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Entrepreneurship at Ross Gets Major Boost with $60 Million Alumni Gift

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A generous new pledge from longstanding benefactors to the University of Michigan will supercharge entrepreneurship studies at the Ross School of Business, the school announced today. The $60 million gift, from the Zell Family Foundation, will provide endowed support for the Samuel Zell and Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies.

The institute was originally established in 1999 with a $10 million gift from the Zell Family Foundation and the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Family Foundation. This newest injection of cash will support continued development of entrepreneurship programs for students and alumni, including $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,” said Sam Zell, University of Michigan alumnus (AB ’63, JD ’66, HLLD ’05) and chairman of Equity Group Investments, 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.”

Entrepreneurship at Ross has long held a prominent place. The school introduced the nation’s first course on it in 1927 and established the first student-led venture fund, The Wolverine Venture Fund, in 1997.

The Zell Lurie Institute was one of the country’s first full programs dedicated to entrepreneurial education, and it has ranked consistently among the top graduate programs in entrepreneurship education by the Princeton Review and Entrepreneur Magazine, the school reports. Through its many programs—including Dare to Dream Grants, the Michigan Business Challenge business plan competition, the Marcel Gani Internships and three student-led venture funds—the institute has awarded nearly $4.4 million in funding and engaged more than 5,500 students. It has also 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 the fuel in the university’s growing entrepreneurial engine,” Stewart Thornhill, the institute’s executive director, said in a statement. “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,” he continued, noting that Zell lends his practical experience and macro perspective to the institute’s vision and direction.

Sam’s wife Helen, a 1964 graduate of the university’s Department of English Language and Literature, serves as executive director of the Zell Family Foundation, which has provided more than $150 million in financial support to the University of Michigan. In addition to the Zell Lurie Institute, funds from the foundation also created ZEAL (the Zell Entrepreneurship and Law Program) at the Law School in 2011, which provides free legal advice to student entrepreneurs and trains law students to serve entrepreneurial ventures. The foundation also supports the university’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing Program, now known as the Helen Zell Writers’ Program.

Ross Dean Alison Davis-Blake praised the Zell’s generosity. “This gift generates tremendous opportunities for our students and is significant news in the world of entrepreneurial studies,” she said in a statement.

Learn more about entrepreneurship at Ross and the Zell Lurie Institute.