UM receives $60M gift from Zell Family Foundation

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A $60 million gift is headed to the University of Michigan’s business school to extend an entrepreneurial studies programs and create a $10 million seed fund for student business ventures.

In an announcement being made Monday, the Zell Family Foundation is pledging $60 million to the Samuel Zell and Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, housed in the prestigious Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

The funds will create an endowment to support the institute and develop entrepreneurship programs for students and alumni, UM officials said.

It’s the largest donation to date to the university’s business school in the area of student programming; it puts the school in the unique position of having a dedicated fund for student business ventures.

“That can be a deal-changer,” said Stewart Thornhill, executive director of the Zell Lurie Institute, “because rather than students coming through here, learning ideas and going out being released into the wild to forage and hunt ... we have funds set aside for that and for them. And that is really exciting.”

The funds will be used for several initiatives, including an entrepreneurship challenge, the seed fund, and an early-stage venture fund.

The institute is ranked by the Princeton Review and Entrepreneur Magazine as among the top graduate programs in entrepreneurship education.

The Zell Family Foundation and The Ann and Robert H. Lurie Family Foundation established the Institute with a $10 million gift in 1999.

Sam Zell, UM alumnus and chairman of Equity Group Investments, said the goal is to accelerate the learning curve and opportunities for budding entrepreneurs, as well as to build a powerful alumni network.

“Entrepreneurs have always been a primary driver of growth for this country. I believe that fostering entrepreneurial education is an investment in the future,” Zell said in a statement.

Alison Davis-Blake, the business school dean, said the gift generates tremendous opportunities for students.

“This gift is truly transformative. It takes entrepreneurship education to a broader level. It allows us to invest and create new programs,” she said.

Students are hungry for more entrepreneurial classes, programs and opportunities, Davis-Blake said.

“Students are absorbing these program as fast we can put them up. There is a pressing need. The students will be delighted with their investment in them,” she said.

In 2013, real estate magnate Stephen M. Ross donated $200 million to the University of Michigan, the largest single gift to the school. Of the $200 million, $100 million went for construction of the Ross business school; $100 million went to the Athletic Department.

UM’s Ross School of Business considers itself a pioneer, introducing the nation’s first course on entrepreneurship in 1927, and the first student-led venture fund, The Wolverine Venture Fund, in 1997.

Two years later, the Zell Lurie Institute was established as one of the country’s first full programs dedicated to entrepreneurial education.

Since then, the Zell Lurie Institute has awarded nearly $4.4 million in funding and engaged more than 5,500 students through its programs including: Dare to Dream Grants; the Michigan Business Challenge business plan competition; Marcel Gani Internships; scholarship awards; and three student-led venture funds, including funds focused on early stage businesses and ventures with a social-impact mission.

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.

Top 10 donors to the University of Michigan

Mr. and Mrs. Stephen M. Ross…$321 million

Mrs. Judith M. Taubman, Mr. A. Alfred Taubman…$156 million

Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Zell, Zell Family Foundation…$152 million

Mr. Charles T. Munger…$141 million

Mr. and Mrs. Richard Rogel…$86 million

Mr. and Mrs. Samuel P. Frankel…$80 million

Mr. and Mrs. William K. Brehm…$71 million

Mr. and Mrs. Ronald N. Weiser…$66 million

Mr. and Mrs. Donald C. Graham…$60 million

Mr. Donald R. Shepherd…$59 million

Source: University of Michigan