Plaster Foundation Makes ‘Significant’ Contribution Toward Planned Free Enterprise Center

Seven-figure gift means $14.8 million product development hub will be considered for state matching funds

The University of Missouri-Kansas City Foundation is pleased to announce that the Robert W. Plaster Foundation of Lebanon, Mo., has made a significant contribution to support a new Free Enterprise Center on UMKC’s Volker Campus.

The Plaster Foundation’s contribution, described as “a significant seven-figure gift,” follows a $5 million pledge last fall from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

The Free Enterprise Center, a $14.8 million product development hub, will be available to entrepreneurs, local industry, and high school and college students as they pursue entrepreneurial ventures.

“This is a shot in the arm for entrepreneurship and economic development efforts at UMKC,” said Chancellor Leo E. Morton. “With this generous gift from the Plaster Foundation, we will be able to seek matching funds from the state of Missouri this year.”

Half of the funding for the state-of-the-art $14.8 million project is expected to come from the state. The Free Enterprise Center will be housed in a new building at the site of a vacant structure at 215 Volker Boulevard. The multi-disciplinary center will serve the School of Computing and Engineering and the Henry W. Bloch School of Management, UMKC’s fastest-growing academic units, and provide a platform for invention, research and education for entrepreneurs, educators, researchers, industry and students.

The late Robert W. Plaster founded Empire Gas, which before being sold in 1996 was one of the largest retail liquid propane gas distributors in the country. Plaster also was a founding board member of Enactus, formerly known as Students in Free Enterprise, which has chapters on college campuses throughout the country, including a very active chapter at UMKC.

The Plaster Foundation’s mission is to fund capital projects on Midwestern college campuses to expand the educational opportunities for students.

“My father truly lived the American dream,” said Dolly Clement, Plaster’s daughter and executive director of the Plaster Foundation. “From very humble beginnings, through hard work, determination and with the opportunities available in the free enterprise system, he built a successful business and improved his standard of living.”

Clement said that her father set up the Robert W. Plaster Foundation to help create opportunity for students to get a college education and achieve their own success.

“This project fulfills that purpose and the free enterprise focus of the Plaster Foundation,” she said. “We are thrilled to partner with UMKC, the Kauffman Foundation, and the other contributors on this worthy project to bring entrepreneurial opportunity to students and members of community.”

The Free Enterprise Center will include laboratory space, rapid prototyping equipment and educational/collaborative space. The center also will support business and technology transfer advisors to serve students, faculty and researchers from both schools, as well as local industries, entrepreneurs, artists and K-12 students.

The KC STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Alliance within the School of Computing and Engineering is reaching more than 13,000 middle and high school students in the Kansas City region. This center would provide the KC STEM Alliance space to work with high school students on projects that involve robotics, manufacturing, material science and engineering design. UMKC Enactus students, who compete in entrepreneurial challenges, will work with these students on the entrepreneurial and business aspects of technology and manufactured products and projects.

The facility also will be used as a laboratory, incubator and prototyping center for all students within the School of Computing and Engineering and all entrepreneurship students within the Bloch School of Management.

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