Nancy and Dave Petrone alongside a simple digital line art icon of a gift box with a bow

Building the Bridge to Impact

$4-million gift supports UO’s innovation, entrepreneurship efforts, Petrone Faculty Fellows

Dave and Nancy Petrone’s partnership bolsters programming for student and faculty entrepreneurs and strengthens ties between the Lundquist College of Business and the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact.

Nancy and David Petrone have been a force when it comes to investing in enhancing the reputation, programs, and leadership of the University of Oregon.

The couple’s most recent gift is a reflection of their belief that the UO can be the preeminent engine for economic development in the region.

“We believe the University of Oregon needs to turn out students going into a business and launching startups—it makes the world go around,” said Dave Petrone ’66 (economics), MBA ’68.

This gift supports scaling up Entrepreneurs in Residence at the Lundquist College of Business, as well as invests in the Oregon Innovation Challenge, a new program supporting student and faculty startups across the university.

“The university is doing big things,” Petrone said, using The Ballmer Institute for Children’s Behavioral Health in Portland as an example. “I see the Lundquist College and the Knight Campus as instruments for achieving similar growth and reputation enhancement in entrepreneurship and innovation.”

The first Petrone Entrepreneur in Residence will focus on biotech ventures and be co-located between the Lundquist College and Knight Campus, working directly with Knight Campus innovators to help facilitate the commercialization of emerging technologies and discoveries. Another part of the gift will recruit Petrone Innovation Faculty Fellows in the Knight Campus.

“Petrone Fellows will be faculty scientists we recruit with a proven track-record of commercializing their discoveries, who will infuse their experience and entrepreneurial judgment at the UO,” said Bob Guldberg, the Robert and Leona DeArmond Executive Director of the Knight Campus, and Vice President of the university. “Together with the Petrone Entrepreneur in Residence, Petrone Fellows will inspire and empower our young bioinnovators and help fuel them with the strategies and tools they need to support their entrepreneurial endeavors.”

The Entrepreneur in Residence position is key to one of the college’s most recent and most successful initiatives. The Oregon Innovation Challenge, launched this past year by Jeff Sorensen, director of the Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship, completed its first cycle in 2023. In its inaugural year, some 200 student teams from across the UO, including many from the Knight Campus, participated in the Oregon Innovation Challenge, which included attending workshops and mentor sessions, as well as creating a pitch deck. Sixteen standout teams received grant funding and an eight-week summer fellowship. Now accepting new applicants, the challenge aims to continue to support UO students and faculty as they launch new ventures with structured peer support, expert mentorship, and workshops tailored to their entrepreneurial needs.

“In about one year, Jeff has made a measurable impact on the University of Oregon, moving its ambitions forward around innovation and entrepreneurship,” Petrone said. “He is a key reason behind this gift.”

The Petrones’ previous gifts to the University of Oregon include support of the Presidential Science Initiative, the Black Cultural Center, the Women in Flight program, and the School of Journalism and Communication; renovating the UO’s famed “Fish Bowl” dining area in the Erb Memorial Union; and seeding a new partnership between the Ballmer Institute for Children’s Behavioral Health and Athletics—among other gifts.

At the Lundquist College, the Petrones have made several leadership gifts, including to support financial literacy, the Warsaw Sports Business Center, and the Sports Product Management program. Dave has also been a resource for UO students.

The UO honored Petrone, a former UO Foundation trustee, with its 1999 presidential medal. Dave was one of the 2012 recipients of the university’s Pioneer Award. He also chaired the team that kicked off the university’s most recent $3 billion campaign.

The Petrones are, Dave likes to note, people who invest in people—that could be scholarship recipients, faculty members, and program heads, for example.

Entrepreneurs, he says, are special people.

“Entrepreneurship is a way of thinking—kind of the way I think,” Petrone said.

Petrone spent most of his career in banking—including 19 years as vice chairman at Wells Fargo in San Francisco. Next, he served as chairman for lender Housing Capital Company and chair of real estate investment firm Petrone Petri & Company.

He said he can’t compare current students to his time at the college in the 1960s.

“Forget the world I grew up in, the world is different than the one we lived in 10 years ago,” he said. “Nancy and I believe we need to show up, as alumni and donors, and give to the areas that matter now. The university has made strides recently, but we need to keep pushing forward.”

It’s that kind of initiative, with the tenacity to get things done—Nancy said “Let’s do it, David” to confirm this latest partnership—that makes the Petrone family’s philanthropic vision so special.

“People like Dave and Nancy Petrone see us not just for what we are—an amazing university with a strong business program—but for what we can be with strategic investment,” said Bruce Blonigen, Edward Maletis Dean of the Lundquist College. “The Petrones’ support of entrepreneurship at the University of Oregon illustrates how gifts inject real-time action into new programs while we build out offerings in line with the long-term needs of our students and the business community as a whole.”

—AnneMarie Knepper-Sjoblom ’05, Lundquist College Communications