Alumni Couple Pledge $100,000 to the Lavin Entrepreneurship Center to Support Aspiring Student Entrepreneurs

Gift Will Establish The Ilgaz - Pala Family Aztec Cooperative Fund Endowment, and the Dr. Ken Marino Entrepreneurship Excellence Award 

Pay it forward - what does that mean?

To San Diego State University alumni, Zeynep Ilgaz (’00, MBA) and Serhat Pala (’99, MBA), it means staying connected to their community and honoring the generosity once afforded them. In keeping with these values, the alumni couple has pledged to donate $100,000 to SDSU’s Lavin Entrepreneurship Center within the Fowler College of Business. The funds will provide new opportunities and resources for aspiring student entrepreneurs by creating paid internships to support teams working in SDSU’s ZIP Launchpad.  

Married in 1997, Ilgaz and Pala immigrated to the United States from Turkey in 1998 to enroll in Fowler’s MBA program. In November 2000, Turkey was devastated by a severe economic crisis, leaving both sets of their parents unable to afford the cost of tuition, threatening the couple’s ability to continue their education.

Zeynep Serhat Family Photo

From Ilgaz-Pala family from left: Zeynep, Kenan, Arden and Serhat

As Ilgaz and Pala searched for assistance, they turned to then-director of Fowler’s graduate business program and management professor, the late Ken Marino, for counsel and guidance. Marino generously helped gather resources to grant them emergency scholarships to cover their tuition. Additionally, due to the restrictive nature of student visas, the couple was unable to hold paid positions outside the SDSU campus. Marino helped the couple find various on-campus positions, including an opportunity for Ilgaz to serve as a student employee at the Lavin Entrepreneurship Center.

Marino’s act of kindness enabled Ilgaz and Pala to complete their graduate studies and establish their professional careers. In 2008, they co-founded Confirm Biosciences, which offers health and wellness diagnostic kits, including drug, HIV and genetic tests, along with laboratory services. The company is located in the Scripps Ranch area of San Diego and currently employs more than 60 people. 

In December 2020, Ilgaz and Pala sold Confirm Biosciences to Clinical Reference Laboratory, one of the largest privately held laboratories in the United States. Pala described the transaction as “the perfect exit that every entrepreneur seeks.”

The success and sale of Confirm Biosciences allowed the couple to establish The Ilgaz - Pala Family Aztec Cooperative Fund Endowment, and to provide the  $100,000 gift to the Lavin Entrepreneurship Center. The Ilgaz – Pala gift will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the Fowler Match, an endowment created by local philanthropists Ron and Alexis Fowler.

In addition, a portion of the gift will fund the Ken Marino Entrepreneurship Excellence Award, which will be granted to a minimum of one student intern on an annual basis. The award will also provide the student(s) exclusive access to Ilgaz and Pala as mentors and supporters in their academic and entrepreneurial endeavors.

The couple’s generosity extends to the next generation, as Ilgaz and Pala have instilled their strong commitment to community values in their children, Kenan and Arden. Kenan, currently a high school student, now heads his own social impact organization, Kids4Community, which works with local charities to encourage children ages five and up to get involved in community service. Like his parents, Kenan’s organization continues to “pay it forward” as the Kids4Community mission statement reads: “If you have small children, you shouldn’t have to find a babysitter when you want to do something to give back to your community. You should be able to bring them along and do it together.”