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Market-Based Solutions to Vital Economic Issues


Kenan Institute 2023 Grand Challenge: Workforce Disrupted
Market-Based Solutions to Vital Economic Issues

Mission & History


The Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise develops and promotes innovative, market-based solutions to vital economic issues.

With the belief that private enterprise is the cornerstone of a prosperous and free society, the institute fosters the entrepreneurial spirit to stimulate economic prosperity and improve the lives of people in North Carolina, across the country and around the world.

Established in 1985 by Frank Hawkins Kenan, the institute offers a number of programs, conferences and seminars which bring together high-profile business leaders, academic researchers and policymakers.

The institute is supported through generous annual funding by the William R. Kenan Jr. Fund, public and private sector grants, corporate sponsorship, individual donations and event fees.


William R. Kenan Jr. Fund is Established

The William R. Kenan Jr. Fund is established to support a variety of initiatives, including the development of an institute of private enterprise, the brainchild of Frank Hawkins Kenan. 1983

Institute Commissioned

The University of North Carolina Board of Governors formally approves establishment of the institute within the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Commerce, which is today Kenan-Flagler Business School. The board names Prof. Rollie Tillman Jr., UNC vice chancellor for university relations and business marketing professor, as the institute’s founding director. The first Kenan Institute Board of Trustees meeting is held.1985

Institute Name Formalized; Kenan Center Dedicated

The institute is formally named the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, and the Kenan Center, on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, is dedicated as home to both the institute and the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust and Funds.1987

John D. Kasarda Named Director

John D. Kasarda, professor and chair of the department of sociology at UNC-Chapel Hill, is named institute director; Prof. Rollie Tillman becomes chairman of the board of trustees. In his 22-year tenure as institute director, Kasarda helps to attract more than $90 million in grants, contracts and gifts for 400 research and outreach projects.1990

Kenan-Flagler Business School

The School of Commerce of UNC-Chapel Hill’s College of the Arts is renamed the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School to honor two prominent benefactors of the school: philanthropist Mary Lily Kenan Flagler and her husband, Henry Morrison Flagler, a founder of Standard Oil and the Florida East Coast Railway.1991

U.S.-Thailand Development Partnership

The U.S.-Thailand Development Partnership in Bangkok is formed. The partnership, backed by a $10 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development, supports private enterprise development in Thailand and develops UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School programs in the region.1993

Urban Investment Strategies Center

The institute's Urban Investment Strategies Center opens with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, J. P. Morgan Bank, Chase Manhattan Bank and Citibank, to assess disruptive demographic and economic trends shaping urban and metropolitan areas and identify pathways to prosperity for disadvantaged communities.1996

Kenan Institute Asia

The Kenan Institute Asia is officially formed with an $11.65 million endowment from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Royal Thai Government and the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust.1996

Center for Entrepreneurial Studies

As part of UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s commitment to developing transformative entrepreneurial leaders, the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies is established.1997

Center for Sustainable Enterprise

The Center for Sustainable Enterprise is launched to focus on integrating sustainability into the business school curricula.1999

UNC Tax Center

The UNC Tax Center is established to build bridges between tax scholars, policymakers and practitioners, and to prepare the next generation of tax professors.2001

Carolina Entrepreneurial Initiative

The Carolina Entrepreneurial Initiative is established with a $3.5 million grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, paving the way for the establishment of UNC-Chapel Hill’s nationally recognized undergraduate entrepreneurship program.2004

Kenan Institute Leadership Fellows

The Kenan Institute Leadership Fellows program is founded, providing a select group of MBA students each year a unique opportunity to supplement their business school education with hands-on, real-world experience in leadership and in putting the private sector to work for the public good.2005

Leonard W. Wood Center for Real Estate Studies Established

The Leonard. W. Wood Center for Real Estate Studies is established to create a community of real estate practitioners engaged in lifelong learning and career development.2007

Family Enterprise Center

The Family Enterprise Center is launched to prepare the next generation of family business leaders to develop, grow, and maintain entrepreneurial, sustainable family enterprises.2009


With funding provided by the Federal Economic Development Administration, the Kenan Institute launches NCGrowth to help North Carolina businesses and communities create quality jobs and equitable opportunities for their people.2012

Joseph DeSimone

Joseph DeSimone, Chancellor’s Eminent Professor of Chemistry at UNC-Chapel Hill, and William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering at NC State and of Chemistry at UNC-Chapel Hill, is named director of the Kenan Institute.2012

Greg Brown

Gregory W. Brown, professor of finance and a Sarah Graham Kenan Distinguished Scholar at Kenan-Flagler Business School, is named executive director of the Kenan Institute.2015

Kenan Scholars

The Kenan Institute Leadership Fellows program expands to include undergraduate business students, and changes its name to the Kenan Scholars Program.2016

Director’s Council

The Kenan Institute Director’s Council is established to provide a forum for leading corporate executives, academic researchers and policymakers to work together on formulating actionable, research-based ideas that leverage private enterprise to improve the lives of people around the world.2017

Frontiers of Entrepreneurship Conference

The Frontiers of Entrepreneurship Conference, one of the institute’s premier events, is established.  The annual event convenes a prestigious group of researchers, policymakers and practitioners to discuss cutting-edge research, debate the most challenging issues and set the agenda for future research and policy in the field of entrepreneurship.2017

North Carolina Investment Forum

The inaugural event convenes a highly select group of state policymakers and private capital investors who back North Carolina-based companies to discuss how the public and private sector can work together to bolster the state’s economy.  Working groups are charged with developing actionable ideas, and convene regularly post-forum to report on their progress and discuss next steps.2017

Black Communities Conference

Together with the Institute for African American Research, the institute hosts Black Communities: A Conference for Collaboration to document, safeguard and enhance the life of black communities across North America.2018

American Growth Project

The American Growth Project launches as an effort to provide timely localized economic data needed to create new opportunities, support equitable growth and drive meaningful change for communities across the country.2022

Paige Ouimet

Research Director Paige Ouimet, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School finance professor and associate dean of the Ph.D. program, is named executive director of the institute.2023

Luther Hodges Scholars

The Luther Hodges Scholars program is launched, thanks to a transformational gift from Carolina alumnus Luther Hodges. Building on the success of the Kenan Scholars Program, it serves as a flagship undergraduate excellence program for UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School students committed to addressing the most pressing challenges facing business and society.2023

Kenan Institute Frank Kenan

"I believe that all the freedoms we enjoy are related to free enterprise. If you neglect that, we'll lose the others."

Frank Hawkins Kenan