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Don Cook plays a key role in Broward College’s evolution

Photography by Downtown Photo

Don Cook is bringing a healthy dose of private-sector experience to Broward College’s focus on entrepreneurship and technology. 

Cook was the chief marketing officer of Learn.com, a Sunrise education company that was acquired by Taleo Corp. (Nasdaq: TLEO) for $125 million. He is also a co-founder of iCare, an electronic health records company founded in 2011 by Learn.com founder Jim Riley.

In his new role at Broward College, Cook is executive director of marketing and strategic initiatives. He oversees marketing for one of the nation’s largest colleges, with more than 60,000 students, and also manages BC’s business accelerator and The Venture Formula, a 14-week ramp-up program for startups.

Cook grew up in southeast Philadelphia and was a speedy running back on his high school football team—his 40-yard dash time was 4.4 seconds—before attending Westchester University where he studied business management. He decided he wanted to live in Fort Lauderdale after a family friend offered him a summer job at a hotel on Fort Lauderdale’s beach.

“I went to The Elbo Room my first night there,” he says. “I said, ‘I’m going to move to Fort Lauderdale when I graduate.’ ”

He later worked for attorney and lobbyist James Blosser. “He taught me everything there is to know about politicians, networking, marketing and doing things the right way,” Cook says. Cook became involved in campaigns for Charlie Crist, Tom Gallagher, Jeb Bush and George W. Bush.

He also worked with Fort Lauderdale Air & Sea Show promoter Mickey Markoff for two years and then met Learn.com’s founder, Jim Riley, through a friend. Cook was one of the first employees at the company, which started in 1999. Learn.com offered e-learning courses and a web-based learning system for customers, including businesses.

What Cook learned will be helpful for running BC’s accelerator, such as how to grow a business on a shoestring budget, the viability of products, product marketing and communications. Learn.com was one of the early developers of SaaS—software as a service, or internet-based applications.

“That was the startup life,” Cook says. “I was lucky enough to have mentors that let me fail and figure it out myself.”

After Learn.com was acquired by Taleo in 2010, Cook stayed on as vice president of marketing and traveled back and forth to California. The company wanted him to move permanently.

Cook and Riley talked about what they were going to do next. Without a plan, Riley took half a floor in the Bank of America building on Las Olas Boulevard and talked with industry analysts and bankers about ideas.

“All roads led back to health care for us,” Cook says. Health care was the least tech-savvy industry, but government funding and revenue was going up.

Hospitals were spending immense amounts of money—up to $1 billion in long-term contracts—to install electronic health records in traditional data centers. iCare took the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Vista system and put it in the cloud. It is the first cloud-based electronic health care record system to get federal certification for inpatient use throughout a hospital.

Within four months of taking the system live in January 2015, iCloud had signed up 20 hospitals. The company now has 50 developers and offices in San Francisco, Sunrise and Fort Lauderdale.

Cook had a couple of reasons for moving on. One is his personal priorities have changed. He was married two years ago and now has a one-year-old daughter. The other: “I’ve done private sector and now it’s time to give back,” Cook says. “It’s a great thing I can help out so many students here and the college as whole. It’s just an awesome environment.”

He wants to help the college become more entrepreneurial, such as taking an equity stake in companies that use the accelerator. There’s a shortage of venture capital in South Florida, but in Silicon Valley, that’s all they talk about, Cook says.

The accelerator wants to collaborate with Christopher Malter and Thomas Buchar, who were profiled by SFBW in June for launching The South Florida Accelerator. That accelerator recently added Neil Adams as managing director and chief financial officer. He is the former CEO of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, which helped fund Twitter, SpaceX and Tesla.

Broward College is also looking to be entrepreneurial in other ways. It has been seeking proposals for a mixed-use redevelopment of the downtown Fort Lauderdale campus on Las Olas Boulevard with Jonathan Schwartz, the college’s associate vice president of operations planning and real estate. The college’s campuses in general have a lot of potential for their real estate, Cook says.

Outsourcing is a possibility with the college bookstores and cafeterias. Broward College is looking at closed-circuit video screens for advertising and naming rights for buildings, Cook says.

Paralleling what hospitals do with iCare, the college has partnered with software firm Workday on an enterprise resource system that will handle such processes as human resources, enrollment and financial aid, Cook says. Broward College is the first to develop the portal with Workday, and the goal is to sell licenses to other colleges, Cook says.

Chief Technical Officer  Patti Barnie  has played a key role in putting general education class materials on the portal as well, which saved students $2 million in textbook fees last year, Cook says.

With all of the changes going on, Cook is working on rebranding the college, which he says, “is not your granddaddy’s BCC [Broward Community College, its former name]. It’s a full-fledged college with bachelor’s degrees. It’s your first choice if you want to stay local. We’re not the 13th grade anymore.”

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