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Cornell entrepreneurship founding father David J. BenDaniel dies at 86

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Rebecca Valli

David BenDaniel

David J. BenDaniel, a longtime and influential entrepreneurship professor, died Nov. 22 after a brief respiratory illness. He was 86.

The Don and Margi Berens Professor of Entrepreneurship and professor of management, BenDaniel had served on the faculty of the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management since 1985.

“Professor BenDaniel applied his keen intellect to entrepreneurship across a broad array of industries,” said Mark W. Nelson, the Anne and Elmer Lindseth Dean and professor of accounting. “He will be sorely missed by his colleagues and by countless students whom he taught and inspired to found new businesses.”

BenDaniel was instrumental in the launch of Entrepreneurship at Cornell, which helps create and promote entrepreneurship throughout the university with educational initiatives, experiential learning, events and networking opportunities.

“David was the foundation of entrepreneurship teaching at Cornell,” said Zach Shulman ’87, J.D. ’90, director of Entrepreneurship at Cornell. “He had been a bedrock of Cornell entrepreneurship for more than three decades and has impacted thousands of students, who, as alumni, hold him in highest regard. David’s energy was amazing, and his passion for teaching tremendous.”

BenDaniel mentored a large number of students each year as faculty adviser for Big Red Ventures, Cornell’s MBA-run venture fund. He also taught courses in entrepreneurship and private equity for MBA and non-Johnson students. These courses included an intensive private equity practicum, case studies in venture and private equity investments, and classes in entrepreneurship and private equity.

BenDaniel added value to every student idea and business plan, no matter what the topic, said Steven Benjamin ’80, M.Eng. ’81, MBA ’82, chair of Entrepreneurship at Cornell’s Advisory Council.

“The newer the technology, the more he seemed to know about it and was able to share with his students. He had the remarkable ability to get the best out of his students, motivate them to work hard, yet have them all feel that he was one of the best professors they ever had,” Benjamin said. “His wisdom, willingness to teach and especially his warmth was felt and appreciated by all who interacted with him. Many former students trace much of their entrepreneurial success and confidence to the classes they took with David.”

Said Dora Jih ’91, M.Eng. ’92, MBA ’93, founder of Season Tees: “Professor BenDaniel’s entrepreneurship class taught me that you can come up with an idea, develop a plan of attack and do it.”

BenDaniel was honored in April 2017 with Entrepreneurship at Cornell’s first Lifetime Achievement in Entrepreneurship Education Award. And the annual David J. BenDaniel Lecture in Business Ethics was established and endowed in his name in 2010 to emphasize Johnson’s strong interest in ethical business leadership and its commitment to educate moral leaders, Nelson said.

BenDaniel was born Nov. 10, 1931, in Philadelphia. He earned a Bachelor of Arts with honors in 1952 and a master’s degree in physics in 1953, both from the University of Pennsylvania. From 1953 to 1956, he served in the U.S. Navy as an officer in the Atlantic Fleet. He enrolled in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1956, earning a doctorate in engineering in 1960.

Following his studies, BenDaniel began a career in industry, focusing on technology and venture capital investment. At General Electric 1960-1976, he began as a theoretical physicist then started GE’s technical ventures operation. He worked for Exxon Enterprises 1976-1981 as group vice president for advanced energy and technology. At Textron Corp.’s American research and development division, BenDaniel was senior vice president for venture capital 1981-83. From 1983 to 1985, he was Genesis Group International’s executive vice president for venture capital. He was featured in publications including Fortune, Business Week, Success Magazine and Physics Today.

BenDaniel wrote 28 academic research papers and book chapters. The topics of his research ranged from avoiding pitfalls in measuring rates of return to the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in physics. He also co-edited two books with Arthur H. Rosenbloom: “Handbook of International Mergers and Acquisitions” (1990) and “International M&A, Joint Ventures and Beyond: Doing the Deal” (2002).

He is survived by his wife, Claire, two children and many stepchildren and grandchildren.

Following BenDaniel’s wishes, there will be no funeral service. Johnson is organizing an event to honor his memory; details will be announced.


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