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 a packed 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.

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“The Center will be built around our students. The students will be the ones in there helping businesses, the ones doing research, and the ones guiding the future of this region and where we’re going,” said Sacramento State President Robert S. Nelsen during the announcement. “This Center is deliberately interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and it represents everyone from the arts to chemistry to engineering to business to social sciences. Everyone is going to be a part of what we are trying to do.”

The Carlsen Center will be established in a 10,000-square-foot space in the University Library and will include entrepreneurship education, services and programs for students and the community. It is meant to forge alliances between the campus community, and public and private organizations at the forefront of developing innovative leaders.

Dale and Katy Carlsen with NelsensJody Nelsen and President Robert S. Nelsen flank Dale and Katy Carlsen on the morning of the gift announcement. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone) More photos

“Giving back is something we firmly believe in,” Dale Carlsen told gathered media, community and business leaders, and Sac State faculty, staff and students. “One of the concepts that we really want to grow and teach in entrepreneurship is the power of giving back. The more you give, the more you get, it is so true. We have seen it in action, and we hope to build that here as well.”

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.

“I would like to encourage all the students at Sac State to consider social entrepreneurship as part of this as well,” Katy Carlsen said. “As the Center grows and as ideas grow – and that this is Global Entrepreneurship Week – keep thinking along those lines. I am so grateful to be a part of this and think this is going to be an amazing opportunity for this community.”

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. 

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.

“My experience at Sac State changed my life," Carlsen said. "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.”

To help support the Dale and Katy Carlsen Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Sacramento State, visit the University Development site online– Anita Fitzhugh

Carlsen Center Advisory Committee membership

Enjoy our photo gallery from Global Entrepreneurship Week