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Richard W. "Dick" Furst named to Bluegrass Business Hall of Fame
Richard W. "Dick" Furst, Dean Emeritus of the University of Kentucky Gatton College of Business and Economics and co-founder of the Bluegrass Angels, was inducted into Junior Achievement's 2011 Bluegrass Business Hall of Fame for his contribution to business and quality of life in Central Kentucky. In addition to his 22-year service as dean, Furst played a pivotal role in providing traction for new economic development directions based on commercialization of university research at the University of Kentucky and the state level.
Furst Furst came to UK from South Carolina as Dean of the College of Business and Economics in 1981. During his first month at UK, Furst worked with then-Governor John Y. Brown Jr. to secure federal funding for the statewide Kentucky Small Business Development Center, which has been administered by UK for 30 years. As part of an aggressive fundraising program during the 1980s, Dean Furst received a $17 million gift from Carol Martin (Bill) Gatton and the college was named the Gatton College of Business and Economics.
Furst also secured a $7 million gift from UK alumnus Douglas Von Allmen with $5 million for the School of Accountancy and $2 million used to create a the Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship. Furst recruited Dean Harvey as the first director of the Von Allmen Center in 2002. The Von Allmen gift also enabled UK to receive state matching funds to locate the Lexington Innovation & Commercialization Center as part of the university.
Furst went to work in Frankfort after he retired as dean in 2003 when former Governor Ernie Fletcher asked him to prepare a report on commercialization efforts at Kentucky's public universities, part of an initiative that began with the Innovation Act of 2000 during the previous Patton administration. Furst said that he was "very critical of UK's commercialization efforts" in his report.
UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. met with Furst after he completed the report and asked him to develop a program to significantly enhance the commercialization of UK research. Furst arranged a meeting with local government and business leaders hosted by Dr. Todd, and a plan was outlined for local government, Commerce Lexington and UK to integrate their economic development efforts. Furst also suggested that Todd create the UK Office for Commercialization & Economic Development and recommended that he hire fellow Bluegrass Angel Len Heller to lead the new program.
"Dick was very influential in laying the foundation for a consolidated program to commercialize our research and encourage faculty, staff and student entrepreneurship," said UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. "He is a man of vision and a trusted colleague."
Furst noted, "None of this would have been possible without Lee Todd. He had to take some chances and convince a lot of people at UK, so the credit belongs to Lee, not to me."
Furst also credits the work of Heller and Harvey along with the generous gift from Doug Von Allmen for the quick launch of a new approach to commercialization at UK. According to Furst, the keys to their success were Heller's extensive background in research, the life sciences and entrepreneurship, combined with Harvey's ability to get the Angels, entrepreneurs, university, city, and state organizations working together.
"Everyone was in the right place at the right time," Furst said. "It doesn't matter what I would have done. If Lee Todd, Doug Von Allmen, Dean Harvey, and Len Heller were not there, none of this would have happened."
Heller said, "Dick has been a friend and mentor for many years. His judgment and execution on tough issues is unmatched at UK." Heller is UK's first vice president for Commercialization & Economic Development, which includes intellectual property development, commercialization, Coldstream Research Campus, Kentucky Technology Inc., Kentucky Small Business Development Center, Lexington ICC , and the Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship.
Dick Furst, center, at the opening of the Von Allmen Center
"Dick is highly respected by everyone in the community and knows how to get things done," said Harvey, executive director of the Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship. "He is passionate about entrepreneurship and its role in creating jobs in Kentucky."
Furst co-founded the Bluegrass Angels in 2003, which has grown to 65 members and raised money for two venture funds. To date, the Angels have invested in 21 Kentucky startups with a focus on spinoff companies from UK research startups, and provided $4.7 million in seed capital, which has been leveraged to $59 million in total venture funding.
"The Angels are a remarkable group of people," said Furst. "We are in the business to make money, but there is a part of almost every one of our Angels that is community oriented. They would like to see startup companies flourish here, particularly high-tech companies so we can develop a more vibrant local economy."
Though Furst is officially retired from UK, he has continued to work on special projects for university fundraising and the president's office, as well as new economic development initiatives. Until last year, he taught a course at UK in entrepreneurship.
"I hope my students leave the class with some enthusiasm for the entrepreneurial process and are willing to give it a shot," Furst said. "I don't think you can teach someone to be an entrepreneur, but you can teach them some tools that improve their probability of success."
Furst is also very active on numerous local boards. He serves on the Board of Directors for Office Suites Plus Inc., ihigh Inc., ihigh.com, Central Bank and Trust, Central Bancshares, and PNC Alternative Funds and is a Trustee for PNC Funds. He is also a Board of Directors member for the Lexington Opera Society and the Child Development Center of the Bluegrass. His previous board positions include Gall's Inc., Host Communications, Studio Plus Inc., and Seed Corporation (Fazoli's).
A prolific writer and speaker, Furst has given more than 200 presentations worldwide. His interests include the future of private enterprise, entrepreneurship, and the role higher education plays in economic development. He has served as a consultant and advisor to the Ministry of Higher Education and Technology in the United Arab Emirates, and helped the United Arab Emirates University and the American University of Cairo achieve international accreditation.
"When I look at everything we've been able to accomplish, I think we exceeded my expectations," said Furst. "But, there is more we can do. We need to make the economy of our Commonwealth one of the strongest in the country and the envy of all of our neighbors."