Jonathan Ebinger
Jonathan Ebinger

When Jonathan Ebinger (FIN ’86) was presented with the opportunity to help fund Pamplin Engage, a new initiative from the Pamplin College of Business, he knew that it would be the perfect platform for his firm, Transform Capital, and was the first among companies to commit support.

“When I was first contacted about the need for supporting Pamplin Engage, I recognized that it was a great way for us to show what the fund can do,” Ebinger explained. “This is exactly what it is for.”

Transform Capital, co-founded by Ebinger and his colleague Sean Foote, is a late-stage venture capital firm that donates one-half of its managers’ profits according to the philanthropic interests of its limited partners. He initially found success as a general partner with Silicon Valley venture capital firm BlueRun Ventures which has invested in companies including Waze, PayPal, Coupa, and Kabbage at their earliest stages. While Ebinger continues in his role at BlueRun Ventures, he has now expanded his interests with Transform to invest “in select, revenue-generating, high growth, private technology startups.”

Doing so enables Transform Capital to make the most money for investors, thus making the most money for philanthropy. “The money comes out of the ‘investment pocket,’” explained Ebinger.

Limited partners don’t need to choose between investing and donating.”

This has created a new form of philanthropy, termed “Investor Advised Philanthropy.”

“By investing in great companies, generating profits for themselves, and enabling philanthropy directly from Transform Capital without impinging on their returns, our investors truly are at the leading edge of the next generation of philanthropy,” said Ebinger.

“We are strictly for-profit with no compromises,” he continued. Transform Capital’s primary goals are “to support high-potential, high growth companies, and to seek outsized returns for our investors,” said Ebinger.

Ebinger first brought the idea of Transform Capital to Virginia Tech when he was invited to serve on the Apex Advisory Board by Sean Collins and Derick Maggard, director and executive director of the Apex Center for Entrepreneurs, respectively. Collins and Maggard then agreed to join Transform Capital as venture partners.

“Virginia Tech was an early advocate of the structure of Transform Capital,” Ebinger said. “Both Sean and Derick have been instrumental in working with the administration as well as with entrepreneurs, he continued. “Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are.”

The program that Transform Capital is supporting, Pamplin Engage, is as distinctive and groundbreaking as the firm helping to fund it. Created by Associate Dean of Research Kevin Carlson in response to the challenges surrounding course delivery presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pamplin College of Business will be implementing the program for the upcoming fall semester, deploying a force of undergraduate teaching assistants (UTAs) to serve faculty and students in the new blended learning environment. Michelle Seref, associate professor in the Department of Business Information Technology, is the coordinator.

“This program has the potential to be a win for our faculty who receive support to help make their ‘more online’ courses more engaging, a win for our student teaching assistants who can gain online skills and earn some money after many internship opportunities disappeared over the summer, and a win for our students who, with the joint work of faculty and teaching assistants, will experience a more engaging form of instruction than would otherwise have been possible,” explained Carlson.

Pamplin Engage will partner top undergraduate students with faculty to incorporate the voice of the student into course development and delivery. All participating UTAs will receive training on effective online learning strategies, practice in the use of online platform tools and best practice approaches to student engagement, and online collaboration.

The UTAs will be allocated among Pamplin’s six departments (Accounting and Information Systems; Business Information Technology; Finance; Hospitality and Tourism Management; Management; Marketing Management) and the Real Estate program based on course needs. The overwhelming interest and response by students and departments has resulted in the retention of more than 100 UTAs.

The program utilized startup funding to support a faculty coordinator and training by the university executive vice president and provost, Cyril Clarke. Because of the speed in which the program needed to be developed, support from entities such as Transform Capital was, and still is, paramount. For Ebinger, his support was simple.

“I was a big beneficiary of education,” he explained. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for those that came before me,” Ebinger said.

He continued, “I am very happy to be engaged with Virginia Tech in this way. I couldn’t have hoped for a better launch for the fund.”