Celebrating 25 Years of Innovation Through Entrepreneurship

$4 million invested, funding 43 new ventures, creating 250 full-time and 3,000 part-time jobs. That’s just what’s happened the last 13 years in the William C. Norris Institute at St. Thomas. The university will celebrate these successes and more at the institute’s 25th anniversary celebration on Thursday, June 5.

After CEO Bill Norris retired from Control Data Corporation, he and CDC vice chairman Norb Berg founded the William C. Norris Institute, introducing many technology-based initiatives aimed to solve important societal problems.

In its first 12 years, the Norris Institute focused primarily on projects impacting K-12 and higher education, government efficiency and job creation, especially those that helped create family-supporting jobs in disadvantaged areas, something Norris and Berg excelled at during their time at Control Data.

Seeking a permanent home, the institute was transferred to the University of St. Thomas in 2001, with a large gift from Norris. The institute changed gears, and is now the first investor in many early-stage innovative Minnesota businesses.

“Mr. Norris recognized that true innovation comes from entrepreneurs, not corporations,” said Mike Moore, institute director. “He founded the Minnesota Seed Capital Fund in the 1980s, which was one of the first in the nation. He dedicated his gift for a technology seed fund at St. Thomas, to lead investments that bring important innovation and good jobs, and to enable students to participate in early-stage investing.”

The Norris Institute invests in equity stock or as a loan that converts into equity stock. When the business pays dividends or is acquired, the returns are reinvested in other early-stage companies. Investments range from $15,000 to $75,000 and companies can apply for multiple investments.

“The Norris Institute invested in us before we knew we had something big,” said Mike Wuollett, CEO of Norris Institute portfolio company Protégé Biomedical. “The Norris Institute funding gave us the capital to patent, test and protect our idea. We’ve successfully raised an additional $500,000 and are grateful for the resources that allowed us to pursue an idea that will hopefully save the lives of many humans and pets with our patent-pending blood clotting powder.”

The 43 companies the Norris Institute has invested in includes 21 information technology businesses, 10 from the health care field and seven focusing on clean technology. It has achieved seven positive exits from portfolio companies, for total return of more than $1 million. It currently holds equity in 24 companies with projected exit value of $7.8 million.

“The exciting thing about what Bill Norris and Norb Berg created, is that here we are 25 years later, and their idea for this institute continues to create good jobs,” said Moore. “With anticipated positive returns of portfolio companies, their legacy will continue for at least another 25 years.”

As the architect of revolutionary human resource programs, including employee assistance, work wellness and flex time, Berg pioneered what are now standard practices in many companies. His human resource programs gained Control Data recognition as an opportune workplace for minorities and women. He also led initiatives to site Control Data plants in impoverished areas, to provide education and computer training for prison inmates, to provide health care on Native American reservations, and to make unserved restaurant leftovers available at food shelters.

The University of St. Thomas is honoring Berg with the inaugural William C. Norris Award for Social Entrepreneurship at a luncheon on June 5. It’s a free event, but registration is required.