What’s New In Kellogg’s ‘Founder Focused’ Entrepreneurship Program

What’s New In Kellogg’s ‘Founder Focused’ Entrepreneurship Program

Tasha Kewalramani, MBA ‘23, at right, meets with Evangelina Suarez, head of retail at Google and a Kellogg alumni, in Buenos Aires as part of her Levy Inspiration Grant. Kewalramani studied food tech in Latin America. Courtesy photo


The Levy Inspiration Grant is funded by Kellogg alumni and longtime supporters Larry and Carol Levy who believed that you can’t really appreciate a problem you want to solve unless you go and see it for yourself.

As the world started opening up after COVID, the couple, who have sponsored Fulbright Fellowships in the past, approached the school about creating some kind of inspirational Fulbright for Kellogg entrepreneurs. The program has awarded about 30 grants so far, and Schonthal hopes to scale the program to 25 to 30 grants every year.

While plenty of other schools offer stipends for students to get out into the field for a particular project or course, the Levy grant is 100% customizable, open to whatever business case the applicant wants to explore, wherever they want to explore it. It’s not attached to a course, and the only deliverables are an artifact from the trip, photos and videos, and an interview that will be turned into a 5-6 minute podcast episode to be shared on the new Levy Inspiration Grant Program podcast series.” Alumni have already started asking if it will someday be open to them.

What’s New In Kellogg’s ‘Founder Focused’ Entrepreneurship Program

Customers use a “convenience store” ordering kiosk at a concert venue in Brazil. Courtesy photo

“I’m not aware of any other program that is willing to provide this kind of resource for students who are just looking to get inspired,” Schonthal says.

For her Levy grant, Tasha Kewalramani, MBA ‘23, studied restaurant tech in Chile, Argentia, and Brazil. She talked with restaurant operators, studied dining habits of customers, and met with Kellogg alumni in the space.

A highlight was meeting Justo Ferraro, founder of Fudo, who is launching a cloud-based native app for waiters to take orders. “When asked about the lag that exists in adopting restaurant tech in South America, he told me that the maturity of restaurants in LATAM markets is just not there. Fifty to 60 percent are still operating with pen and paper, and most are individual operators, unlike the U.S. where restaurant groups do exist, enabling faster tech adoption,” says Kewalramani, who worked in strategy consulting prior to her MBA.

While part of her decision to pursue an MBA at Kellogg was to explore her future career options, she does imagine herself starting something of her own one day. At Kellogg, she’s gotten to do a deep dive in food tech through working at an early-stage consumer VC, a summer internship at Toast, and her Levy Grant.

“I cannot commend the format of the Levy Grant enough. Often classes that have international immersion, while wonderful opportunities, lack the true freedom to be able to form and test hypotheses of your own, outside of the syllabus of the class,” says Kewalramani, co-president of Kellogg’s Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Club.

“Doing this exercise individually allowed me to really immerse myself in this problem and white space that I saw in the market, articulate and formulate the hypotheses that I wanted to test, and go out there and test it. There is a weird sense of empowerment associated with the lack of strict rules and the flexibility the grant gave. I thought this was truly unique. I felt motivated by the fact that I could make my own agenda and itinerary, and really put myself out there.”

Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management

The Global Hub at Kellogg School of Management. Courtesy photo


Nestled on the first floor of the Kellogg Global Hub, which opened in 2017, the Galvin Family Design Wing offers space for entrepreneurs to work on their startups. Over the last year, they’ve been prototyping a process by which startups can take up residency in the building. They offer studios to students and other entrepreneurs who need more of a home base, somewhere they can leave their work and come back to it.

“There’s other types of co-working environments inside of Kellogg, but nowhere where you can really make a mess and leave it messy, because sometimes the process is messy. You want a place to leave your prototypes and leave your artifacts and bring people through for tours,” Schonthal says.

The obligation for student entrepreneurs, then, is to open up their studio every couple of weeks to the Kellogg community. The hope is that it sparks conversation, inspiration, and the spontaneous kind of back-and-forth that comes when seeing artifacts, prototypes, or even sticky notes on a workspace wall.

“It’s also just cool to show people works in progress. Like we started with this prototype, and it evolved to this prototype, and here’s this insight that was really meaningful in changing our trajectory. Showing is so much more powerful than telling,” Schonthal says.

What’s New In Kellogg’s ‘Founder Focused’ Entrepreneurship Program

Garrett Nastarin snorkeled with Prof. Andrew Baird, a coral reef researcher at James Cook University, on Magnetic Island. Courtesy photo


When Nastarin was considering an MBA, then a consultant at Bain & Company, Kellogg’s biggest selling point was its culture.

“When (a friend) told me about Kellogg Worldwide Exploration Student Trips (KWEST), I was floored. You get to travel across the world to some cool place with 20 classmates and you can’t share where you’re from, where you went to school, where you worked, where you lived, even if you’re a student or not? Unreal,” he says.

“The fact that it’s basically the first thing you do when you get here says a lot about Kellogg culture – the humility and sincere goal to get to know each other on a deeper level, unfazed by the stats and preconceptions.”

What’s New In Kellogg’s ‘Founder Focused’ Entrepreneurship Program

Microplastics found on nearby Australian beaches. Courtesy photos

The school’s entrepreneurial offerings were more of a happy accident. He didn’t really get excited about them until he learned more during DAK (Day At Kellogg) for admitted students. After graduation, he will return to Bain for a couple of years, but is now excited to explore his own entrepreneurship down the road, either through founding his own business or joining an early stage start-up.

“Something I love about Kellogg’s entrepreneurship program is that they really focus on teaching you relevant skills to use now, or later. So, no matter when I decide to take that step, I know I’ll feel more confident thanks to my experiences and the support network I’ve developed here,” he says.

Now, back to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and that ocean floor littered with dead coral.

His conversations with researchers and entrepreneurs turned eventually from how bad the problem actually is to what is to be done about it. What he learned surprised him again. He expected that high cost solutions and imperfect substitutions were preventing innovative companies from disrupting their higher polluting competitors. That wasn’t the case. Companies like Great Wrap (a 100% compostable stretch wrap material made from potato waste) and Planet Protector Packaging (an alternative to styrofoam) were just 5% and 20% more expensive than their competitors.

The bigger issue was just convincing business-to-business customers to care. “Change management. That was it. Lots of potential customers had just been using XYZ, a supplier of plastic wrap or Styrofoam for decades and didn’t feel like going through the trouble of switching,” he says.

His Levy immersion showed him creative ways of tackling specific issues – an endangered coral reef – as opposed to more far-reaching global problems – climate change. There is impact to be made at the margins.

It also forced him to take charge of his own itinerary. He had to research his “problem,” figure out the most relevant places to visit, find the right experts and entrepreneurs, and persuade them to give up their valuable time to meet with him.

“That in of itself was part of the learning experience, and not too far from what an entrepreneur would have to do in real life.”

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