“More than a billion people live on less than $1.25 a day,” says Robert King, MBA ’60. “That’s just not right.” With that in mind, he and wife Dottie have committed $150 million to create the Stanford Institute for Innovation for Developing Economies, housed at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Their gift is one of the largest ever to Stanford University.
The institute, known as “SEED,” aims to stimulate, develop, and disseminate research and innovations that enable entrepreneurs, managers, and leaders to alleviate poverty in developing economies. The Kings are excited about bringing together the best minds across campus to tackle one of the world’s most pressing needs.
Their gift includes $50 million to be used as matching funds to inspire other donors to fuel SEED’s mission.
The idea for the gift came out of home-stays that the Kings have offered to international students at Stanford throughout the 47 years they have lived near campus. Says Dottie, “We’ve been astounded to meet people who have come from such difficult circumstances — living with dirt floors, very poor — and yet here they are at Stanford.”
Xiangmin Cui, PhD ’97, spent a summer with the Kings, practically becoming a member of the family. When Cui’s friend Eric Xu came to him with an idea for a Chinese-language search engine company, Cui introduced him to Bob King. Bob’s venture firm, Peninsula Capital, provided the first seed funding for what would become Baidu, a search engine giant that now employs more than 10,000 people in China.
Another home-stay student, Andreata Muforo, MBA ’09, led a Stanford GSB study trip to South Africa, then brought fellow travelers to the Kings’ home for dinner. “We heard how those firsthand experiences compelled some of the MBAs to return for internships in Africa,” says Dottie. “We saw the direct connection between the learning experience and the motivation to make change.”
Personal connections characterize the Kings’ lives, including their history with Stanford GSB. While Bob was a student there, Dottie supported the young couple by working in the office of then-Stanford GSB Dean Ernie Arbuckle. In 1972, Bob launched his own investment firm, R. Eliot King & Associates, and in 1998 he started Peninsula Capital.
SEED’s work will span three pursuits: research, education, and on-the-ground support to assist entrepreneurs and help scale growing enterprises. The school has already had considerable success in this area, for instance collaborating with Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design on the course Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability. Working with in-country organizations, students have developed products that eventually sparked ventures such as d.light, a consumer products company serving people without access to reliable electricity; Embrace, which brings low-cost infant warmers to premature and low-birth-weight babies in the developing world; and Driptech, which produces affordable irrigation systems for small-plot farmers.
“Today’s students aspire to achieve a global impact that will change people’s lives for the better,” says Garth Saloner, the Philip H. Knight Professor and Dean of the business school. SEED will work closely with MBA students but also plans to draw in students and researchers from Stanford’s six other schools and from various multidisciplinary initiatives throughout the university. “This initiative is an enormous opportunity to collaborate on the design and incubation of new enterprises and solutions.”
The Kings are optimistic — and ambitious. “When we know we’ve changed 200 million lives, we’ll know we’re on our way,” says Bob.