Bill Brown ’80, professor of the practice at Duke Law, and his business partner Miles Palmer have committed to donate shares of stock worth five percent of 8 Rivers Capital, a private-equity company they founded to support entrepreneurial businesses in clean energy, transportation, biomedical devices, and telecommunications. Lanty Smith ’67, chairman and CEO of Tippet Capital and former chairman of the board at Wachovia, also has committed to give shares of stock worth five percent of Net Power, a clean energy company held by 8 Rivers.
The gifts highlight the growing relationship between the Law School’s entrepreneurship programs and the hotbed of entrepreneurial activity in the Raleigh-Durham region, said Law School Dean David F. Levi.
“This is an unusual gift ⎯ we can’t yet quantify it, we don’t know what it will mean to us in the coming years. But the potential is huge. These companies are developing technologies that could transform our lives,” Levi said. “These gifts represent both the faith our alumni have in the work these companies are doing and their confidence in our ability to prepare lawyers to be leaders in a changing economy.”
Supporting excellence in legal education
Smith is an emeritus member of the Duke University Board of Trustees and a founding and now life member of Duke Law School’s Board of Visitors. A longtime donor and staunch supporter of the university, he credits Duke Law with providing him an education and professional community that have created opportunities for him throughout his successful career in business and finance.
“I have great respect for and gratitude to Duke Law School,” said Smith, who also created and endowed the Law School’s prestigious Smith Mordecai Scholarship program. “It provided an excellent legal education and wonderful career opportunities for me, and through it I developed lifelong friendships which I have treasured for 45 years. Without the full scholarship which [Duke Law] Dean [Jack] Latty awarded me, I would have been unable to attend Duke, and I have always felt a keen obligation to give back to the school.”
The gift is unrestricted, so it can be used at the discretion of the dean to support a variety of programs that are part of the school’s core mission, which Smith believes is to “provide a superb legal education and prepare students to be leaders in the profession, for our country and in their communities.”
That core mission has been advanced in new and creative ways through the Law School’s growing Law, Business and Entrepreneurship LLM Program, which Smith said he finds particularly exciting. Smith cited the work of his fellow donor and Duke Law graduate Brown ⎯ who has taught for three years at the Law School and has been instrumental in expanding the school’s focus on entrepreneurship, including the new Law and Entrepreneurship LLM Program ⎯ as especially creative and important.
“Scientific innovation and entrepreneurship are critically important for our country's future, particularly at this challenging time in its economic and geopolitical history,” Smith said. “Having faculty members, bright students, and others on campus who are interested in promoting and achieving technological advances is important and exciting for Duke, North Carolina and our country. Bill Brown is a marvelous resource for the Law School and the broader Duke campus. His classes are exciting, and his students are enthusiastic about what they can learn from him.”
Fusing teaching, entrepreneurship
A professor of the practice of law, Brown joined the faculty in 2008 after a long career on Wall Street, most recently as global co-head of listed derivatives at Morgan Stanley. He launched 8 Rivers Capital and Palmer Labs along with Palmer, an innovator and aerospace engineer, and undergraduate classmate of Brown’s at MIT. The private-equity firm works to commercialize Palmer Labs’ technologies (primarily in clean energy, transportation, and telecommunications) and those of others, including those of several students at and recent graduates of Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Palmer holds four patents and has published more than 40 publications in a broad range of fields, including biomedicine, aerospace, optics, communications, transportation, automotive technology, robotics, power, energy, fuels, and environmental chemistry.
For Brown, who teaches courses relating to business law and planning and corporate finance, there is little separation between his work at 8 Rivers and his teaching ⎯ in the classroom and beyond, he is helping a new generation of entrepreneurs learn to move innovative ideas from concept to reality. More than a dozen recent Duke alumni and students (including Robertson Scholars from Duke and UNC) have worked in his offices, helping to develop innovative technologies and, in some cases, pursuing their own entrepreneurial ideas.
Through his gift of stock in 8 Rivers, he is further fusing his entrepreneurial endeavors, his teaching, and his devotion to Duke University, Levi said.
“Duke Law has long been known for its unparalleled academic excellence,” Brown said. “Unlike most law schools, which tend to cloister themselves in the ivory tower of academia, Duke Law has built on that very solid foundation and now delivers palpable and significant leadership in delivering improvements to our political system, our economy, and our everyday lives. The university is truly fortunate to have Dean David Levi and his vision driving these initiatives.”
Duke’s alumni network is a source of inspiration and help, Brown added “No one typifies this better than Lanty Smith. When we first started in Durham, Lanty had faith in us and our ambitious ideas, and he helped guide and nurture us as we grew to where we are today. In a world where much venture capital has abandoned its roots and is looking for sure bets, Lanty is one of those truly unique individuals who have the ability to see the world that might be and to help guide people and technology to that world. He is a real visionary.”
“Over the last several years, Duke has embraced us, 8 Rivers, and our vision for the future,” Palmer said. “We are excited by the partnerships we have forged across the university and the ways in which we are able to engage students and faculty in law, business, public policy, engineering, and elsewhere.”
Law and Entrepreneurship at Duke
Brown teaches in Duke Law’s new Law and Entrepreneurship LLM Program, the first component of a larger Law, Business and Entrepreneurship Program that includes new courses for JD students and an entrepreneurship clinic, and could ultimately include a research center and other programs. He also has helped build partnerships among various Duke University initiatives in entrepreneurship, which involve the medical, engineering, environment, business, and public policy schools as well as various undergraduate programs. (Learn more about entrepreneurship at Duke.)
“Our law and entrepreneurship program is something of a startup in itself,” said Levi. “We are developing an exciting array of courses, activities, programs, and externships around the idea that entrepreneurial endeavors are the drivers of the new economy. The opportunities for creativity in scholarship, teaching, and partnerships with business and nonprofits are endless. Bill and Lanty are passionate about entrepreneurship. It is exciting and befitting of our program to tie our interests to those of these enterprising companies.”
About 8 Rivers Capital
8 Rivers Capital works to bring innovative technologies to market to solve critical problems in areas such as energy, transportation, health care, the employment market, parking, biofuels, and telecommunications. NET Power is one of those endeavors; entrepreneurs developed a clean-energy technology that relies on natural gas, coal, or biomass and reduces the cost of electricity ⎯ with zero atmospheric emissions. To learn more, visit 8 Rivers’ website at www.8riverscapital.com.