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Bruce Gjovig, UND Innovation Center CEO, to retire

The longtime leader of the UND Center for Innovation will retire April 30, he announced Tuesday.

Bruce Gjovig, the center’s CEO and entrepreneur coach, is leaving after 33 years with the facility.

“I am in great health and have lots of energy so retirement presents an opportunity to do new things that are innovative, entrepreneurial and interesting,” Gjovig said. “I have been living the entrepreneur life working 60 to 80 hours per week for years, so this may also offer me the chance to do other interesting work as well as travel and socialize more.”

While Gjovig said he wasn’t going to compete with the center’s work, he also didn’t intend to step back from the entrepreneurial community. The center itself will continue its mission under the leadership of an interim director yet to be chosen by UND Provost Tom DiLorenzo.

The interim leader will also serve as the executive director of the UND School of Entrepreneurship within the university’s college of business and public administration.

Gjovig said center’s accomplishments have largely been driven by the “raw talent” of the students and young people who have come through it to develop their ideas for innovations.

“I gave them an opportunity and they capitalized on it,” he said, adding “putting young people first and foremost has really been one of the secrets to my success -- they nailed it, it was terrific.”

Among the success stories Gjovig recounted was lending some help to North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum in the 1980s when Burgum was at Great Plains Software.

Gjovig also said he’d helped advise UND professor Leon Osborne -- a regional figure in weather forecasting -- when Osborne was developing a business around technological innovations he and colleagues developed for applied meteorology. That concept developed into Meridian Environmental Technology Inc., which Osborne eventually sold to the California-based Iteris Inc.

Among the student body, Gjovig pointed to Tommy Leikas, a UND graduate and current Fargo entrepreneur who has launched a series of web-based startups.

The backdrop to the work with individuals, Gjovig said, has been a gradual change in the entrepreneurial business climate in the state. When he started the center in 1984, he said the attitude towards new business was “basically chasing companies to branch into your community.”

Gjovig feels the work of the center helped change that mindset to foster a more welcoming notion toward entrepreneurship within local communities. Even after more than three decades, he said he doesn’t think the promotional side of the job is ever done, in light of what he described as the natural strength of “forces against change” and an institutional resistance to flexibility.

Still, as entrepreneurship has been increasingly embraced as a cultural value and stepped into a national spotlight on the backs of tech giants, Gjovig said the practice has increasingly found its home in North Dakota. He pointed to Burgum’s advocacy of entrepreneurial thought in public institutions as a sign of that acceptance. Away from the halls of government, Gjovig said the private sector is “absolutely embracing” the startup mindset.

“Our best economic development policy is entrepreneurs, people who are committed to the area and start and grow there” he said. “It’s a longer-term strategy, you don’t get as many jobs at once, but it’s much stronger in a much better way.”

The Center for Innovation Foundation will host a reception for Gjovig at 4 p.m. April 18 at the Ina Mae Rude Entrepreneur Center.

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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