Michael Bauer is a tall man with a wide, infectious smile, and a huge capacity for giving. As the senior member of the board of the Herbert B. Jones Foundation, he helps decide where large grants of money will go to support small business entrepreneurship education. That includes more than a decade of investing in programs like the Jones + Foster Accelerator at the UW Foster School’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship. In fact, you could say nothing Michael Bauer does is small. Except when it comes to the spotlight. “It’s not about me. It’s not the foundation. It’s Herb,” Bauer says. “He had the foresight. He was a smart person who recognized this void with small business and entrepreneurship.”
To appreciate the role the Jones Foundation plays in programs like the Accelerator, you must understand how deeply committed Bauer and the trustees remain to their friend and client. Twenty-five years before they met, Jones found success with an office machine business after serving in World War II. The foundation website features an in-depth retrospective on those early days, chocked full of anecdotes related to sales, customer experience, and investment—punctuated by Jones’ trademark kindness. In it, Bauer describes Herb as “the only person I ever met who really never said anything negative about somebody else.”
As for the foundation itself, a CliffsNotes of how it came into being might read as follows: Upon retiring in 1971, Herb met Michael Bauer, a trust officer at what eventually became Bank of America. The two worked together on his estate planning and quickly became friends. The plan for Herb’s trust shifted towards philanthropy after the death of his wife Alice in 1981. Seeking a long-term outlet for his wealth, Bauer introduced Herb into the world of higher education. “Herb didn’t get to fulfill much of his desire for education because of the war and so on,” Bauer says. “But he recognized that education provides for people to be entrepreneurs and create small businesses. It was an effective use of his money.”
Herb, in his 80s, began his first endowment program with Seattle University through his newly established foundation. “When we started getting into it, no one really had any programs,” Bauer says. Fast-forward more than a decade later and the foundation connected with former Buerk Center director Connie Bourassa-Shaw and the Foster School of Business. “With Connie, that was the first time we really dealt with a committed program that was expanding, had solid leadership, and a strong network that would impact large numbers of students.”
The year was 1998. Herbert B. Jones would pass away on Easter Sunday. The board, led by Bauer, was now in the position of maintaining their departed friend’s trust and expanding its reach, if necessary. Each funding request was to be given “careful consideration to make sure it was keeping with Herb’s philosophy of encouraging self-improvement.” Among those, support for the first of what would become an annual business plan competition at the University of Washington. Success, as they say, begets success, and soon it would be time to support another kind of program—something new and innovative.
“When we started talking about launching an accelerator for student teams in 2009, the foundation was enthusiastic,” says Bourassa-Shaw. “They realized, as did we, that the student startup process doesn’t end with the competition—that’s when the real work begins!” Bauer admits they had a lot of options before choosing to fund the Accelerator, but looking back, he wouldn’t change a thing. He says its “invigorating” to watch how the program has grown in the ten years since they first funded it.
“We’re in the real world of trying to make these ventures continue and trying to give them an element of assistance to make their road a little bit faster or easier,” Bauer says. “When we laid the original grant, we said we wanted it available to other schools, which is probably the best thing that happened, because it regionalized it to across the state of Washington.”
Still, for Bauer it’s about the core principles of being an entrepreneur, of running a small business and working with other businesses in the community, the way Herb did it all those years ago. “One entrepreneur relates to another. They start seeing what other people are doing, and they aren’t just competing against the same people they are in class with,” Bauer says. “Sometimes it’s being at the right place at the right time. That’s why you build up all the education, learning, and networking resources that you can.”
“Most students might recognize Michael as the familiar face in competition photos, handing over a giant check to winning teams,” says Buerk Center director Amy Sallin, “but his support, and the support of each board member at the Jones Foundation, has been absolutely critical to the Center and student entrepreneurship. We celebrate Michael for being every bit the equal of Herbert in terms of passion and impact.”
Bauer acknowledges that today, the Herbert B. Jones Foundation is less recognized for the man behind the name, then the impact it has. He jokes that someday that will “happen with Bill Gates (and his wife) and their foundation too.” But you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who is more proud of being a caretaker for a friend’s legacy.
“I’ve gotten to be the transition point for something that Herb recognized, a small idea that got much larger,” Bauer says. “Did we ever think it would reach the level of what we’ve got now? No. We just thought it would be effective, like giving out scholarships. Instead, we’ve been able to add, and take care of programs to affect students.”
Now that’s what you would call doing something big.
The Herbert B. Jones Foundation supports programs across the state of Washington, at schools including but not limited to the University of Washington, Seattle University, Washington State University, Seattle Pacific University, Pacific Lutheran University, Central Washington University, and a consortium of colleges and universities in and around the Spokane region. In addition to the generous support of the Accelerator, the Jones Foundation is also an annual sponsor of the Dempsey Startup Competition (formerly the UW Business Plan Competition), the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge, and the Hollomon Health Innovation Challenge.