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Lyon College receives $1 million to establish free enterprise institute

Lyon College Board Chairman Perry L. Wilson, on behalf of the Wilson family, has made a gift commitment of $1 million to Lyon College to create the endowed Michael E. Wilson Professorship of Business, Management and Social Entrepreneurship. 

The gift will serve as the foundation for the College’s Institute for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship, which will be named at a later date upon receiving additional funding. Eventually, the institute would have a full time program director and would ultimately establish a comprehensive business incubator to combine academics with applied entrepreneurship, as well as a center for economic analysis and data for Northeastern Arkansas.

“This is a way to accentuate and bolster the rigorous liberal arts education from Lyon with what students will experience in the real world,” Wilson said.

Starting this year, the business division will reorganize to emphasize business and entrepreneurship to support the institute, which will focus on programming in the areas of economic development, entrepreneurship, and free enterprise. 

“Our business faculty have been planning the changes to the curriculum for some time, and the Wilson family’s gift will support the implementation of the business division’s new focus on entrepreneurship,” said Provost Melissa Taverner.

As a result, the College will start to provide additional business faculty positions, achievement of the Six Sigma Certification, and additional minors in entrepreneurship and leadership; social entrepreneurship and economic development, and health economics.

Vice President of Advancement David Hutchison expressed gratitude for Wilson’s “generous commitment to Lyon College [and] his firm vote of confidence in the role that Lyon College can play in economic vitality in the state.”

He added that the institute will make “Lyon College home to a unique incubator for the next generation of leaders who will drive growth and sustainability for our region.”

Wilson, formerly the chairman of the Economics Arkansas board of directors, said inspiration for the institute stemmed from his love for liberal arts education, entrepreneurship, and free enterprise.

“If we don’t have an educated population in the state of Arkansas, the state will fail,” Wilson said. “[With this institute] if we give students a basis upon which to go out and create something new, and they stay in Arkansas, that can only serve to better economic development for the state.”

Wilson explained that the institute’s concept is modeled after other institutes such as Babson College in Wellesley, Mass. While the concept is not new, the institute at Lyon will be distinct because no colleges in the state specifically offer it.

Wilson added, “We’re being innovative by being as small as we are and trying to establish an institute of free enterprise.”

With this gift, Wilson continues a family tradition of “undying devotion to education, entrepreneurship, and economic development” that now spans several generations. 

“Those things have been strong in my family for four or five generations,” Wilson said. “My dad, my grandfather before him, and certainly my great-great-grandfather were all about economic development for the state of Arkansas.”

Wilson remembers as a child seeing his father attend many economic development meetings while also running the family business Lee Wilson & Co., originally founded in 1886 by Wilson’s great-great-grandfather. The endowed professorship will be named after Wilson’s father, Michael Evans Wilson, who served on Lyon College’s Board of Trustees for many years.

“I’m so happy my family is in a position to do something like this for the state of Arkansas. We wouldn’t be here without my great-great-grandfather...He was a visionary in seeing that he needed to do something with what he had, to support education and economic development in the state.”