American Family Insurance Sponsors Innovation Studio at UWM

May 9, 2019
Lead donors Shel and Marianne Lubar spoke at the grand opening ceremony for the Lubar Entrepreneurship Center May 8.

American Family Insurance has given $1 million in support of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Lubar Entrepreneurship Center, which provides entrepreneurial training to students in a wide range of disciplines.

The donation was announced Wednesday during the grand opening of a 24,000-square-foot building that houses both the Lubar Entrepreneurship Center and a new UWM Welcome Center.

“Our friends at American Family Insurance understand the great need our city and state have for innovation, and this gift will further our efforts to make innovation and entrepreneurship key facets of a UWM education,” said UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone. “This is the entrepreneurial thinking that will propel us forward and provide opportunities for the next generation of UWM graduates. We are thrilled with their generosity and the opportunity to announce it at our grand opening.”

The new building features classrooms for cross-disciplinary courses and workshops, gathering spots for speakers, and labs for prototyping products and software. It was made possible by a $10 million lead gift from local philanthropists Sheldon and Marianne Lubar. Other significant support has come from the Kelben Foundation, established by Mary and Ted Kellner; Jerry Jendusa; Avi Shaked and Dr. Babs Waldman; and We Energies.

American Family’s investment of $1 million over four years in the Lubar Entrepreneurship Center includes support of a flexible collaboration space known as the American Family Insurance Dream Studio. This room will be used as an instructional space for programs that promote entrepreneurial innovation and technology.

“There is a private-sector passion for revitalization in Milwaukee, and we want to be part of that effort,” said Peter Gunder, American Family Insurance chief business development officer. “Through partnerships that encourage entrepreneurship, we can empower our communities to be better, more inclusive and resilient places.”

“A strong Milwaukee will help keep graduates and draw more talent into Wisconsin,” said Justin Cruz, inclusive excellence vice president at American Family Insurance. “Having that diverse talent pipeline is not only important to better serve our customers, it results in improved collaboration between public entities and companies like American Family Insurance, and that leads to amazing accomplishments that are beneficial to everyone.”

Brian Thompson, director of the Lubar Entrepreneurship Center and president of the UWM Research Foundation, said he was deeply grateful for the growing support for the center and what its new space will mean for entrepreneurship at UWM.

About 6,500 students have participated in at least one Lubar Entrepreneurship Center program since the center was started about five years ago. Along with workshops and ideas challenge competitions, the center offers 24 courses that combine entrepreneurial training with instruction in a wide range of subject areas.

“We have been building programs and partnerships for years throughout campus and in the community,” Thompson said. “The new building will provide a focal point for entrepreneurship at UWM and enhance what we’ve been doing. We’re teaching students how to develop their creative ideas and entrepreneurial skills – whether they are studying engineering, art or nursing. They’re learning how to identify opportunities, how to talk to potential customers and how to adapt their ideas to best meet customer needs. This generous support from American Family will bolster our efforts to make entrepreneurship a key area of focus at UWM.”

American Family’s gift supports UWM’s comprehensive fundraising effort, Made in Milwaukee, Shaping the World: The Campaign for UWM. The largest in UWM’s history, this campaign focuses on student success, research excellence and community engagement.