ST. PETERSBURG — Moez Limayem has an ambitious goal for the University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business. He wants the school to become “the best, hopefully, in the country in fintech education and fintech innovation and entrepreneurship.”
“That’s how we want to distinguish it,” said Limayem, Muma’s dean. “Any school in business now, in finance, in management, you don’t want to be a plain vanilla school, right? You want to be known for something and really strive to make it one of the best.”
On Monday, USF got a big push in that direction.
The school announced a $14 million gift from St. Petersburg philanthropists Kate Tiedemann and Ellen Cotton to develop its financial technology program, turning USF into what Limayem called a “hub of excellence.”
Of that $14 million, $4 million has already been directed to endow two fintech professorships, leaving another $10 million to build the program in other ways. The money will benefit the Kate Tiedemann School of Business and Finance — so named following a $10 million gift from Tiedemann and Cotton in 2014 — which is based at USF’s St. Petersburg campus, but also has students and faculty in Tampa and Sarasota. Over the years, Tiedemann and Cotton have given USF around $30 million.
“I’m not overstating it when I say they have transformed this university, not just here on St. Petersburg’s campus, but throughout the entirety of one USF,” USF president Rhea Law said. “I can’t tell you how much this adds to our trajectory, our momentum.”
The word “transformational” was thrown around a lot during a ceremony unveiling the gift at USF St. Petersburg Monday morning — at one point, Limayem had the crowd shout it in unison.
Mayor Ken Welch said the gift’s benefits would extend throughout the city and region as USF-connected students, faculty and entrepreneurs study and develop new technologies in the realms of banking, insurance, the blockchain, cryptocurrency and more.
“We are becoming the innovation hub of the Southeast, and hopefully the nation,” Welch said.
Tiedemann said fintech was a world “that I know nothing about.” She added: “When I started in business, we were typing invoices on manual computers.”
But she believed in the vision of making the school a top destination for students and faculty alike.
“We hope USF will be the preeminent university, and certainly the Kate Tiedemann School of Business will be part of that, and we can teach fintech to the young students that are going into this world of financial technologies,” she said.
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Limayem wants the school and community to feed off one another as local employers look to hire students and startup entrepreneurs seek guidance and a platform. The gift announcement came days after USF and Tampa Bay Wave launched their first joint fintech accelerator program, drawing 16 rising startups — including 10 from outside Florida and another five from outside the United States — to St. Petersburg.
The university has not outlined how Tiedemann and Cotton’s entire gift will be used. There are plans in the works to open a fintech center and offer degrees in financial technology through the Tiedemann School. Limayem mentioned an annual conference that would provide “a platform for thought leadership” in the fintech space, making it “a magnet, a destination and an engine for innovation and entrepreneurship.” He sees more collaboration between Muma and USF’s other colleges, including the College of Engineering and Morsani College of Medicine.
Welch said the gifts could bring new opportunities for equity and inclusion in the fintech world.
“The fact is, communities of color and lower-income individuals have historically been hampered or excluded from financial services,” Welch said. “What emerges from this center can be the digital bridge to financial inclusion.”
Limayem said the school aims to be “better than Stanford in the area of fintech,” and that it could happen in five years’ time.
“That’s where innovation happens,” Limayem said. “That’s where startups get shots in the arm they need to prosper and transform our region. This could be the distinctive theme that Tampa Bay has been looking for a long time.”