Medallion of Entrepreneurship: Dennis Barsema
Executive in Residence, Northern Illinois University
Nominated by: Northern Illinois University
Demonstrating significant entrepreneurial spirit, initiative and humanitarian leadership, the first of our Medallion winners for 2015 is Dennis Barsema.
He is a leader in the for-profit corporate world with an impressive list of accomplishments in the private sector, and he has subsequently applied his considerable entrepreneurial abilities and personal resources to the budding area of social entrepreneurship.
Today, Barsema is the Executive in Residence at Northern Illinois University, also his alma mater. In 2011, he co-founded Impact Engine, LLC, an innovation accelerator that supports for-profit businesses looking to address today's societal and environmental challenges. The first of its kind in Chicago, the venture was featured in Forbes Magazine in February 2013.
But every successful businessman has to start somewhere, and for Barsema, that was selling on doorsteps. After graduating from NIU in 1978, Barsema sold calculators door to door. He then progressed in his career as a salesperson with entrepreneurial, high-tech firms including AT&T, Paradyne, Softswitch, and Centigram. At each step in his career path, Barsema had increasing levels of responsibility, and also had opportunities to directly impact high-tech innovation.
His entrepreneurial spirit, creative mind, and ability to spot opportunities helped drive technology innovation for firms. In 1997, he took on a role as President and CEO of Redback Networks, an entrepreneurial start-up telecommunications equipment company, based in San Jose, California.
Barsema later applied his skills for the benefit of other high-tech companies, including Blue Lane Technologies and Onetta. In board and leadership roles with these firms, he solidified his place and legacy as a ground-breaking entrepreneur and corporate leader in the Silicon Valley high-tech landscape.
And just as his entrepreneurial endeavors are deep and varied, so are his philanthropic ones. Barsema specifically focuses on promoting education, especially in donating much of his time, talent and financial resources to his own alma mater. Barsema is a true entrepreneur, demonstrating himself first as a for-profit high-tech leader, next as a social entrepreneur and philanthropist, and finally as a teacher, where his ideas and passion for ethical leadership and social entrepreneurship are shared with tomorrow's leaders.