Innovator Article

A Passion for Mentoring Entrepreneurs

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Ignite founder, professor and veteran venture capitalist Jack Gill shares many bonds with physician and former astronaut Bernard Harris. Both believe in the power of innovation and have invested wisely in new ideas. They have enjoyed diverse and successful careers in life science—and been honored with the prestigious Horatio Alger Association Award for Distinguished Americans.

Close friends and colleagues, Gill and Harris also share a passion for education and a love for mentoring emerging entrepreneurs. Their fireside chat following Harris’ presentation was a highlight of the Ignite program and an opportunity to explore education’s critical value as a launching pad for individuals to achieve their highest potential.

Besides education, experience is the great enabler. It provides the environment in which life and business lessons can be learned. The knowledge one gains from experience empowers. –Bernard Harris, M.D.

Q Jack Gill: Dr. Harris, you’ve had great achievements as a medical doctor, NASA astronaut and now as the founder of the Harris Foundation, creating programs like the EXXON Mobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camps, which will provide more than 1,200 promising middle school students the opportunity to enhance their proficiency in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. What’s next?

A Bernard Harris: Well, Jack, I have always wanted to follow in your footsteps. I want to achieve distinction as a venture capitalist, in founding and financing great life science companies, and as a mentor for entrepreneurs. My greatest joys these days come from helping entrepreneurs create value.

Dr. Harris was incredibly inspirational. His transformation from astronaut to venture capitalist was particularly intriguing and reinforced the concept that, regardless of your background, passion and drive can make even the rarest of transitions possible. –Carolyn Dicharry, UC Davis Full-Time MBA Student

Q I firmly believe that—despite the importance of experience—the prime determinants of success are interpersonal skills; street-savvy awareness; lean, mean, hungry, determined pursuit; focused and leveraged education; and high standards of ethics, integrity and professionalism. Do you agree?

A Absolutely, and would add two more: vision and passion. A leader must have a clear vision of what they want to accomplish and the passion to make it happen. Programs such as Ignite provide an opportunity for entrepreneurs to obtain the business basics and—more importantly—to learn from others’ experience. This gives MBA and science/engineering students a valuable head start at a critical time in their education.

The entrepreneurial journey is about confidence. You need the confidence to accept high risks for potentially huge returns. –Alumnus Tim Keller ‘08

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