College Park, Md. – May 17, 2017 – Thanks to a generous commitment from Robert G. Hisaoka, a 1979 business graduate, students at the University of Maryland will soon have new ways to explore entrepreneurial pursuits and connect what they learn in the classroom with the real world of business and venture creation. Hisaoka’s three-year gift to the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business will expand the annual Pitch Dingman Competition and create the Robert G. Hisaoka Speaker Series to bring business leaders and startup founders to campus.
Early in his career, Hisaoka quickly transitioned from public accounting in the auto industry to co-owning and running some of the largest car dealerships in the country. His expertise in the industry gave him the opportunity to harness his entrepreneurial drive to turnaround underperforming dealerships around the country and grow them to some of the nation’s most successful. He received multiple industry awards and accolades, including the 2015 Mercedes “Best of the Best Jacket” as one of 53 Mercedes dealerships recognized for elite performance.
After selling some top-ranked dealerships in 2006, he focused on investing in startups and giving back through philanthropy. Hisaoka said he sees his current investments and business pursuits as means to continue to ramp up his philanthropy work. He credits much of this drive to his family values and his passion for the sport of judo, which he learned from his father and excelled at from an early age. “In judo, one of the guiding principles is mutual welfare and benefit for all,” says the former national and international champion and Olympic hopeful in the sport. Although a knee injury ended his training for the Olympics, he adds, “The principles and discipline of the sport, along with my upbringing, have influenced every area of my life.”
Hisaoka carries those principles to the initiatives he is driving at the University of Maryland to benefit all students, whether they connect more with hearing from successful business leaders and entrepreneurs or starting their own ventures and pitching their ideas for funding. “I think there is something very transformational in gaining these experiences at an early age and being able to draw upon them to make an impact in their careers as entrepreneurs and business people,” he says.
“Bob Hisaoka is an influential example of how successful business people can devote their expertise, connections and resources to better society,” says Elana Fine, executive director of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business. “This generous commitment will enhance our student experience, bolster the University of Maryland’s reputation as an entrepreneurial hub and strengthen our connection with the wider business community.”
Hisaoka’s gift includes his active support as host of the new speaker series and chair of the Pitch Dingman Competition. As chair, Hisaoka will look for UMD students with business solutions that are hard to duplicate, that fill a specific need in a viable market, and that have potential for growth and scale. With the planned speaker series, Hisaoka will tap into his vast personal and professional network to invite exciting speakers to campus to create additional opportunities to nurture Terp talent. The contributions expand on his previous support of entrepreneurship through the Dingman Center with the Hisaoka Fellowship Program, which offers stipends for first-year MBA students interning with startups.
Hisaoka, a Maryland native who grew up in Bethesda, previously served on the Smith School’s Board of Advisors and was named a UMD Distinguished Alumnus in 2013.
He serves on the boards of Carsquare, Sionic Mobile, Precise Target, Hungry Marketplace and IC Med. Hisaoka is a member of the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., a trustee of the Federal City Council, chairman of the Advisory Board of the Inova Schar Cancer Institute and a major donor to more than 20 charities focused on health care, education and Olympic sports. He has been named for the past six years to Washington Life Magazine’s Philanthropic 50. His most personal philanthropic endeavor is founding and chairing the Joan Hisaoka Gala in honor of his late sister who battled cancer. Over the past nine years since its founding, this prestigious annual Washington, D.C. event has raised $10.2 million for organizations that assist those living with cancer and their families. The Gala raised $1.6 million last year alone and netted 85 percent of donations back to the causes, highlighting the value of applying an entrepreneurial and business mindset to charitable endeavors.
Hisaoka hopes his commitment to entrepreneurship breeds a cycle of philanthropy at UMD, where those who go on to be successful in business also are interested in helping others.
About the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship
The Dingman Center is one of the nation’s pre-eminent institutions where the research, education and practice of entrepreneurship are pursued vigorously. The center, located at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, develops and executes curricular and co-curricular programs to support the startup community.