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Ross Lands $60M Gift For Entrepreneurship

Stewart Thornhill of Michigan's Ross School of Business

Stewart Thornhill of Michigan’s Ross School of Business


Although Thornhill expects MBAs to be in the best position to take advantage of this funding, undergraduate entrepreneurs will also be encouraged to apply for funding. In fact, Thornhill sees MBAs as being mentors to the undergrads (as well as a resource for him). “It’ll be like a startup in a lot of ways,” he observes. “We’re going to be learning as we go, trying new things – and I think the MBAs will be a real asset in that.”

Even more, Thornhill anticipates that this gift will provide the Institute – and Ross in general – with “critical mass” in the Midwest region. “This is going to put us head-and-shoulders above a lot of the other schools,” he predicts. And it will so by producing what he calls a “virtuous cycle.”

“If you think about the three things you really need, all three [involve] people. You need great students who want to come here who are aspiring entrepreneurs [and] trying to pick a school where they’re going to be able to realize that ambition. Having a center like Zell Lurie that’s recognized, well-funded, and well-supported, I hope, will incline those students to say, ‘Hey, this is where I want to pursue my entrepreneurial dreams.’…Great students enable us to attract great faculty. And heavy resources help us to attract great faculty, which is part of that virtuous cycle of drawing great students.”

As a result, Thornhill adds, “we can [use] resources to…bring in entrepreneurs-in-residence, so the students who are part of our program have more one-on-one face time with experienced entrepreneurs and mentors. They’re able to have an incubator to go to while they’re in school and then transfer to the accelerator and take it to the next level. So having a completely integrated ecosystem for students to go to – with great students, faculty, and mentors supporting it – all of that is really where all that critical mass becomes really a virtuous cycle that helps you keep growing.”


In fact, Thornhill’s ambitions are reminiscent of another entrepreneurial hotbed: The Bay Area. “In a way, really, it’s what they’ve had on the west coast for years. The entrepreneurs, funders, schools  are there so they keep attracting each other and growing, This gives us a chance to create a similar kind of dynamic, but in a different geography.”

And the Institute isn’t just limiting itself to startups. “Right now, the next real step – and this is where we’re positioning ourselves – is much more than [business plans and starting companies]. It’s the full spectrum of social ventures, not-for-profits, for-profits, corporate entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship in the public sector, and learning how to invest in ventures as students, so when student entrepreneurs go out, they’ve already spent time on the other side of the table and they know what investors are looking for. We’re looking for that full spectrum educational experience rather than the more narrow focus.”


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