UC Davis Receives $2 Million for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Engineering

Prem Jain standing in front of a window

Prem Chand Jain Family Presidential Chair honors family legacy

The University of California, Davis has received a $1.5 million gift towards the Prem Chand Jain Family Presidential Chair for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the College of Engineering. This is the first ever gift to the university by alumnus and Silicon Valley entrepreneur Prem Chand Jain M.S. ’77 and his family. The UC Office of the President will also provide a $500,000 match to the family’s gift, creating a $2 million endowed chair in total.

“I want to give back by creating a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship that will help other engineering students into the future,” said Prem Jain, who attributes much of his success to the mentorship, education and opportunities he received while a student in UC Davis’ College of Engineering.

The Prem Jain family posing for camera
The Prem Chand Jain Family Chair Position is inspired by Prem and his wife Sandhya, his eldest son AJ and wife Mona, youngest son Mohit and wife Shephali, as well as all three of Prem’s grandchildren.

The Jain family gift was inspired after Prem Jain shared his story at the Graduate Studies Commencement in 2017. In his speech, he spoke of coming to the United States with just $7 in his pocket as an immigrant student from India. From there, his perseverance and dedication to entrepreneurial endeavors led him towards a rewarding career, including his renowned work with worldwide IT business giant, Cisco.

“We envision more graduate engineering students coming to UC Davis with an idea – much like our father did – and having the resources to implement it,” said Prem Jain’s eldest son and alumnus, AJ Jain ’03, who graduated from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and now manages the investment and philanthropic activities for the family. “This gift will provide students with the opportunity to realize their potential for success post-graduation, perhaps even leaving a legacy of their own.”

The chair holder will have experience working with venture capitalists and will help translate students’ fundamental discoveries into commercially viable, socially useful and beneficial products.

“Innovation and entrepreneurship training produces self-sufficient, enterprising engineers who become successful business and industry leaders,” explained Dean Jennifer Curtis of the College of Engineering.

The chair holder will also have a bold vision for fusing an entrepreneurial spirit with the ethos of UC Davis to transform the university into a hub of entrepreneurial activities. The position will be held by an individual selected on the basis of excellence in computer science and related areas.

“These kinds of major gifts allow UC Davis to fulfill its vision for impacting the future of innovation and entrepreneurship in our region and beyond,” said Chancellor Gary S. May, who is leading the way for Aggie Square, a tech-innovation hub for the Sacramento region and a potential partner for the new chair’s activities.

Prem Jain and his family saw the creation of the endowed chair as a timely opportunity with the recent founding of the College of Engineering Student Startup Center, a “think tank” for prototyping ideas and partnering across the university. In addition to Aggie Square, partnerships for the chair position may also include the Graduate School of Management’s Mike and Renee Child Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Office of Research’s Venture Catalyst and other entrepreneurship activities throughout the university and beyond.

The impact of higher education

Prem Jain and his family endowed the chair to honor the role of education in their lives. Four Jain family members pursued higher education in the University of California (UC) system. 

“We all value education and are grateful for the sacrifice our parents have made so we could pursue our dreams and have a better future,” shared daughter-in-law and UC Davis alumna Mona Jain ’03, who graduated from the College of Letters and Sciences.

Prem and Sahaya Jain posing for camera outdoors
Several mornings each week, Prem and his wife, Sandhya, hike to the peak of a mountain that resides behind their home, a testament to their adventuresome spirit and steady perseverance, and dedicated efforts to maintain balance.

Prem Jain started out as the only sibling of seven to pursue a college degree and break out of the family business. He first attended Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani, India in large part due to his mother’s encouragement. When he was later accepted to UC Davis for graduate school, the bicycle-friendly campus and small college town reminded him of his undergraduate years. His willingness to pursue adventure and new experiences, such as hitchhiking across Europe four summers in a row, gave him ample exposure to new cultures and helped him brave the move to the United States.

“We hope to pass on to our children the example that has been set for us by our father,” added son Mohit Jain, a UC Berkeley business graduate, real estate investor and philanthropist.

Prem Jain and three other collaborators have ventured together for about 30 years as MPLS, named after the initial of each partner’s first name. They have created innovative solutions for gaps they foresaw within the tech field, far ahead of their time, which Cisco allowed to “spin-in” and fuel the company’s success.

“Prem is fiercely loyal and giving to those around him and is also incredibly humble when it comes to his accomplishments,” said Mona Jain.

Prem Jain credits his wife Sandhya for much of his success and is grateful for her support him throughout his journey.  He also speaks about being true to his values, which are founded in the Jain tradition of India and include Ahimsa, honesty, humility and giving to others.   

“Part of the legacy of this gift will be demonstrating the importance of giving back and hopefully to inspire others to do the same,” he said.

Check out other inspirational ways donors are making a difference at UC Davis.