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Landmark Gift Endows Powerful Kellogg Entrepreneurship Program

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The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University’s Zell Fellows Program has received a $25 million gift from the Zell Family Foundation in honor of the program’s 10th anniversary, creating a permanent home for it at Kellogg. 

Established in 2013 by the recently passed Sam Zell, the Zell Fellows Program is an “applied entrepreneurial experience” for select MBA candidates interested in starting a new venture or acquiring an existing small business. Up to 20 students who demonstrate drive, humility, and a sense of community are chosen each year for the opportunity.

Participants receive mentorship from Kellogg faculty and outside experts on the practicalities of launching or acquiring a business. Unique real-world experiences include domestic and international treks to meet with successful entrepreneurs and global industry leaders. Students attend leadership and executive presence workshops and take advantage of private coaching. Finally, participants receive financial resources and services from vetted providers to put toward their ventures. 

Graduates join the Zell Global Entrepreneurship Network, which unites the program students and alumni and provides connections, opportunities, mentorship, and support. Since its inception, nearly 200 Kellogg students have participated in the program, launching 127 ventures, raising more than $705 million in capital with upwards of $4.75 billion in collective market capitalization, and creating an estimated 3,600 jobs. 

Recognized by Forbes in 2017 as one of the 100 Greatest Living Business Minds, Sam Zell was a self-made billionaire who founded Equity Group Investments in 1968 and chaired five New York Stock Exchange-listed companies. He was responsible for introducing the first Brazilian and Mexican real estate companies to the New York Stock Exchange and was an active philanthropist. His focus on entrepreneurial education through the Zell Family Foundation led to leading entrepreneurship programs at Michigan Ross and Wharton in addition to Kellogg. His autobiography Am I Being Too Subtle? doubles as a treatise on the fundamentals and philosophies on which he built his fortune.

“With Sam’s passing, we lost a visionary entrepreneurial leader and a dedicated champion of our school and students,” Kellogg Dean Francesca Cornelli said in the school’s press release. “The best way to honor Sam’s memory is to continue improving the Zell Fellows Program, which has made and will continue to make the aspirations of some of our incredibly creative students possible. Sam was so proud of them, and always enjoyed meeting and talking to them. He wanted this gift to ensure the program continues to shape and inspire entrepreneurs and innovators who will have meaningful impact around the world, as Sam did.”

“We sincerely appreciate the generosity of the Zell Family Foundation and everything it has done to bolster entrepreneurship at Northwestern,” University President Michael H. Schill said in the school’s statement. “This gift endowing the Zell Fellows Program at Kellogg will have far-reaching impact, strengthening our reputation as a top destination for future creators and entrepreneurs.”  

The gift was designed by Zell in advance of his passing in May of this year to enshrine Kellogg’s commitment to entrepreneurship and the program’s continued success for generations of future students. 

Christina Griffith
Christina Griffith is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. She specializes in covering education, science, and history, and has experience in research and interviews, magazine content, and web content writing.