As a freshman at Duke I was part of a first year program where students elected to join 29 other students and study a particular topic, in our case, Computers in Society. One of my courses was Instructional Technologies, taught by Professor Frank Borchardt. Now, Frank Borchardt was a full professor in the German department, but he had a real passion for using computers for foreign language learning, and had become famous for his research in the mid 1990s.
By the end of the course we had developed great rapport and he made the side comment that if I ever was going to start a business that I should come see him. I didn’t think much of it at the time but kept the idea in the back of my mind. Come the end of my first semester junior year, I had been doing a number of entrepreneurial initiatives but hadn’t seriously focused on any one thing. Then an idea hit me. I had been building websites for campus organizations, professors, small businesses, etc for a couple years and there was no easy way to update it once it was built. It’s like saying here’s a shiny new car to a 16 year old and following it up with you can look at it but can’t drive it.
With this idea for a simple content management system, I approached Frank Borchardt to be an investor in early 2001 and he said yes on the spot. A month later I had $20,000 in the bank from Frank and I was actively recruiting friends to be summer interns and help me build SuperUpdate, our first product.
Fast forward five years and I paid Frank back double his money. Frank was in poor health so I wanted to make sure and give him a good return as quickly as possible. That next year Frank passed away and I attended his nice funeral at the Duke Gardens.
Frank had some unusual characteristics that made him stand out. Physically, he was a very large man with an energetic personality and a booming laugh that was infectious. Early in his career, he promised himself he would stop conforming to society once he became a full professor, so after achieving his goal, he wore all black and never cut his hair, resulting in a long beard and pony-tail. You could spot Frank across the campus and you’d always know it when you were in the same room together.
To say thank you for all he did for Duke, as well as for me as an entrepreneur, I’m donating $500,000 to endow the Frank Borchardt Undergraduate Prize Fund, which will provide $20,000 in grant money, every year, to the top undergraduate entrepreneurs at Duke.
Frank was a great man and I hope that his help to me will help entrepreneurs for generations to come.