A $1.5 million philanthropic gift will endow a program for technology entrepreneurship at North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics to teach students “how they can change the world” by solving problems, building teams, and starting companies, an extraordinary opportunity for public high school students, the school announced today.
The program is being launched by an endowment gift to NCSSM Foundation by Triangle tech entrepreneur Joe Colopy and his wife, Karalyn. Their daughter Ximena is a 2020 graduate.
“Great entrepreneurs are driven, smart, and willing to jump into the unknown to try something new. These are the same traits that I have seen with NCSSM students,” Joe Colopy said, noting that the school’s residential students move onto the school’s Durham and Morganton campuses for their junior and senior years of public high school. “Traditionally, in school, we learn particular disciplines like mathematics, biology, physics, or literature in a siloed fashion. The world, however, is messy and ambiguous, and we need to prepare students to think and act across multiple disciplines. It’s in the intersections where real change happens. We hope this gift helps amplify the entrepreneurial attitude of these students so they can make waves in this world and help others.”
NCSSM began as an experimental startup itself. In 1980, it launched a new type of public high school drawing students from all across the state to a school with unique curricular freedom, and has inspired 11 other states to do the same. In 2022, it became the first statewide public high school to open a second campus, showing the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well at the school today.
“The school’s interdisciplinary approach to forward-looking topics like data science and artificial intelligence – and its emphasis on humanities and the fine arts alongside top-tier science and mathematics courses – make it an incubator for thinkers with potential to solve complex problems and create the future jobs of North Carolina,” Colopy says.
NCSSM has a long history of being innovative with high school education, Colopy notes: “If you look at the LinkedIn pages of successful North Carolina entrepreneurs, you will often see NCSSM listed in their background. As we look at improving the future of North Carolina, investing in the entrepreneurial education of these students is one of the highest return investments that I can imagine.”
Colopy is a founder of Bronto Software in Durham’s American Tobacco Campus, which was purchased by NetSuite for $200 million in 2015 and later became part of Oracle, one of the most successful tech exits in the Triangle’s history. Colopy continues to work in North Carolina as an entrepreneur and tech investor, helping support and invest in regional startups through GrepBeat, a Triangle-area tech media outfit, and Jurassic Capital, a regionally-focused tech investment firm.
“Joe is a mentor and role model for many of our students,” NCSSM Chancellor Todd Roberts said. “He knows how to build teams of people around promising ideas, and he understands how nimble people have to be to succeed in the economy of the future. We’re grateful for his willingness to invest in North Carolina’s students through his and Karalyn’s incredible gift, as well as through his time and talent. We are eager to begin the search for the leader to run this new program, and are so excited for the opportunities students will have and the ideas they will develop as a result of this gift.”