Zell Family Gift Will Expand Entrepreneurship Education At Michigan Ross

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Michigan Ross’ long history of leadership in teaching and learning about entrepreneurship has anchored the school as a destination for students looking to start their own businesses, work in venture capital, or become “intrapreneurs” within a company. I’m incredibly proud of the unique action-based entrepreneurial experiences available at Ross, which are augmented by the strong support of alumni, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists.    

We recently celebrated the announcement of a significant gift that will expand and enhance our entrepreneurial programs. On July 13th, the University of Michigan announced the Zell Family Foundation’s generous gift of $60 million to the Samuel Zell and Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the Ross School of Business to support the continued delivery and development of world-class entrepreneurship programs at the University of Michigan. $10 million of the gift is earmarked for the development of a new fund that will invest in student business ventures.

Winners of the 2015 Michigan Business Challenge.
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In 1999, the Zell Lurie Institute was created to bring all of Ross’ entrepreneurial offerings into a single portfolio. Since then, the institute has awarded over four million dollars in funding to support programs including Dare to Dream Grants, the Michigan Business Challenge, and Marcel Gani Internships, and engaged more than 5,500 students in classes, experiential learning opportunities in startups and venture funds, and co-curricular activities such as business plan competitions.

The institute has also supported the creation and growth of hundreds of startups, including more than 100 companies in the 2014-2015 academic year.

A Pioneer in Entrepreneurship

The University of Michigan’s entrepreneurial roots date back to 1927, when the Ross School offered the first entrepreneurship course in the nation, Small Business Management. The first Ross School course with entrepreneurship in the title, Entrepreneurial Management, was developed and taught by the late Professor LaRue Hosmer in 1971, based in part on his own experiences as the founder of a business. Professor Hosmer also co-authored one of the early textbooks on entrepreneurship, The Entrepreneurial Function, published in 1977. Michigan Ross was the first to create a student-led venture fund, the Wolverine Venture Fund, which was followed by two additional funds. These funds give students hands-on experience with the process of venture investing as they work under the direction of an external advisory board to manage the fund.

Over the years, Ross has remained a standout provider of entrepreneurial education. The Zell Lurie Institute has been ranked among the top three graduate programs in entrepreneurship education by The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur Magazine since 2012. And the Zell Family Foundation’s new gift will ensure that Ross will continue its leadership in the development of successful entrepreneurs.

A Wide Breadth of Offerings

Students from Ross as well as the broader university can participate in the many programs and events offered through the Zell Lurie Institute. In addition to the Wolverine Venture Fund, students can also get involved in the Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund, a pre-seed investment fund aimed at commercializing great ideas in and around Ann Arbor (including within the university), and the Social Venture Fund, which focuses on domestic, for-profit social enterprises.

The institute also hosts signature events designed to introduce students to entrepreneurs and push them to create and refine business plans. The Michigan Business Challenge offers student teams from across U-M the opportunity to receive valuable feedback as they compete for cash awards totaling over $75,000. Ross also hosts Entrepalooza, an annual symposium for students, alumni, and the business community to learn from and network with leading entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

Additionally, the Zell Lurie Institute supports Dare to Dream Grants of up to $5,000 to help students to launch their ventures and kick-start early growth.

Collaboration Across the University and Beyond

Some of the ventures funded by Dare to Dream Grants may later find a home at the TechArb Student Accelerator, a collaboration between the Zell Lurie Institute (ZLI) and the College of Engineering’s Center for Entrepreneurship (CFE).  

Desai Family Accelerator 

For students who want to experience what it’s like to work in the startup world, Marcel Gani Internships support students as summer interns with startup firms and venture capitalists. Starting this summer, students will also be able to work as interns at the newly launched Desai Accelerator, which is open to startups of all types and is sponsored jointly by ZLI and CFE in partnership with the Desai Sethi Foundation, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and the Davidson Foundation.   

Entrepreneurship initiatives at Ross embody our collaborative, boundaryless approach to education. We encourage graduate and undergraduate students from across the U-M campus to get involved with entrepreneurial activities at the Zell Lurie Institute. A cross-disciplinary approach allows students to take advantage of the incredible depth of knowledge and breadth of ideas flowing throughout the university’s 19 schools and colleges.

Right Time, Right Place

It is more important than ever for universities to deliver impactful entrepreneurial programs. According to the Kauffman Index of Startup Activity, new business creation surged in 2015, experiencing its steepest increase in two decades. During the recession, many people who were unable to find work launched businesses because they needed to find a way to make ends meet. Now, the majority of entrepreneurs aren’t just looking to survive – they’re looking for opportunities to thrive, and they’re excited about the prospects for new business ventures. Business schools need to be prepared to fulfill an uptick in demand for programs, events, and outreach to serve budding business creators.

To those outside of Michigan, the state may appear to be an unlikely hotspot for startup activity, but nothing could be further from the truth. The Michigan Venture Capital Association has tracked a 98 percent increase in the number of venture capital investment professionals living, working, and investing in Michigan in the past five years and a 70 percent increase in the number of venture-backed companies in the state. Indeed, our own Professor Jerry Davis has told NPR that entrepreneurs should be flocking to Detroit, not Silicon Valley.

The numbers for Ann Arbor provide additional evidence of the thriving entrepreneurial climate surrounding Ross. Over half of the venture firms in the state are located in Ann Arbor, and there are currently over 40 growing companies in the city that have received more than $590 million in venture capital funding.

This is not a coincidence. Venture firms value U-M as a high-quality source of disruptive innovations in healthcare, information technology, and consumer goods, and Ross graduates have the business acumen, courage, and resilience necessary to spur economic growth through entrepreneurial ventures. The Zell Family Foundation’s $60 million gift will ensure that the Ross School continues to be an engine of entrepreneurial activity far into the future.  

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