Expanding Entrepreneurship: Major Zell Family Gift Expands Opportunities at Ross

Shannon Beeman
October 16, 2015

More opportunities for student — and alumni — entrepreneurs at Ross are in the works thanks to a new gift from the Zell Family Foundation.

The Samuel Zell and Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies has received a pledge of $60 million from the foundation. The funds will provide endowed support to the institute for continued delivery and development of entrepreneurship programs for students and alumni. This includes $10 million dedicated to a new fund that will invest in new student business ventures.

“Our goal is to accelerate the learning curve and the opportunities for budding entrepreneurs, as well as to build a powerful alumni network,” says Sam Zell, a University of Michigan alumnus (AB ’63, JD ’66, HLLD ’05) and chairman of Equity Group Investments. “Entrepreneurs have always been a primary driver of growth for this country. I believe that fostering entrepreneurial education is an investment in the future.”

To further stimulate the entrepreneurial education and network at U-M, the Zell Family Foundation also created ZEAL (the Zell Entrepreneurship And Law Program) at the Law School in 2011. The program includes a clinic to offer free legal advice to Michigan’s burgeoning community of student entrepreneurs, and to train law students to serve entrepreneurial ventures.

“The Zell Lurie Institute is the fuel in the university’s growing entrepreneurial engine,” says Stewart Thornhill, executive director of the institute. “Sam and his family foundation’s generous support will ensure that we will not slow down any time soon, and that we will continue to push the boundaries of entrepreneurial education. Sam invests a significant amount of time in providing vision and direction for the institute, and we benefit tremendously from his practical experience and macro perspective.”

Sam and Helen Zell, AB ’64/HLLD ’13, both have been strong supporters of their alma mater. Under their leadership, the Zell Family Foundation has provided financial support to U-M of more than $150 million. The Zell Family Foundation and The Ann and Robert H. Lurie Family Foundation originally established the Zell Lurie Institute with a $10 million gift.

Ross is a pioneer in entrepreneurial education, introducing the nation’s first course on entrepreneurship in 1927, and the first student-led venture fund, The Wolverine Venture Fund, in 1997. Two years later, the Zell Lurie Institute was established as one of the country’s first full programs dedicated to entrepreneurial education. Since then, the Zell Lurie Institute has:

Awarded nearly $4.4 million in funding and engaged more than 5,500 students through its robust portfolio of programs including: Dare to Dream Grants; the Michigan Business Challenge business plan competition; Marcel Gani Internships; scholarship awards; and three student-led venture funds, including funds focused on early stage businesses and ventures with a social-impact mission.

Supported the creation and growth of hundreds of start-up businesses; including more than 100 companies in the 2014-2015 academic year alone.

The Zell Lurie Institute is consistently ranked among the top graduate programs in entrepreneurship education by The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur Magazine, and has remained in the top three national programs for three consecutive years.

“This gift generates tremendous opportunities for our students and is significant news in the world of entrepreneurial studies,” says Ross Dean Alison Davis-Blake. “The generosity of the Zell Family Foundation and its commitment to support hands-on learning opportunities will help create an exciting new fund for student business ventures and provide ongoing support for the impressive programs of the Zell Lurie Institute.”

Published in the Fall 2015 edition of Dividend Magazine. Read more here.