'We need to grow more entrepreneurs': Carlsens give $6 million for innovation center

Sacramento State alumnus Dale Carlsen donates $6 million toward an innovation and entrepreneurship center at the university -- the biggest donation the school has ever received.
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Sacramento State alumnus Dale Carlsen donates $6 million toward an innovation and entrepreneurship center at the university -- the biggest donation the school has ever received.
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Education

Sacramento State gets its largest cash donation: $6 million from former Sleep Train owner

By Diana Lambert

dlambert@sacbee.com

November 13, 2017 05:38 PM

Sacramento State announced Monday that it has received the largest cash donation in its history – $6 million from former Sleep Train Mattress Centers owner Dale Carlsen – to pay for a center for innovation and entrepreneurship.

“Right now at Sacramento State and in our region, this is a transformative time,” Carlsen said after the announcement at a campus press conference. “This is the time to grow more entrepreneurs, grow more businesses, grow more jobs in our area, and this is the way to do it. We have to do it through innovation. We’ve got to do it through creativity.

“The old-school way doesn’t work anymore. Changing the mindset at the campus will change the mindset in the region.”

The idea for the center developed over the last two years during discussions between Carlsen and Sacramento State President Robert S. Nelsen.

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The Dale and Katy Carlsen Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship will take over the multimedia room in the library and have classes and curriculum provided by UC Berkeley. Few other details were available Monday.

Carlsen said the university is seeking an executive director who would build the program as he or she sees fit.

“Our vision is to provide the tools, resources and guidance to achieve it,” he said.

The university plans to spend $1 million to hire the executive director and pay for start-up costs. It will set up an endowment with the remaining $5 million. University officials plan to raise another $5 million to double the endowment, Nelsen said.

An array of local business leaders and academics will guide the center, including Barry Broome, president and CEO of the Greater Sacramento Economic Council; Mark Friedman, founder and president of Fulcrum Property; Dave Lucchetti, CEO of Pacific Coast Building Products; Kevin Nagle, chairman and CEO of Sac Soccer & Entertainment Holdings; and Michael Teel, president and CEO of Raley’s Inc. Carlsen will chair the committee.

“So many people have ideas for inventions, products and businesses, but they just don’t know how to do it,” said Chris Johnson, founder and CEO of Rapid Brands, Inc., and a member of the center’s committee. “... I think an opportunity like this, having this center would bridge this gap.”

Dale and Katy Carlsen have been longtime supporters of the university, including a $250,000 donation to its Guardian Scholars Program, which supports foster youth who attend Sacramento State.

Carlsen sold Sleep Train Inc. and its 312 stores in six states to Houston-based Mattress Firm Holding Co. in 2014 for $425 million. He is currently CEO of Bunker Wilson LLC, a real estate company, and of Ticket to Dream Foundation, a nonprofit that provides services for foster youth.

He credits Sacramento State with giving him the tools he needed to start his mattress company.

“Giving back to Sacramento State has always been something I believe in and Katy has supported 100 percent, because of what we have benefited from this community,” Carlsen said.

Editor’s note (Nov. 15): This post has been updated to clarify that the $6 million commitment from Dale Carlsen is the largest donation in cash the university has received.

Diana Lambert: 916-321-1090, @dianalambert