major gift

Philanthropist gifts historic $50 million to Houston-area university

Mackenzie Scott has gifted tens of millions to Houston-area organizations and institutions, and her latest gift is to Prairie View A&M University. Photo courtesy of Prairie View A&M

Historically Black universities have traditionally been overshadowed and underfunded compared to their non-Black collegiate counterparts. But now, a major public figure's game-changing gift has helped level the playing field for a beloved Houston-area school.

Noted author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott (many know her as the former wife of Amazon CEO and billionaire Jeff Bezos) has donated a massive $50 million to Prairie View A&M University, the institution announced on December 15. The gift is the largest one-time endowment in the school's 144-year history.

Under terms of the donation, the funds can be used at the discretion of the president to support the needs of the university, per a press release. Administrators have chosen to designate $10 million of the total to create the Panther Success Grant Program, an effort to assist juniors and seniors with unpaid balances created by the financial challenges posed by COVID, the school announced.

"This is a historic gift for Prairie View, coming at a time when the university had already decided and begun to invest heavily in key areas to strengthen its academic programs and improve student success," said Ruth J. Simmons, president of Prairie View, in a statement. "The timing of this gift could therefore not be better."

Simmons adds in a statement that she had been in contact with Scott "about a matter not involving Prairie View," and thus was "stunned and, for a time speechless" when Scott's assistant phoned and revealed the donation.

Another whopping gift from Scott includes $18 million to the Greater Houston YMCA.

In a post on Medium, Scott notes that she and her advisers have disbursed over $4 billion in gifts to 384 organizations across all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C. over the last four months. This is in effort to "accelerate my 2020 giving through immediate support to people suffering the economic effects of the crisis," Scott writes.

Scott's generosity includes myriad Texas organizations and groups, including:

  • Easterseals of Greater Houston
  • Easterseals Rehabilitation Center, San Antonio
  • East Texas Food Bank
  • El Pasoans Fighting Hunger
  • Feeding the Gulf Coast
  • South Texas Food Bank
  • Southeast Texas Food Bank
  • Goodwill Houston
  • Goodwill Industries of Dallas
  • Goodwill Industries of East Texas
  • Goodwill Industries of Fort Worth
  • Goodwill Industries of San Antonio
  • Heart of Texas Goodwill Industries
  • Meals on Wheels Central Texas
  • Meals on Wheels Montgomery County
  • Meals on Wheels North Central Texas
  • Texas A&M International University
  • United Way of El Paso County
  • United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County
  • YMCA of Greater Houston
  • YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas
  • YWCA El Paso del Norte Region
  • YWCA Greater Austin
  • YWCA of Lubbock
  • YWCA San Antonio
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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

This health tech company has made some significant changes in order to keep up with its growth. Photo via Getty Images

With a new CEO and chief operating officer aboard, Houston-based DataJoint is thinking small in order to go big.

Looking ahead to 2022, DataJoint aims to enable hundreds of smaller projects rather than a handful of mega-projects, CEO Dimitri Yatsenko says. DataJoint develops data management software that empowers collaboration in the neuroscience and artificial intelligence sectors.

"Our strategy is to take the lessons that we have learned over the past four years working with major projects with multi-institutional consortia," Yatsenko says, "and translate them into a platform that thousands of labs can use efficiently to accelerate their research and make it more open and rigorous."

Ahead of that shift, the startup has undergone some significant changes, including two moves in the C-suite.

Yatsenko became CEO in February after stints as vice president of R&D and as president. He co-founded the company as Vathes LLC in 2016. Yatsenko succeeded co-founder Edgar Walker, who had been CEO since May 2020 and was vice president of engineering before that.

In tandem with Yatsenko's ascent to CEO, the company brought aboard Jason Kirkpatrick as COO. Kirkpatrick previously was chief financial officer of Houston-based Darcy Partners, an energy industry advisory firm; chief operating officer and chief financial officer of Houston-based Solid Systems CAD Services (SSCS), an IT services company; and senior vice president of finance and general manager of operations at Houston-based SmartVault Corp., a cloud-based document management company.

"Most of our team are scientists and engineers. Recruiting an experienced business leader was a timely step for us, and Jason's vast leadership experience in the software industry and recurring revenue models added a new dimension to our team," Yatsenko says.

Other recent changes include:

  • Converting from an LLC structure to a C corporation structure to enable founders, employees, and future investors to be granted shares of the company's stock.
  • Shortening the business' name to DataJoint from DataJoint Neuro and recently launching its rebranded website.
  • Moving the company's office from the Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute (TMCx) to the Galleria area. The new space will make room for more employees. Yatsenko says the 12-employee startup plans to increase its headcount to 15 to 20 by the end of this year.

Over the past five years, the company's customer base has expanded to include neuroscience institutions such as Princeton University's Princeton Neuroscience Institute and Columbia University's Zuckerman Institute for Brain Science, as well as University College London and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. DataJoint's growth has been fueled in large part by grants from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

"The work we are tackling has our team truly excited about the future, particularly the capabilities being offered to the neuroscience community to understand how the brain forms perceptions and generates behavior," Yatsenko says.

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