back in the United States, as he achieved success in the business world, he would bring those long-simmering ideals to bear on sales and marketing classes at Tufts and in business classes at MIT.

His efforts have been recognized at Tufts by those whose opinions he values the most. In 2015,  he received the Henry and Madeline Fischer Award, given to “Engineering's Teacher of the Year,” as voted on by graduating students.

Derby believes that the entrepreneurial learning process requires teaching “content in context.” Framing his classes around real-world sales or marketing projects, he has student teams prepare detailed plans for companies that range from big-time chemical manufacturers to granola start-ups. 

He is also a champion for Tufts as a place where careers are born. 

“There’s no reason that these young women and men can't become vice presidents of sales and marketing and presidents of companies,” he said. “When I look at the leaders of both small and enterprise-level companies, seventy-five percent of them came up through the ranks of sales and marketing. So I teach with a vengeance to prepare that next generation of business leaders through my own students and alums. The teaching and coaching do not stop with the end of a course or with graduation from Tufts; everyone knows that I’m always there as a sounding board, 24/7, which Jan encourages.”

Indeed, one wall of his office is covered with thank-you notes, many from seniors he helped with their job hunts. Derby has opened doors to interviews and guided discussions with hundreds of companies and many hundreds of Tufts alumni.

“Teaching for me doesn’t just happen in class,” he told Tufts Now in 2018. “If we can’t provide our students with connections to alumni and help walk them through the process of starting a career, then we’re only doing three-quarters of our job.”

Derby looks forward to teaching and mentoring next year in the center that bears his name. He also looks to the horizon and sees a new era of entrepreneurship and innovation emerging at Tufts.

The Derby Entrepreneurship Center’s home in Joyce Cummings Center is an opportunity to mobilize Tufts’ distinctive strengths as a teaching and research university united by a collaborative culture and a passion for societal impact, he said.

“Tufts is truly unique in its mission and in its encouraging environment for research, innovation, and entrepreneurship across a broad and diverse platform of schools,” Derby said. “We have an extraordinary diversity of students, alumni, faculty, and staff, all people who are asking important questions about the world we live in. It’s my hope that the Derby Entrepreneurship Center at Tufts brings entrepreneurship and innovation to bear on their work and embeds the value of entrepreneurial thinking in the culture of the greater Tufts community.”

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