Paying it Forward

The Gilliam Center for Entrepreneurship is able to serve our entrepreneurial students, the faculty and the wider JMU community thanks to the generosity of our donors.

We are grateful for their support and gifts to encourage entrepreneurship at JMU.

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Leslie Flanary Gilliam ('82)

Leslie GilliamLeslie's daughter Julia Gilliam Sterling of West Palm Beach, Fla., announced a $5.2 million commitment from her family to name the Leslie Flanary Gilliam (’82) Center for Entrepreneurship in the JMU College of Business. The net commitment is the largest in JMU’s history and was unveiled October 26, 2019 as part of the public launch of Unleashed: The Campaign for James Madison University.

Entrepreneurship is a priority of the university’s $200 million comprehensive campaign and includes the center, the academic minor and a campus culture that supports a variety of entrepreneurial initiatives.

“What my mom loved most about JMU was the sense of community,” her daughter says. “She was so enthusiastic about her work on the board and with Women for Madison. I remember asking her, ‘What is it about JMU that’s so exciting?’ She said, ‘I love JMU. Julia, those are my people.’”

Leslie Gilliam was a 1982 JMU management graduate, philanthropist and leader who served as a member of the JMU Board of Visitors and was a co-founder of Women for Madison. She died in 2016.

The commitment to JMU comes from Leslie Gilliam’s family, including widower Richard Baxter Gilliam Sr., son Richard Baxter Gilliam Jr., and daughters Julia Gilliam Sterling and Anna Gilliam.

Gilliam said her family wants to further encourage that spirit at JMU.

“Some of the best ideas are incubated in an academic environment,” she says. “That’s why we believe the center is important at JMU. At the center students can learn, explore, and create with the support of their academic community. Entrepreneurship requires taking a lot of risks, putting yourself out there, and believing in yourself. Starting out with support in an academic community is important.”


Eric and Lara Major ('91)

Eric and Lara Major - 2019JMU taught us the importance of collaboration and hard work. These skills combined with the amazing relationships we made at JMU have allowed us to pursue exciting entrepreneurial ventures. 

Although neither one of us graduated from the College of Business, both of us created entrepreneurial ventures, Lara in the educational sector and Eric in the medical device industry. Our experience taught us that entrepreneurs come from every corner of the university. 

The new Major ICCE Lab is intended to reach across the entire university to any student, in any major to provide a space where like-minded individuals can meet to collaborate and create new, innovative companies. We are honored to give back to the university and excited to watch new entrepreneurial ventures blossom into great companies that can pay if forward by improving communities around the world. We hope to see alumni participate at the lab inspiring students and serving as mentors. Collaboration is at the core of success. It begins with each of us holding the door open so that others may come in to collaborate, innovate, dream and share ideas. 

--Eric and Lara Major 

Kevin Tucker ('93)

Kevin Tucker - '93

CEO of SOLitude Lake Management Kevin Tucker and his wife, Jennifer, have pledged $125,000 to establish the Tucker Student Venture Creation Fellowship Endowment for James Madison University’s Gilliam Center for Entrepreneurship. The Tucker Family Fellowship will contribute $4,000+ annually in perpetuity to a top student from the program’s Summer Venture Accelerator (SVA). 

The SVA provides student entrepreneurs the opportunity to develop businesses at all stages. Through the 10-week program, student fellows receive funding, workspace, mentorship, business classes, hands-on learning experiences, and a final opportunity to pitch their venture against peers across the nation. The SVA is a competitive program—more than 100 JMU students apply each year, but only 20 are selected to participate. 

The Tucker Student Venture Creation Fellowship Endowment was announced at the annual Student Venture Showcase held at JMU in Harrisonburg, VA last month. The inaugural Tucker Fellow will be awarded at next year’s Venture Showcase. 

“When an alumnus has been successful and supports students who are venturing on the same path that he or she once did, it has a compounding effect,” Patrick McQuown, the former director of the Gilliam Center for Entrepreneurship, said. “We congratulate Kevin on his success and appreciate his acknowledgment of the work we do to support aspiring business owners.” 

Tucker earned his Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Management with a concentration in Finance from James Madison University in 1993. Five years later, he established SOLitude Lake Management (originally, Virginia Lake Management) in southeastern Virginia. The company now operates from 50 offices throughout the country, with locations from Massachusetts to Florida, Tennessee, Colorado, Texas, Arizona and California, to name a few. Under Tucker’s leadership, SOLitude has become the nation’s largest environmental firm specializing in sustainable lake, stormwater pond, wetland and fisheries management solutions.

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