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Thursday, December 14 Local

UB accepts $2.3M gift, will create Innovation Center

BRIDGEPORT — It’s the same spectacular view of Long Island Sound that manufacturing titan William Grippin once enjoyed.

“Wow,” George Bauer of Wilton said of the first time he gazed out the large upper floor windows of a 19th century mansion that sits at the edge of Seaside Park on the University of Bridgeport campus. “They picked this spot for a reason.”

Bauer and his wife Carol were also deliberate in choosing the spot and working to make that view accessible to a new generation of entrepreneurs — digital ones.

A $2.3 million gift from the couple to UB will renovate the place that will now be called Bauer Hall, officials announced Thursday.

“It is our hope that this new center for entrepreneurship will unleash the creative juices that spawn new enterprises, particularly students who want to get a head start,” Bauer said.

UB has long had an incubation center, University President Neil Salonen said, but not the facility to support the ideas students are coming up with.

“This incredible generosity will allow ideas to come to life, businesses to form and successful futures to be paved,” Salonen said of the gift.

The four-story Innovation Center will include 8,600 square feet of brainstorming booths, an International Trade Center, a maker space, conference rooms and room for additional resources. It will become home to UB’s existing venture programs, including the Student Entrepreneur Center and the UB Incubator.

Mark Halstead, the Fairfield architect in charge of the project, said he hopes to preserve and restore as much of the antique structure’s spirit and character as possible while giving some of the floors a 21st century open concept feel.

“It will cost a little extra money, but the hope is this will generate a mind set," Bauer said.

Bauer has no personal ties to UB but knows Frank Zullo, co-chair of UB’s Board of Trustees and a former mayor of Norwalk. Both served for years on the board at Norwalk Hospital, where the Bauers are big contributors.

“When there is a need, they try to step in and solve the problem,” Zullo said.

Zullo and other trustees introduced the Bauers to UB. The couple was impressed with not only the magnificent views but its cultural and economic diversity, they said.

Students from 81 countries are on the campus that was founded in 1927 as the Junior College of Connecticut.

“I grew up in a very tough ZIP code in the Ozark mountains of Missouri,” Bauer said. “I know economic opportunity is possible.”

Bauer went to Washington University in St. Louis and served in the military before spending 31 years at IBM. His second career was as an investment banker and he started a number of businesses related to computers and technology.

The couple has donated millions to Norwalk Hospital including a $2.5 million gift in 2016 that helped open the Bauer Emergency Health Care Center at the hospital. The pair has also given generously to Norwalk’s Stepping Stone Museum and created a I Have A Dream scholarship program for children in a Norwalk Housing project. Two dozen children in that program went on to college.

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Bauer said he is very careful about where he invests his private assets and was impressed with how UB has grown under Salonen’s leadership.

His hope is that the center will support student-entrepreneurs as well as regional start-ups, he said.

“Both,” he said, “are critical to spurring economic growth within the city and region of Bridgeport.”

The new center is expected to be ready in the spring of 2018.

Linda Conner Lambeck|Education Reporter

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