Austin McChord graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology in 2009, a major in bioinformatics who took a few extra years to pin down his last few credits. By his own admission, he wasn’t a solid student.
“I never did homework when I was at the university,” McChord said in an interview with CNN. “Frankly, I never did any homework in high school either. I was not exactly the most stellar student.” It took him six years, after all, to complete his four-year degree.
But McChord’s ability to succeed wasn’t constrained by his grades, or his educational motivation. This year, he sold Datto, his data security startup to investment firm Vista Equity Partners for $1.5 billion, rocketing him into the one-percent.
A few years ago, during his meteoric industry rise, Bill Destler, the president at the time of Rochester Institute approached McChord to open an office in Rochester. The reach out was part of a 2013 economic development initiative pushed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. He opened that office, and also decided that if he were ever to sell his company, he would donate 10% of the proceeds, up to $50 million, to his alma matter.
He never expected to reach that cap. Without it, the school’s share of the sale would be $225 million. But $50 million will fund new fellowships, a new facility, and an entrepreneurship programs at RIT. Some will also be set aside to attract talent in the fields of cybersecurity and A.I.
Eight years is a short time to go from squeaking by at a university to donating tens of millions of dollars, but McChord’s grasp far exceeds others’ expectations of him. He admits that one of the reasons he turned to startups was to prove wrong an RIT academic adviser who dismissed his ideas for companies as “terrible.”
It goes to show that with enough motivation and belief in one’s self, anything is possible.