Ross Lands $60M Gift For Entrepreneurship

Inside the Ross School of Business

Inside the Ross School of Business

For aspiring entrepreneurs, Babson, Stanford, and Harvard are probably the first business schools that spring to mind. Thanks to a major donation, the University of Michigan – already regarded as an entrepreneurial powerhouse – is certain to join the conversation.


Today (July 13), the university’s Ross School of Business announced what is likely the largest single gift to a business school’s entrepreneurship center: $60 million to Michigan’s Samuel Zell and Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies. The gift was made by the Zell Family Foundation, which is operated by Michigan alums Sam Zell (AB ’63, JD ’66), a billionaire investor who chairs Equity Group Investments and his wife Helen Zell (AB ’64), long-known for her support of the university’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing Program.

“Our goal is to accelerate the learning curve and the opportunities for budding entrepreneurs, as well as to build a powerful alumni network,” Zell said in a statement.“Entrepreneurs have always been a primary driver of growth for this country. I believe that fostering entrepreneurial education is an investment in the future.”

Sam Zell

Sam Zell

Overall, the Zell Family Foundation has given $150 million to the university, including a $10 million endowed gift that enabled the school to launch the Zell Lurie Institute in 1999. The current gift, targeted towards supporting existing entrepreneurial programs and establishing new ones for students and alumni, includes a $10 million earmark for funding new student business ventures. “This gift generates tremendous opportunities for our students and is significant news in the world of entrepreneurial studies,” writes outgoing dean Alison Davis-Blake in the same release.


Among business schools, Ross has been ahead of the curve in entrepreneurship, establishing some of the first courses on startups and the first student-led venture fund. The Zell Lurie Institute itself was a first-of-its-kind program, integrating entrepreneurship-related curriculum, clubs, events, and employer and alumni outreach under one roof – years before Harvard’s Rock Center (2003) did the same. Since then, it has emerged as an entrepreneurial juggernaut, says Stewart Thornhill, the Institute’s executive director, in an interview with Poets&Quants. And this latest gift, he says, provides the Institute with peace of mind, as much as resources for growth.

“In the past 15-16 years, we’ve built a strong portfolio of internship programs, startups, grant programs for student entrepreneurs, [and] cross-campus business challenges. We have a company incubator. We have an accelerator that we run jointly with the engineering school. We have three student investment funds (which will soon become four). So all of these programs, as well as workshops, student clubs and activities, will now have the security that comes from an endowment that lets us be sure that we can keep these programs going and not having to worry [if] we have enough funding for them each year.”



At the same time, dollars will be poured into three new initiatives to be launched in the coming calendar year, The first focuses on undergraduate juniors who’ve committed to the business school. “[We’re] giving them a three day concentrated entrepreneurship event that we will run that [will] expose all of our undergraduate BBA students to thinking entrepreneurially, working on big problems, developing solutions and hopefully planting the seed of entrepreneurship in them at an early stage…and get them involved in some of our other programs,” Thornhill says.

Second, the Institute will roll out a program, initially focused on roughly a dozen undergrads identified as being, truly committed to having ready-to-launch businesses ready by graduation. “We’re going to scramble a lot of resources  – mentorship, marketing, legal, programming side – really bring a lot of help to bear to these young, nascent startup companies and entrepreneurs,” Thornhill states. “So when they walk out the door at graduation, they’re on the trajectory to be ready to go.”

Finally, as noted earlier, the Institute will set aside $10 million dollars to invest in student startups. “We can now say to potential students who are thinking about going to go to business school…[that] we’re going to have investable capital ready to go for our recent graduates – and I think that’s going to be a real game-changer.”

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