Don Lamberti, founder, chairman and CEO of Casey’s General Stores Inc., has given $2.9 million to establish The Donald F. and Charlene K. Lamberti Center for Rural Entrepreneurship at Buena Vista University.
“Don and Charlene Lamberti are two Iowans who have made their mark on our state and its communities,” said Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds during the early September announcement. “Putting a visionary entrepreneur like Don Lamberti together with an academic leader like Buena Vista University, both champions of rural Iowa, can’t help but create a world of new opportunities for people of across Iowa.”
BVU President Joshua Merchant said, “We can’t thank the Lambertis enough for their vision, selflessness and continued philanthropic commitment to Buena Vista University. Their gift signals an exciting new era, making it possible for BVU to bring business leaders together with our faculty and students as we strive to build and sustain strong, vibrant rural communities across our region.”
Sharing ideas to grow rural areas
The announcement was made before a crowd of Iowa business and education leaders, and BVU alumni who convened Sept. 4 at the offices of Gravitate Coworking in downtown Des Moines.
The new Lamberti Center for Rural Entrepreneurship is envisioned as a place where new businesses will grow as jobs are created. Programming and real-world business applications within The Lamberti Center curriculum will provide both students and professionals opportunities to sharpen their skills, while aiding and challenging one another with a shared goal of moving rural America ahead.
Don Lamberti, a longtime member of the BVU board of trustees, is one of Iowa’s iconic business innovators, a leader who worked to build his first mom-and-pop convenience store in 1968 into Casey’s, a publicly traded enterprise. Casey’s employs nearly 15,000 people serving more than 2,000 stores, many that stand as a central hub of activity in their rural communities.
Connecting ideas, businesses
“I’ve been blessed in my life and my career by people throughout the Midwest, especially in rural communities across Iowa. These are the places and people that gave Casey’s its start and have sustained it in on a successful path,” Lamberti said. “I’m honored to be able to share in this vision, a unique connecting of ideas and businesses across generations.”
The Lamberti Center for Rural Entrepreneurship will be served by a director and school of business faculty member who is an executive in residence specializing in entrepreneurship. It will be a resource for existing businesses across the region, allowing those enterprises to develop and fine-tune marketing campaigns and business plans with assistance of BVU faculty members and students enrolled in related fields.
Business leaders will have opportunities to share their experiences with students of any major as they join forces to better serve a growing region.
The Lamberti gift, coupled with an anonymous $500,000 donation, allows BVU to move ahead in offering innovative courses and programs while developing a minor in rural entrepreneurship. For business majors, advanced courses in entrepreneurship, management, marketing, accounting, finance and enhanced practicum opportunities will be available as students delve into roles businesses and entrepreneurs play in transforming their communities.
Expanding Iowa’s mentoring network
“If students want to live and grow in rural areas, or anywhere in Iowa, this center is for them,” says Merchant, who in 2018 was appointed by Reynolds to serve on the Governor’s Empower Rural Iowa Initiative Task Force.
Much of the instruction and teamwork within The Lamberti Center will occur in its idea incubator, a site to be called The Foundry at BVU. Business leaders and entrepreneurs will access training and resources made available by BVU, strengthening existing partnerships to expand a growing mentoring network.
“This remarkable gift from the Lambertis allows us to reshape and build upon the programming BVU’s Siebens School of Business has offered for decades,” Merchant says. “Don Lamberti’s leadership, along with other dedicated donors, puts us on track to offer support for business start-ups while providing a creative space for social entrepreneurship, additional collaborative efforts, and even an entrepreneurship minor aimed at students of all majors who desire to turn their passion into a career.”