Alumni couple funds new entrepreneurship course to help Hartford start-ups

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Grace Merritt

3 min read

Alumni couple Michael and Shari Cantor have two passions: UConn and Greater Hartford.

So when they decided recently to make a gift to UConn, they knew they wanted to have a real impact on Greater Hartford by promoting economic development and entrepreneurship there.

Enter Build Hartford, a new course that will help UConn students develop entrepreneurial skills and work for a Hartford area start-up they are interested in. Thanks to the Cantors’ gift, the course will premiere this spring as part of UConn’s Werth Institute.  

Shari and Michael Cantor“I care deeply about keeping young people that graduate from our universities here in the state,” says Michael ’80 (ENG), ’83 JD. “A key way to do that is to have a vibrant start-up community where they all want to work.”

Students will get to work with mentors and the team at the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation to solve real problems faced by Hartford-area start-ups. As a result, these transformative experiences will help educate, connect, and inspire them to be future leaders and change makers.

“It creates a framework for helping to build the entrepreneurial community of Hartford, helping support the talent needs of startups in Hartford,” says David Noble, managing director of the Werth Institute.

Build Hartford is designed to give more students, regardless of their major, a taste of entrepreneurship.

“We are always looking for opportunities to expose all different types of students to the entrepreneurial skill set and mind set to be able to accelerate their growth and career trajectories in whatever pathways they choose to pursue,” says Tara Watrous, the Werth Institute’s head of entrepreneurial transformation.

Shari ’81 (BUS), a UConn trustee and mayor of West Hartford, said they wanted to create a program with long-term impact.

“One of the things we want to do is give to something that builds,” she says. “We want to really start something. We think this is an initial gift and project that can take off and have a lasting impact.”

In addition to Build Hartford, the Cantors’ gift will also support scholarships, Hillel, human rights, and the Students First Fund, which provides financial support to students dealing with unanticipated hardships.

“I chair the Student Life Committee on the Board of Trustees and we are also the parents of two UConn graduates,” Shari says. “The student experience is something I think about all the time.”

“I know the value of the Students First Fund, especially in the last year and a half with the challenges of COVID and so much uncertainty,” she says. “Many families are balancing so much and unpredictable expenses can put tremendous stress on them. The Students First Fund is a lifeline that can truly keep a student on track to graduate.”

Both Cantors’ enthusiastic support of UConn also extends to their volunteer work. Besides serving as a trustee, Shari, a CPA, served as president of Hillel and is a member of the UConn School of Business’s Hall of Fame.

Michael serves on the advisory boards for the School of Engineering and the School of Law. He is also on the committee planning the law school’s centennial and was inducted into the engineering school’s hall of fame. Michael is a co-managing partner at Cantor Colburn, an intellectual property law firm, and has taught at the School of Law for more than 20 years as an adjunct professor. In addition, he serves as chairman of the board of Connecticut Innovations, the state’s quasi-public venture capital firm.

Besides their volunteer work, the Cantors are huge UConn basketball fans and can often be seen in the stands rooting for the Huskies.

“We really do bleed blue,” Michael says.

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