Bruce Brandes and his daughter and son at a GatorFootball game
Bruce Brandes and two of his children at a Gator football game in The Swamp.

Business Gators come back, give back: Bruce Brandes

Every fall, the University of Florida welcomes back its alumni for Homecoming, a celebration of alma mater pride across all generations of Gators. While most alumni return for the single Homecoming weekend, some alumni travel back to campus throughout the year. Art Jacobs and Bruce Brandes are two of these alumni that make a point to come back to campus to engage with two Warrington programs that are important to them – the Veterans Entrepreneurship Program and the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center. Read about Brandes, below, and Jacobs’  journeys back to The Swamp and how they’re giving back to their alma mater.

Bruce Brandes (BSBA ’88) has helped build many companies over his 30-year career, but he’s never thought of himself as an entrepreneur. However, when he reflects on what he wanted to do with his life while a finance major at UF after a brokerage internship during the 1987 stock market crash, he notes that being in control of his own success was at the top of the list.   

“What I realized was that I didn’t want my professional destiny to be dependent on others – the success of other companies and other people,” he said. “I wanted to determine my own future by more directly helping deliver solutions to a customer’s problems.”

Bruce Brandes doing the Gator Chomp on top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge

Brandes representing UF in Sydney, Australia.

Thanks to a serendipitous connection, Brandes started his career at IBM.

“Before I graduated, I mailed my resume to at least 200 companies on the Fortune 500 list,” he said. “Without any connections, I got zero interviews. One night at a friend’s house, I was listing off all of the companies from which I was rejected, and my friend’s mom happened to hear me mention IBM. I ended up getting an interview at IBM because her husband knew the branch manager in my hometown, and I got the job.”

It was at IBM that Brandes would realize his passion for solving problems, specifically those that plague the healthcare technology industry.

“I’ve spent my whole career in technology because of my first job at IBM,” he said. “I remember learning about the business and operations of healthcare there and thinking that it was nonsensical. I realized I wanted to help fix that broken system and believed technology could help.”

Realizing he was more entrepreneurial than you could be at a global company at the time, Brandes refocused on growth stage software companies. Since then, he has helped build seven healthcare technology companies to scale and an eventual exit for investors. Even now, he’s working to do the same at AVIA, a network to help health systems advance their digital transformation, as its Executive in Residence.

“The energy that comes from conceiving and building something to make a meaningful difference in a health industry that is so personally important to all of us fuels my passion,” he said.

The importance of finding one’s passion has been a significant life lesson for Brandes, one he frequently passes on to students he meets at the University of Florida when he makes his annual return to campus.

“If you don’t believe in what you’re doing, then your work will always feel like a job,” he said.

Another significant lesson Brandes shares with students is one he learned just before graduation in one of his elective classes at UF. 

Bruce Brandes sits among the judges at the Big Idea Competition

Brandes, far right, second row, listens to presentations at the Big Idea Competition.

“The class I took in stress and anxiety management was probably one of the most practically applicable in my life to this day,” he said. “I learned how to better manage the inevitable challenges that come from life. Given current academic and social pressures, I think the lessons from this class are infinitely more necessary for today’s students than they were for me then.”

For Brandes, coming back to the University of Florida campus is an opportunity to do two things he loves – watch his beloved Gator football team with old friends and engage with the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Since 2011, Brandes has returned to campus to participate as a judge in the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Center’s Big Idea Competition and in a Heavener School of Business case competition, as well as serve as an advisor to companies in the Gator Hatchery, a guest lecturer in entrepreneurship and engineering courses and speaker in the Center’s Case Lecture Series

“When I first met with the entrepreneurship students, they passionately described the companies they had started,” he said. “I was so blown away with their thoughtfulness to solve for the problems they saw in the world and how effectively they were being trained to innovate.

“After seeing that, I told several of them that I hope to work for them someday!”