NC State Innovation and Entrepreneurship Celebrates the Completion of Its First Founders’ Pledge
Charles Gaddy ’93 has fulfilled his commitment to help Wolfpack start-up creators fuel their entrepreneurial dreams by enabling them to take part in new and exciting experiential-learning opportunities.
NC State Innovation and Entrepreneurship recently reached an extraordinary milestone by marking the fulfillment of its first Founders’ Pledge, an agreement between the program and Wolfpack entrepreneurs who choose to give back to the university once they achieve a personal success in the business world. For Charles Gaddy, an NC State alumnus and the first entrepreneur to fulfill a pledge, that success came last year with the sale of a company he cofounded in 2011.
Global Data Consortium (GDC) is a global anti-money laundering financial markets infrastructure and data provider that began as a data collection firm. It later transitioned into the verification of mailing addresses for international delivery companies such as DHL and FedEx but eventually grew to provide more comprehensive data checks for its clients. That increase in capability led to an increase in profitability, which then led to offers to buy the company from various bidders.
Gaddy and his cofounder Bill Spruill ultimately chose to sell GDC to the London Stock Exchange Group on May 31, 2022. This gave Gaddy the means to fulfill the Founders’ Pledge he had made Oct. 29, 2021, and resulted in the creation of the Innovator’s Learning Endowment. The fund provides NC State start-up creators with a new source of financial aid and enables them to participate in experiential-learning events that might not be covered by traditional scholarships or fellowships.
Who is Charles Gaddy?
Gaddy is a native of Wilmington, North Carolina, who graduated from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in history and a minor in computer programming. While the two disciplines might not seem to have much in common, Gaddy perfectly blended them during his time at NC State by creating a choose-your-own-adventure-style simulation of a traditional Chinese court based on the legal system of that country’s Qing Dynasty and writing a thesis about it.
“The Qing Dynasty ruled China from 1644 to 1912,” Gaddy said. “The program I developed had a picture at the top of the window and would say things like, ’The judge is about to decide; here are your verdict options.’ That sort of thing. You picked which one you were going to do, and then there was this whole decision tree.”
Gaddy tried out a few other colleges and majors around campus before finding his perfect place in the Pack, including time spent in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and in the College of Engineering. By doing so, he developed a deep appreciation for all that NC State has to offer its students.
“When I got here, I was amazed by the opportunities available to me,” Gaddy said. “Ultimately, I’m of the opinion that you go to college to learn how to learn, and every degree at NC State offers that.”
After graduating, Gaddy went on to learn even more about coding and program development, as well as marketing automation, by working for IBM and then First Citizens Bank. Following that, he did some consulting, served as the vice president of products for a Raleigh start-up and more before cofounding GDC and taking the Founders’ Pledge.
What is the Founders’ Pledge?
The Founders’ Pledge program is designed to raise the visibility of NC State Innovation and Entrepreneurship by cultivating philanthropic relationships and inspiring future major donors. To that end, company founders and cofounders, principal investors and stakeholders are invited to pledge to give back to NC State when they achieve a level of personal financial success. Many of the individuals who make a Founders’ Pledge have formed a legal entity, company or nonprofit, but that is not a requirement.
The Founders’ Pledge does not require a specific pledge amount today. Alumni entrepreneurs who take the Founders’ Pledge can decide their gift amount when they are ready, and all Wolfpack entrepreneurs are invited to participate. Founders’ Pledges are nonbinding, too, which means they are counted as “good faith” pledges that will be fulfilled at some point in the future — after an IPO (initial public offering), an acquisition/exit or a period of steady revenue growth, for example.
“We are pleased to offer our alumni entrepreneurs a way to show their appreciation for NC State now and also offer them flexibility in pledging future financial support,” Todd Marrs, NC State Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s senior director of development, said. “The Founders’ Pledge accomplishes both of these.”
“The Founders’ Pledge is more than just an innovative fundraising program; it’s also about raising visibility for NC State and showcasing our talented alumni entrepreneurs at the many points along their entrepreneurial journeys,” Jennifer Capps, assistant vice provost and director of student learning and faculty development for NC State Innovation and Entrepreneurship, added.
