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Jessica Chesher

Managing Editor

Innovation eReview
Don't Know Much About....

The Kauffman Foundation

We admit it, we’re totally biased and prejudiced about the Kauffman Foundation; we like their ideals, goals and how they operate.  They are committed to entrepreneurship and innovation, and have some of the most sensible rules and procedures surrounding the submission of grant requests that we’ve ever read (readers who have ever submitted a grant proposals will understand).  In other words, they walk the talk and they are very well respected in their home base, Kansas City, MO and throughout the country.  In case you’ve never heard of the Kauffman Foundation, here’s a little history and background.  We know you’ll be impressed. 
The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is named for its founder, Ewing Marion Kauffman (1916-1993).  After serving in the Navy during WWII, Kauffman went to work as a pharmaceutical sales rep and soon started his own pharmaceutical company, right in his basement.  Marion Laboratories, his business, turned a $1000 profit during the first year of operation (on $36,000 in sales).  Ewing Marion Kauffman never looked back and steadily grew the business into a global pharmaceutical giant.  When Marion Laboratories merged with Merrell Dow in 1989 it had 3400 employees and sales of almost $1 billion per year.  The sale of the company created over 300 “instant millionaires” within all levels of the Marion employee ranks, a testament to the company’s forward thinking stock option, profit sharing and performance reward programs.  The company is now known as Hoechst Marion Roussel, and is one of the largest employers in the Kansas City area.

A true character, Kauffman and his wife Muriel, a thrice-married Canadian bon vivant, met at a resort hotel in Miami and Kauffman pursued her relentlessly until she agreed to marry him and move to Kansas City with her children.  Muriel and Ewing, or “Mr. and Mrs. K” as Kansas Citians knew them, brought Major League Baseball back to Kansas City by purchasing an expansion team franchise in 1968.  True to their character, Mr. and Mrs. K held a citywide contest to name the franchise, and [for reasons not apparent to those of us who are not Kansas Citians,] “Royals” was chosen.  Applying his legendary leadership skills, positive outlook and entrepreneurial spirit to running a baseball team, Mr. K. led the Royals to win six division titles, two American League pennants and a World Series (1985).  One month before Kauffman’s death, the name of the stadium was changed to Kauffman Stadium, a testament to KC’s deep and enduring love of Mr. and Mrs. K.

As Kauffman got older, he became more interested in leaving a legacy that would fund innovative programs to change lives, specifically in education and business start-ups.  He stated publicly and privately that he had no interest in funding bricks and mortar buildings, and spurned many a university that tried to proffer an honorary degree on him, telling them “You don’t want me, you want my money”.  He had no interest in having hospital wings named after him, and, when organizing his foundation, laid out specific rules, such as forbidding the donation to universities that foundation board or senior staff members attended, limiting the number of family members on the board, forbidding donations to religious organizations and forbidding overseas donations.  Some saw Kauffman’s instructions as restrictive, but he saw them as freeing because they provided guidance and forced the foundation to be driven from the bottom up, not from the top down.  “Experts” tried to tell him that his twin goals of youth education and entrepreneurship were mutually exclusive, but he refused to believe it, and set up the foundation to benefit both goals.  He wanted to educate children so they had the skills to create their own wealth, give back to their community and keep the cycle going.  

His stipulations about the foundation, dictated in a series of audiotapes two years before his death, continue to shape the way the foundation is run and his beliefs about education, youth opportunity and entrepreneurship have helped the Kauffman Foundation to become the 11th largest foundation in our country, with assets of $1.8 billion and board members and senior leaders with exceptional skills and experience.  

Now we’ll tell you our own true story about the Kauffman Foundation.  No, we aren’t from KC, and, to be perfectly honest, we had never even heard of the Kauffman Foundation before we started this job.  But we have had a personal experience with them, and we came away very, very impressed.  

Of course, you read the Editor’s Welcome message, so you know we have a conference titled “The Business Side of Patents” coming up in October and that the keynote speaker is Lesa Mitchell, Vice President for Advancing Innovation at the Kauffman Foundation.  We think having Lesa speak is a real coup, and, as we have read several presentations she’s made, we know she’s smart, passionate about technology transfer and a dynamic speaker.  But that’s not the best part.  Back in July, when we were brainstorming ideas for a keynote speaker, Lesa’s name came up.  A thorough search of the Kauffman Foundation Web site revealed her bio, papers she had written and speeches she had made.  But it didn’t reveal an email address for her or an assistant.  So, in our own inimitable style, we sent Lesa what we fervently hoped was a witty and interesting invite to speak at our conference.  But, as the “general” email box of the Kauffman Foundation was the only email address we found on the Web site, we sent it with a heavy heart and low expectations.  We have found from bitter experience that sending an email to a “general” email box is the cyberspace equivalent of a black hole.  Nevertheless, send it we did, a beautiful Friday afternoon in July, at precisely 2:38 pm.  

After a few exciting errands, we returned to the office and, after checking our email, we almost fell off our chair!   Not because of our natural klutziness (though that is always a possibility), but  because, in our very own in-box, was a reply from Ms. Lesa Mitchell herself.  Evidently our email has not gone over the line from "witty" to "wacky", because she said would be pleased to speak to our group.  We’re not sure what was more fun reading (OK, and rereading) her reply, or seeing the look on Ted's face when we non-chalontly strolled into his office and announced (less than two hours after we told him we sent the email) that Lesa Mitchell had accepted our invitation to speak at our conference.  Needless to say, an adult beverage was called for that evening, and not *just* because it was Friday night. 

However, we don’t want to give all of you the impression that we were impressed because Lesa said “yes” to our request.  Actually, that was only the icing on the cake, what truly impressed us was the fact that our email was received, read, forwarded to the right person and responded to in less than two hours.  For an organization of any size that’s pretty darn good.  For a foundation with $1.8 billion in assets, it’s downright amazing, and from what we’ve read about Kauffman, very fitting.  We think he would be impressed that his foundation is operating as efficiently now as it was when he died in 1993. 

We will leave you with a quote by “Mr. K.”, that we believe sums up not only our experience with the Kauffman Foundation, but the Kauffman Foundation itself: “’Treat others as you would like to be treated’” is the happiest principle by which to live and the most intelligent principle by which to do business and make money.”  

For more information on the Kauffman Foundation, visit them on the Web at http://www.kauffman.org/ .

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