October 7, 2022

J. Frank Barefield Jr., the donor of a $5 million gift to name the University of Alabama at Birmingham J. Frank Barefield Jr. Entrepreneurship Program, believes entrepreneurship is what drives economic growth.
Barefield’s donation, which will also fund an endowed entrepreneurship faculty position, will support what he considers to be the basis of the U.S. economy.
“Most people don’t think about this, but every business out there today, including billion-dollar businesses, started out as the idea of one person,” Barefield said. “One person had an idea on how to make money and make his family better, and these businesses have grown into multibillion-dollar businesses.”
Barefield, an entrepreneur himself, is widely recognized for his accomplishments as a business leader.
He formed the predecessor to Abbey Residential in 1984 with his partner, Dr. Marnix Heersink, for whom the UAB Heersink School of Medicine is named. In the past 38 years, Barefield and Heersink have grown Abbey Residential to $2.5 billion in assets.
Barefield said the U.S. has a strong economy because people with ideas have opportunity to bring them to fruition.
“People who have an idea can get out there, try this idea, make money, offer jobs to different people and the economy flourishes because of it,” Barefield said. “So entrepreneurship is probably the most important thing that I can give to in my entire lifetime because it’s what this entire country is based on.”
Director of the J. Frank Barefield Jr. Entrepreneurship Program and Goodrich Entrepreneurship Chair Patrick J. Murphy said the donation means big things for the program and will result in big strides for the mission to elevate both Birmingham and Alabama.
“It’s a transformative gift,” Murphy said. “It not only radically builds our capacity to increase access to talented students who want to pursue entrepreneurship, but it greatly broadens our capacity to make an impact on the entrepreneurial ecosystem. This gift will make it possible for us to offer many generous scholarships, to deliver many high-impact programs, to build out our team with world-class faculty and, finally, to increase the quality of service we offer to our students.”
Murphy said entrepreneurial education is important to invest in for several reasons, with the first being the high volume of available jobs that come out of the entrepreneurial sector. The second, Murphy said, is that those positions need to be filled with people who are already up to speed and ready to make an impact.
“The Barefield Entrepreneurship Program teaches people how to do exactly that. We give them an extremely transformational high-impact intense education in the entrepreneurial mindset. We show them how the mindset is reflected in what entrepreneurs do,” Murphy said, adding another reason to invest in entrepreneurial education is the most successful entrepreneurs worked with or for another entrepreneur before they branched out on their own.
Immediate next steps for the program include hiring more faculty and allocating scholarship funds.
“I’ve talked with many families and and potential students coming out of high school all over the state. We have become a magnet for families and learners who are already very serious about entrepreneurship,” Murphy said. “Many of them already have entrepreneurial projects where they have opportunities around them, sometimes multiple opportunities and projects that they’re using to make a living for themselves, and they’re not always deciding from among which university they’re going to attend. They’re deciding whether or not they’re even going to go to university.”
Murphy hopes these scholarships will attract these students to UAB.
The program is also working to build out a new space in Innovation Depot for events, meetings and workshops with more details to come.
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