A Passion for Innovation

Many Southern Oregonians are familiar with entrepreneurs Dena Matthews and Jim Teece. They have multiple businesses and maintain a very active role in the community, including enthusiastically supporting SOU. The couple’s recent gift will encourage innovation, leadership, and entrepreneurial thinking. “I love entrepreneurs,” said Jim. “I love the idea of starting a business and finding a path that works for it.”

Their new endowment fund creates a business plan competition hosted by the business school, but open to all SOU students.

Teams of students can compete by creating a business plan for either a for-profit business or non-profit organization. “It’s an opportunity to honestly think about what you are building and how you are going to make it happen,” said Dena. Jim and Dena hope the competition encourages students to come forward with all of their new ideas. “It doesn’t matter if you’re running a hot dog stand or a coastal resort,” said Jim. “You need to plan how you would run that business.”

SOU has many interdisciplinary programs, and the competition will encourage students from disciplines such as economics or business or communication to form small teams and work through the process of establishing a business or non-profit organization. “We’re excited about that,” said Dena. “It is the flow of ideas across disciplines that’s important, that sparks cool, innovative business ideas.”

For both Dena and Jim, the pandemic highlighted the importance of resiliency in the business community. “One thing COVID did was revalidate to us that we can change and survive in any circumstance,” said Jim. Resilience and courage in the business world is vital, and the couple hopes that students will be fearless when it comes to realizing their business goals. “There seems to be a higher level of anxiety in young people than I recall in earlier generations. Students should learn that it’s ok to fail, and you learn from it,” said Dena.

The two long-time entrepreneurs own Project A, Ashland HomeNet as well as Rogue Broadband, Southern Oregon Business Journal, and a number of other smaller entities. Jim has served on the SOU Foundation Board of Trustees for more than 20 years, he has taught classes at the business school, and helps students in the EMDA program.

“It’s not hard to give,” said Dena. “Over the years, when we didn’t have the financial means, we gave our time. There are so many ways to make an impact.”

Dena and Jim support a number of organizations in the Rogue Valley, and this is their first major gift to SOU. “We are all about supporting the business community, which in turn supports the entire community,” said Jim. “We knew we wanted to do something for SOU, and we are finally at a place where we can give at this capacity,” he added.

Foundation FY21 Annual Report

Reprinted with permission

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