Entrepreneur and Philanthropist Grant Verstandig Tells Seton Hill Class of 2023 to Keep Moving Forward
Entrepreneur and philanthropist Grant Verstandig shared with the Seton Hill University Class of 2023 that they have the unique opportunity to make real change in the world as the author of their own story - but they just need to take the first step.
“Embarking on a new chapter is intimidating - it’s riddled with your expectations, the expectations of friends, family and even complete strangers on what they think should be written on your page. It takes an enormous amount of courage, creativity and determination just to start to write, then it takes hard work and perseverance to continue your story – day in and day out writing just a little more every day no matter the ups and downs that life has to offer. And remember there can be no joy without pain and there cannot be growth – and I know we’re in Pittsburgh - without rain.”
Indeed, Verstandig – who received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree from Seton Hill during Commencement on May 6 – has faced his share of adversity.
After his 21st birthday, Verstandig – then a lacrosse player at Brown University – underwent his fifth knee operation. He has to date had a total of 18 operations on his right leg. He recognized at that time that patients were not at the center of the healthcare system as they should be, and he took that knowledge, quit school, and founded Rally Health, a consumer centric digital health company that was later acquired by UnitedHealth Group.
Since then, Verstandig has founded several more companies, including Epirus, an AI-enabled power management company focused on directed energy defense applications and Spycraft Entertainment, a production company focused on intelligence and military operations.
He is currently the co-founder and Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Red Cell Partners, an incubation firm building and investing in rapidly scalable technology-led companies that are bringing revolutionary advancements to market in national security and healthcare, as well as Co-Founder and Executive Chairman at Zephyr AI, DEFCON AI, and TARA Mind, all Red Cell portfolio companies.
Seton Hill President Mary C. Finger conferred the Honorary Degree to Grant Verstandig and, in a citation issued at the ceremony, recounted his many entrepreneurial efforts.
She said, “Grant Verstandig, your tenacity as an informed risk taker, your personal story of resilience and your preeminent philanthropy are inspiring. Your endeavors have brought honor to your life’s work, your family, this region, and our nation. You are a role model to the Seton Hill University students who share this recognition with you today; and along with them, I am proud to acknowledge your devotion to humanity and the passion you bring to your life’s calling, by conferring on you the degree, Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa."
Verstandig is the grandson of the late Ruth O’Block Grant, a Seton Hill alumna and the Immediate Past Chair of the Seton Hill Board of Trustees, who died last year. In 2018, as part of Seton Hill’s Centennial Celebration, Verstandig, through the Verstandig Family Foundation, made a seven-figure leadership commitment to Seton Hill to create The Ruth O’Block Grant Endowed Scholarship Program.
Verstandig said he was humbled and honored to be recognized by Seton Hill with the Honorary Doctorate.
“Being recognized by an institution that has produced so many exemplary leaders is profoundly moving and deeply humbling for me,” he said. “As you’ve heard, it’s also deeply personal. My grandmother Ruth, who just passed away a little over a year ago, was a 1954 graduate of Seton Hill. She went on to become an entrepreneur, a business leader, a community advocate, and at a time when many of her female peers did not even have the opportunity to go to college, she ran a steel company. Seton Hill gave my grandmother the same thing then that it presents to each of you today – a foundation to create your own path.”
Verstandig said the graduates will need help throughout their journey – and they must always keep moving.
“They best direction is always forward,” he said.
He acknowledged that the graduates will experience adversity and uncertainty throughout life, but they mt not give in to fear.
“You must listen to your heart, rely on your faith, and trust in the foundation this great university has given to you,” he said. “The greatest failures in life come when we are paralyzed by fear - fear of taking the next step, paralyzed by what ifs, paralyzed by what others might think. …. As uncomfortable as it may be in the moment, the most successful people that I’ve come across in life are the ones who holistically embrace the journey in all of its ups and downs.”
Verstandig said as he looks ahead, he sees a brighter future full of possibilities for the Class of 2023, and he firmly believes that entrepreneurship will be the key to transform the world.
“Today’s world is changing at an unprecedented pace, and we need leaders who will think creatively to innovate, to challenge, to push the status quo and solve some of the impossible problems that grip our future whether it’s climate change, our nations’ health crisis, inflation, the economy, a world marked by the great power competition with China. We need leaders like you now more than ever,” he said.
He told the graduates to give themselves permission to dream; to embrace failures and learn from them; to ignore the critics; and to surround themselves with people who share their beliefs.
“The Class of 2023 - I am incredibly honored to be bound with you for the rest of our lives,” he said. “Seton Hill has equipped you with the knowledge, the skills and the values to succeed. Now it’s up to you to go take those tools and make a difference. I know that each and every one of you has the potential to do incredible things, so please take that first step in faith. …. I look forward to seeing all you will contribute to this world.”