Investor and philanthropist David Rubenstein is giving $15 million to his alma mater, Duke University, in hopes of helping future entrepreneurs launch more businesses.

The billionaire businessman said Friday the money will fund courses, mentoring and an incubator for students and faculty to develop new startup ventures through Duke’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative. Rubenstein is a 1970 Duke graduate and currently is a university trustee.

Duke President Richard Brodhead said the funds will be used for new programs, course development, internships, research and to improve current programs that focus on new business creation.

“Every successful institution began as someone’s bright idea, and the creativity and can-do spirit of entrepreneurs are playing an ever more important role in building the economy and solving social challenges,” Brodhead said. “In today’s economic climate, sparking and training the entrepreneurial spirit is a fundamental goal of education. We’re grateful to David Rubenstein for making Duke a leader in this field.”

Rubenstein, of Bethesda, Md., is co-founder of the Washington-based private equity firm The Carlyle Group, which recently went public on the Nasdaq exchange.

Rubenstein said Duke is positioned to inspire social and business entrepreneurs across disciplines to create new ventures and jobs.
“Students today increasingly want to be entrepreneurs, social or business,” he told The Associated Press. “When I was at Duke in college many years ago, the word entrepreneur wasn’t talked about that much.”

Duke launched the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative in October 2010. It is headed by veteran entrepreneur and Duke alumna Kimberly Jenkins.

“Duke is full of intellectually curious, passionate students eager to apply their entrepreneurial skills and inventiveness to tackling the big, complex issues of the world,” Jenkins said. “And our faculty are among the best in the nation at translating our research innovation out of the university to those who most need our innovative solutions. David Rubenstein’s gift will establish a pathway through which ideas gain traction and are transformed into action for an evolving global economy that’s driven by innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Rubenstein sees his gift as “start-up funding.”

“Duke has, throughout its many schools and centers, the requisite capabilities to inspire and incubate social and business entrepreneurs and their creations,” Rubenstein said. “This gift is designed to help channel and focus these capabilities, enhancing Duke’s role as a national leader among universities focused on creating great entrepreneurs and innovators. I see my gift as start-up funding and just the beginning. Duke needs other alumni to join me in providing their time, expertise and financial support to advance this initiative.”

Duke already offers programs such as the The Duke Start-Up Challenge, which is a business competition for students, and InCube, what the university calls an “entrepreneurial residential community.” Ten companies were created in its first year,

DUhatch, an on-campus new incubator, is hosting five start-up teams. Duke also plans to create a central space to proivde students with access to equipment, mentoring and other support.

Rubenstein has given to Duke before – $13.6 million in 2011 to supoort Duke’s Rare Book, Manuscript and Special Collections Library. It was then named after Rubenstein.

The Baltimore native and son of a postal worker said he was grateful to Duke for giving him a scholarship that allowed him to attend the private college. Before co-founding the Carlyle Group, Rubenstein worked as a lawyer in the Senate and private practice and served as a domestic policy adviser to President Jimmy Carter.

The gift to Duke also follows major gifts to Washington’s cultural scene. Over the past five years, Rubenstein has given or spent more than $83 million to support the capital’s museums and arts institutions with cash gifts or to purchase historic documents for public display. Most recently he gave $7.5 million to repair the earthquake-damaged Washington Monument.