Donating $2 million to a university to establish a new program that bridges technology with business is a personal priority for York grad Douglas Bergeron.
On May 4, Bergeron and his wife Sandra announced their gift of $2 million to York University to establish the Bergeron Entrepreneurs in Science & Technology (BEST) Program, which will support newly created entrepreneurial programs and initiatives focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors.
The couple’s gift to the University is part of their ongoing dedication to supporting interdisciplinary opportunities in postsecondary education.
For Bergeron, establishing the BEST Program at York University reflects his own journey in life. After graduating from York University in 1983 with a BA in computer science, he went on to earn a master’s degree in science from the University of Southern California before entering the business world.
“Like a lot of guys, I had to learn at the school of hard knocks about how to make that bridge from technology to business,” he says.
He learned those lessons well.
The Windsor-born Bergeron is now CEO and director of VeriFone, the world’s largest supplier of electronic payment systems. Sandra Bergeron, who is an alumna of Georgia State University’s business administration program, is one of the most powerful women in California’s Silicon Valley and a venture partner with Trident Capital, board chair of TraceSecurity Inc., and board member of Qualys Inc. and TriCipher Inc.
Together, they are a technology and business power couple.
Why would they create an interdisciplinary program focused on science and business at a Canadian university?
“I’m proud to be a York graduate,” Bergeron says. “I’m a young man. I’m 51. It would be great to see this program mature over the next 20 years, and by starting it now I think I’ll have the opportunity to enjoy watching it develop.
“I don’t think you can make technologists out of business people, but you can make business people out of technologists if you can give them some exposure, hopefully early on in their career, or in this case with their undergraduate or graduate program, to some disciplines around business formation or entrepreneurship” he says.
To that end, graduates of York University’s new BEST Program will earn a Bergeron Distinction in Entrepreneurship and New Ventures certification, which shows that the graduate truly understands, appreciates and embraces the entrepreneurial mindset and is ready to tackle any innovation challenge.
Each year, the top two scholars will be awarded the Bergeron Entrepreneur Medal. Both the distinction and the medal will be recognized at graduation.
Bergeron’s vision for the BEST Program is that it will offer future generations of technology entrepreneurs the important exposure to disciplines such as business formation or entrepreneurship. Some of his favourite subject areas are private equity finance, venture capital finance, business plan formation and law – particularly intellectual property law.
“Education in 21st century is going to be much more hands-on, communal and interdisciplinary; it’s going to have to be faster connected to developing technologies in a way,” says Bergeron. “What it’s not going to be is giant lecture halls and textbooks – we know that.
“There are going to be new models of postsecondary education and I hope aspiring young students and aspiring young professors see not just this little thing, but with other innovations that York is able to make, they see that York is a special place and that they want to be there,” says Bergeron
The Bergerons’ gift to York University continues a long and enduring legacy of giving back to the community in areas where the couple felt they could make a real difference. In addition to creating the BEST Program at York University, the Bergerons have established programs at Georgia State and University of California, Berkley, that have created numerous women in technology sponsorships. To date, some 30 young women have graduated as Bergeron Scholars.
On May 21, the Bergerons established an endowed professorship in neuroscience at Georgetown University, an area that represents another important priority for the couple.
“My father had multiple sclerosis,” says Bergeron. “He did not curl up into a ball and become angry. What he did was become the chair of the Windsor Essex MS Society, became a mentor and he ended up living with the illness for 30 years.
“He demonstrated that no matter what hard knocks life can deal you, there is a way forward. It might not be the way you planned, but there is a way forward and there is happiness in an ability to enjoy the richness of life – even with a lot of struggles.”