The Opell Challenge: Invest in Student Entrepreneurship – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

The Opell Challenge: Invest in Student Entrepreneurship

A fundraising challenge, sponsored by Michael L. Opell ’59 and Ellen Levine Opell ’60, will establish the HWS Student Entrepreneurship Fund to support current and future programs, workshops and student initiatives in entrepreneurship at HWS. The Opell Challenge matches each new gift by 50 percent, up to $162,000, with an overall goal of $486,000; and is expected to reach the goal by May 31, 2021.

“We feel our commitment to education can be enhanced by allowing students to take a personal risk, a sojourn into areas of invention — including commercial, technical, social, educational and societal — as a way to foster change via intellectual curiosity,” explain the Opells. “We have initiated this Challenge in order to encourage others to join in growing this living fund that will support the flow of Hobart and William Smith student ideas from creation to possible realization.”

As an added incentive to members of the Classes of ’55-’64, the Opells have agreed to match every gift of $10,000 made by May 31, 2021 dollar for dollar over and above their original pledge of $162,000 thus creating the opportunity to exceed $486,000.

Since 2012, the HWS Centennial Center has launched the annual Pitch contest and a wide range of co-curricular programming including The Opell Family IdeaLab, HWS Hackathon, Summer Sandbox and the Discovery Lab, among others. Meanwhile, interest in entrepreneurship has been galvanized among the HWS community with the entrepreneurial studies minor, which now has more than 300 students involved, including majors from almost every discipline. In 2018, a collaborative workspace, the Bozzuto Center for Entrepreneurship, was dedicated in downtown Geneva to serve as a hub and incubator for student entrepreneurship.

The HWS Student Entrepreneurship Fund will provide increased support for these and future entrepreneurial programs, both on and off campus. Students will benefit from expanded programs and enhanced opportunities including summer stipends to start new ventures and internships, travel to conferences and entrepreneurial contests, and workshop series that offer small amounts in seed funding to further ideas.

“We are exceptionally grateful to Michael and Ellen Opell for championing entrepreneurship at the Colleges,” says Amy Forbes, director of the Centennial Center. “Their support, and that of others generated through this Challenge, will allow us to design transformative entrepreneurial experiences for students who desire hands-on, practical work in idea generation, problem solving and venture creation. It is amazing to see our alums reach back and lift up our current students in this way. The HWS Student Entrepreneurship Fund will further our mission to increase the quality of student ideas, see more students create their own ventures and provide more opportunities for students to learn the craft of entrepreneurship.”

For more information about the Opell Challenge, including ways to give, contact Julie Kennedy P’12, P’15, P’19, Director of Leadership Giving, at  

In the photo above Michael L. Opell ’59 visits the Bozzuto Center for Entrepreneurship.