Carlsens Give Sacramento State Innovation A $6 Million Boost

Source: Sacramento State News
Photo: Sacramento State, Jessica Vernone

A $6 million gift from Dale and Katy Carlsen is expected to be a significant cornerstone for Sacramento State as it builds on its role as a driving economic force in the region.

The gift from Carlsen, ’84 (Business Administration), founder of Sleep Train Mattress Centers, and his wife comes in support of a new interdisciplinary center to foster and encourage in students the kind of thinking and action that made Sleep Train such a significant retail powerhouse.

The facility will be named the Dale and Katy Carlsen Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Sacramento State.

The Carlsens’ gift was made public during an announcement and news conference on Monday, Nov. 13, as Sac State kicked off Global Entrepreneurship Week activities, which run Nov. 13-17. The donation and naming designation were approved by California State University trustees on Nov. 7.

“Dale and Katy Carlsen carry Sac State in their hearts, and Sac State carries them in our hearts,” says Sacramento State President Robert S. Nelsen. “Sacramento will be transformed because of this gift and because of what will happen in the Center.”

The Carlsen Center is meant to have influence that will span all disciplines within the University to forge alliances with students, faculty, and public and private organizations at the forefront of developing innovative leaders. A goal will be for it to be positioned as a one-of-a-kind, signature resource for the region and beyond, providing access to entrepreneurship education, programs and services.

The Carlsens established deep roots in the Sacramento region with the melding of their successful business and philanthropic endeavors. In 1985, just one year after he graduated from Sac State, Dale Carlsen founded Sleep Train Mattress Centers, a company that grew to become the largest mattress retailer on the West Coast.

“My experience at Sac State changed my life,” Carlsen says. “Katy and I feel very blessed we were able to take that experience and grow a great business, with the help of our employees and give back to the University and the community around us.

“It’s very exciting to play a small part in helping students, throughout the University and region, maximize their entrepreneurial spirit and bring to life their dreams and aspirations. With everyone’s help, the next Google, Uber or Facebook could be brought to life right here at Sac State, along with many other great new businesses.”

Sacramento State and the College of Business Administration have long supported entrepreneurship as an academic concentration, offering classes, lectures and competitions for students, as well as resources through the Center for Entrepreneurship.

The new Dale and Katy Carlsen Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship will further those efforts as well as the University’s mission to create a talent pipeline that serves a growing and diverse region.

The first $1 million of the Carlsens’ gift will go toward startup costs and hiring an executive director. The remaining $5 million will be placed in an endowment to support ongoing operations. The University has pledged to fundraise another $5 million by 2020 though its Comprehensive Campaign, which would boost the endowment’s total funding to $10 million.

In addition, Carlsen will help establish and chair an advisory committee that will work to provide a strong foundation and guide the center’s future growth.

“We have everybody wanting to grow innovation in our region. So when we can put all those forces together with the brainpower of the students, the support of government and the communities around us, it’s amazing what we’ll be able to do,” says Carlsen. “Hopefully, others will follow this lead, come on board, help to support it financially, with (their) time, efforts – with everything.”

Carlsen has continued to seek new opportunities to have an impact on the world around him. In 2014, he sold Sleep Train to Houston-based Mattress Firm, and in March 2017 Sleep Train was renamed after its new parent company. Carlsen now serves as CEO of the Rocklin-based Ticket to Dream Foundation, a national 501c(3) nonprofit focusing on foster youth.

His professional achievements earned him the distinction of being the Sacramentan of the Year, Ernst and Young’s Northern California Entrepreneur of the Year, College of Business Administration Alumnus of the Year, recipient of the Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumnus award, and recipient of an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Sacramento State in 2013.

Katy Carlsen, a Bay Area native and physician, is similarly engaged. She is a medical consultant for California Children’s Services in Placer County, as well as a volunteer assistant clinical professor in the UC Davis Department of Pediatrics. She also co-chairs the Foster Care subcommittee for the Northern California chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She served as president of the Ticket to Dream Foundation board from 2008 to 2015 and is a recipient of the Sacramento Children’s Museum Inspire Award, which honors significant contributors to the community.

The Carlsens are longtime champions of the University and its students. They are generous supporters of the Guardian Scholars Program, which provides financial, academic and programmatic support for youth who have been emancipated from the foster care system and are pursuing a college degree.

The announcement of the Dale and Katy Carlsen Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship was planned as a fitting kickoff for Sacramento State’s Global Entrepreneurship Week, which is meant to connect students to inspirational speakers and alumni. A full schedule of events includes sessions on taking risks, starting a business, creativity in the arts, and a popular “Shark Tank”-style pitch competition.

Photo Caption: Jody Nelsen and President Robert S. Nelsen flank Dale and Katy Carlsen on the morning of the gift announcement.$6-million-boost