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Remembering David BenDaniel

David BenDaniel, an influential Board Member of Student Agencies, Inc. during the 1980s and 1990s and an iconic entrepreneurship professor at Cornell University of over 30 years, passed away on November 22 at the age of 86 after a brief respiratory illness. BenDaniel had not yet retired from his job as a professor, reflecting his energetic passion for and dedication to entrepreneurship and the Cornell community. Through the years, he impacted thousands of Cornell students and Student Agencies members as a teacher, mentor, and role model.

After the previous senior advisor left in the mid-1980s, Student Agencies, Inc. needed to hire someone to guide the undergraduate students operating SAI’s businesses. David BenDaniel, as a Board Member of SAI, helped conceive the Student Agencies Johnson School Fellowship, which appointed a sequence of JGSM students for nearly fifteen years to mentor the President, Officers, and Managers of SAI while attending the Johnson Graduate School of Business. Sharon Dauk (MBA ‘89) served as the first JGSM Fellow, with BenDaniel as her advisor. Dauk’s main responsibilities included guiding the student managers, overseeing the rebuilding of 409 College Ave, and managing the Cornell Student Venture Fund, which BenDaniel helped to create to guide and provide funding for Cornell students with startup ideas. BenDaniel’s goal in forming the Venture Fund was not for Student Agencies to make a profit but to give innovative students valuable practical experience.

In the words of Sharon Dauk, “[BenDaniel] was all about entrepreneurship, through and through.”

Dauk describes BenDaniel as “provocative” and “intensely curious”, as he was always willing to push boundaries – in a good way – and not afraid to go against the status quo or the majority opinion.“I respected him a lot for that,” she reflected.

BenDaniel was far more than just a savvy entrepreneur, as Dauk learned from her first encounter with him. When she entered his office in Malott Hall, she was greeted by a white board covered in mathematical equations. Immediately, she wondered “how in the world can this mad scientist be a practical businessperson?” However, she quickly learned that he wore both hats exceedingly well.

David BenDaniel’s impressive list of accomplishments includes a Bachelor of Arts with honors and a master’s degree in physics from the University of Pennsylvania as well as a doctorate in engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Between schools, in the mid-1950s, BenDaniel served in the U.S. Navy as an officer in the Atlantic Fleet, making his achievements all the more admirable.

Barry Weintrob (‘60), a Trustee of the Student Agencies Foundation who served as Chairman while BenDaniel was a member of the Board, recalls BenDaniel’s devotion to fostering a positive, meaningful relationship between the Student Agencies Foundation and Cornell University.

Entrepreneurship at Cornell recognized the contributions of BenDaniel, who helped launch the E at C program initially, by granting him the first-ever Lifetime Achievement in Entrepreneurship Education Award this past April.

To honor David BenDaniel’s entrepreneurial spirit and his positive influence on Student Agencies spanning four decades, the Student Agencies Foundation is making a $5,000 donation to the BenDaniel Venture Challenge Prize Fund.

A memorial celebration will be held on Monday, February 5 from 3:00-5:00 p.m. in the Dyson Auditorium of Cornell’s Sage Hall. Those planning to attend the service can RSVP here. In lieu of flowers, BenDaniel’s family suggests memorial gifts be directed to the BenDaniel Venture Challenge Prize Fund.

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