How are Founders’ Pledges used?
Entrepreneurs who make a Founders’ Pledge not only decide when to fulfill their respective pledges or how much they will give but also designate how their gifts will be used at the university. For example, one can choose to direct the funds toward a specific program, department or initiative.
Gaddy directed his pledge to support students who wanted to participate in experiential-learning events. Traditional scholarships and fellowships often do not cover these extracurricular opportunities, but their impact on young entrepreneurs can be invaluable — as Gaddy knows firsthand. He helped cosponsor an experiential-learning trip to Austin, Texas, in 2021 with Spruill and former Innovation and Entrepreneurship director Tom Miller. That trip ultimately led Gaddy to take the Founders’ Pledge and help make future trips accessible for Innovation and Entrepreneurship members.
“I participated in and helped sponsor the trip so the students could go to Austin and meet with alumni and other companies and that sort of thing,” Gaddy said. “After the trip, they invited me to come have dinner and to sit down with some of the students. So, I sat down with some of them, and they told me about the trip and what they had learned.
“I thought, ‘This is cool! Talking to young people in college — I like this.’ They just kind of tell you like it is. They haven’t got that ‘business voice’ yet.”
Gaddy had so much fun interacting with the students that he asked Miller if he could join them again, which led to an invitation to share his story on campus and to visit the Entrepreneurship Garage. He decided to make his Founders’ Pledge in 2021, which was fulfilled just a few months later following the sale of GDC.
Why should I take the Founders’ Pledge?
Sixteen Wolfpack entrepreneurs have already taken the Founders’ Pledge, with even more in the works. Each pledge-maker has their own unique reason(s) for supporting NC State Innovation and Entrepreneurship, but Gaddy spoke for many of them when he said that helping future start-up creators achieve their dreams was something he felt particularly passionate about.
“NC State, 100%, taught me how to learn and taught me not to be afraid — not just to not be afraid to fail, but to also not be afraid to succeed,” Gaddy said. “I see what we’re doing here in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, through the Garage and through the Innovator’s Learning Endowment and such, as giving them money and saying, ’Go out there, and don’t be afraid to try.’ If I can be part of that, that’s great.”
There are also personal benefits for making a Founders’ Pledge. For instance, those who make a pledge will be highlighted on NC State Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s website. They will join a cohort of VIP insiders who receive exclusive engagement opportunities with the university.
Most of all, donors will see the return on their investments via the hands-on, real-world activities they enable students to participate in — and the subsequent successes these students achieve in postgraduate life.
“The beauty of the Founders’ Pledge is it is almost one size fits all,” Gaddy said. “If you want to be involved in it, we’re just asking you to give what you can give, be involved in the way that you can be involved, bring what you can bring. Try!”
What’s next for Gaddy?
Even though GDC has been sold, Gaddy’s entrepreneurial journey hasn’t ended.
“I still have that entrepreneurial itch,” Gaddy said. “Once you’ve done it, whether you’ve tried it and succeeded or tried it and not succeeded, you tend to want to try again in whatever way you can.
“I’m actually working on something right now that I may even knock on Todd Marrs’s door and see if I can get an office at the Garage so I can work on it alongside other NC State entrepreneurs,” he added.
Gaddy also plans to continue financially supporting NC State following his realization of the Innovator’s Learning Endowment, possibly even through another Founders’ Pledge — and to persuade as many of his friends as possible to follow his lead.
“My kids helped create a list of naming possibilities for the pledge fund, and after they came up with a few names, I went back to some of my buddies from the ’90s, other NC State alumni, and said, ‘Here are the top five choices; you guys help us pick one,’ which they did,” Gaddy joked. “Of course, what they don’t realize is, since they were involved in that, now they have to take the Founders’ Pledge and create their own funds.”
Where can I learn more about making a Founders’ Pledge?
For more information on the Founders’ Pledge program and how you can join Gaddy in helping NC State entrepreneurs Think and Do in and beyond the classroom, visit entrepreneurship.ncsu.edu. You can also contact Innovation and Entrepreneurship staff directly at 919-513-3676 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.