Clear Admit recently spoke with Stewart Thornhill, executive director of the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at Michigan / Ross. Our conversation was both insightful and in-depth, digging into details of entrepreneurial offerings at Ross and also covering the general value of entrepreneurship. Whether you’re launching your own company or pursuing other roles post-MBA, read on to learn more about entrepreneurship and Michigan / Ross.
Clear Admit: Could you provide an overview of entrepreneurship offerings at Michigan / Ross?
Stewart Thornhill: There are probably two major components to any university’s offerings to students of Entrepreneurship; firstly, the curricular programs that students can take for credit as part of their degree requirement—everything from Introduction to Entrepreneurship, Business Plan Writing, Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition, Managing Entrepreneurial Growth, and Entrepreneurial Finance. There’s a whole suite of courses that are available. That’s on the curricular side.
I think where we have our greatest strength is on the co-curricular side, which is all the things students do not-for-credit, above and beyond what they get in their education. This includes programs like Open Road, our summer internships, the Dare to Dream grant program, and competitions including our Michigan Investment Challenge, the Michigan Business Competition. So, all the things that students can do to either help them learn about Entrepreneurship in a general sense, or they actually pursue their own ventures with the intent of launching a business—sometimes while they’re still in school, sometimes after they graduate.
Where Michigan more globally has done particularly well is where we integrate across the two domains of curricular and co-curricular. We bring action-based learning into our classes. When students are taking the for-credit material, they’re actually applying skills, and getting very involved. Our Student Investment Funds are probably the best example of that. We have five funds where students invest real money—real dollars—in entrepreneurial companies. They do the due diligence, they listen to investor pitches, they negotiate term sheets, they manage portfolio companies—all of the things that an angel investor or a venture capital investor does. It is action-based learning in the truest sense of the word. But it is also part of their curriculum; they are getting credit, and it counts toward their degree requirements. It is that blend of classroom learning, combined with a wide range of co-curricular programs that allows students to put learning into actual practice—that really helps us stand out.
CA: Can you tell me a little about yourself, your history with Ross, and how you came into your position, and what your personal roles involve?
ST: I’ve been at Ross since 2013. Prior to that, I was an engineer and then went back to school and did an MBA in finance and worked again for a couple of years. I then went back to school and did a PhD in Strategy, but with a focus on entrepreneurship. I then taught in Canada for about 15 years. I am Canadian, and completed all my education and grad school and my first couple of academic positions in Canada. I then came to Ross from the University of Western Ontario, which is only about 100 miles away but on the other side of the border in the Great White North.
When I started teaching in 1999, there really wasn’t nearly the demand for Entrepreneurship that there is now. So, I primarily taught Strategy with a side offering of Entrepreneurship. Then, over the course of the next 10 years, going into the mid to late 2000s, Entrepreneurship interest really exploded nationally, and globally. It was possible for me to do the thing that I really love, which is working full-time with Entrepreneurship students. I ran the Entrepreneurship institute in Ontario before I came to Ross, and then took the role at Zell Lurie.
My job now is really two things: One, I mentioned that curricular versus co-curricular focus. I lead the Entrepreneurship Studies area on the curricular side, recruiting, developing and working with faculty to make sure we have a really strong set of course offerings on the curricular degree program side. As director of Zell Lurie, I also look after all our co-curricular programs, everything from leading our staff contingent here, doing a couple of hands-on programs myself, and then working with our donors and alumni and all the other stakeholders that are interested in entrepreneurship across campus.
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