University of Michigan receives $60 million gift from the Zell Family Foundation

The Zell Lurie Institute announced today that it has received a gift of $60 million from the Zell Family Foundation.

The funds will provide endowed support to the institute for continued delivery and development of entrepreneurship programs for students and alumni. This includes $10 million dedicated to a new fund that will invest in new student business ventures. The Zell Family Foundation and The Ann and Robert H. Lurie Family Foundation originally established the institute with a $10 million gift.

The Zell Lurie Institute is consistently ranked among the top graduate programs in entrepreneurship education by The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur Magazine, and has remained in the top three national programs for three consecutive years.

“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, a University of Michigan alumnus (AB ’63, JD ’66, HLLD ’05) and chairman of Equity Group Investments. “Entrepreneurs have always been a primary driver of growth for this country. I believe that fostering entrepreneurial education is an investment in the future.”

To further stimulate the entrepreneurial education and network at U-M, the Zell Family Foundation also created ZEAL (the Zell Entrepreneurship and Law Program) at the Law School in 2011. The program includes a clinic to offer free legal advice to Michigan’s burgeoning community of student entrepreneurs, and to train law students to serve entrepreneurial ventures.

“The Zell Lurie Institute is the fuel in the university’s growing entrepreneurial engine,” said Stewart Thornhill, executive director of the Zell Lurie Institute. “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. Sam invests a significant amount of time in providing vision and direction for the institute, and we benefit tremendously from his practical experience and macro perspective.”

Sam and Helen Zell both have been strong supporters of their alma mater. Under their leadership, the Zell Family Foundation has provided financial support to U-M of more than $150 million.

Helen Zell, executive director of the Zell Family Foundation, is a 1964 graduate of U-M’s Department of English Language and Literature and is a 2013 recipient of an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the university. The foundation provides significant ongoing support for the university’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing Program, now known as the Helen Zell Writers’ Program. It is a two-year graduate program in creative writing with a concentration in either fiction or poetry that leads to a Master of Fine Arts degree. The program also provides each student with the opportunity for a “Zellowship,” a post-graduate year of financial support that enables writers to dedicate their time solely to writing. In addition, the MFA program sponsors the Zell Visiting Writers Series. Among its earlier activities, the Zell Family Foundation endowed the department’s first visiting professorship in fiction, later named the Nicholas Delbanco Visiting Professorship; endowed the Helen Zell Director’s Fund for the MFA program in Creative Writing; and endowed the Visiting Writers Series. To date, Helen Zell has spearheaded more than $69 million of support from the Zell Family Foundation to the college. She also regularly donates her time to engage with the students and to help them gain access to world-class writers through her network. The result is an ongoing, highly competitive, nationally recognized program that regularly produces award-winning authors.

U-M’s Ross School of Business is a pioneer in entrepreneurial education, 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 robust portfolio of 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.
  • Supported the creation and growth of hundreds of start-up businesses; including more than 100 companies in the 2014-2015 academic year alone.

“This gift generates tremendous opportunities for our students and is significant news in the world of entrepreneurial studies,” said Alison Davis-Blake, the Edward J. Frey Dean of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “The generosity of the Zell Family Foundation and its commitment to support hands-on learning opportunities will help create an exciting new fund for student business ventures and provide ongoing support for the impressive programs of the Zell Lurie Institute.”

The gift comes at a time when interest in entrepreneurship is booming, driven by a number of factors from the expansion of the U.S. tech boom and the lower cost of starting a business, to the versatile benefits of an entrepreneurial background in nearly any career path. With that growing interest, the number of entrepreneurship programs offered by colleges and universities has continued to grow, quadrupling in the U.S. since 1999, and they have become an integral part of the startup landscape. In fact, The Graduate Management Admission Council’s 2015 Alumni Perspectives Report found that one in eight alumni are self-employed today, and entrepreneurs view business school as more influential to their career success than other alumni.

To learn more about entrepreneurial initiatives at Michigan Ross and the Zell Lurie Institute, visit

Zell Gift_Web Photo_MRoss

Executive Director Stewart Thornhill to speak in DC

On Thursday, July 30, the Ross Alumni Club of DC will host ZLI Executive Director Stewart Thornhill for a talk on the current climate for start ups and an update on some new projects coming out of the Institute. There will also be networking before and after the event.

The discussion will take place in the Holland & Knight board room, located at 800 17th St. NW, 11th flooron Thursday, July 30 from 6:30-8:00 p.m. (Dr. Thornhill will begin speaking at 7:00 p.m.). Tickets cost $15.00, and drinks and h’ordeuvres will be served. You can get tickets here.

University of Michigan’s Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund Invests in Reveal Design Automation

The Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund today announced that it has invested in Reveal Design Automation, an Electronic Design Automation (EDA) start-up developing software tools for formal verification of complex semiconductor chip designs.

The Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund is a student-led pre-seed investment fund established to identify and accelerate the commercialization of ideas generated within the University community and the surrounding area with a focus on healthcare, technology, consumer and cleantech. The team adopts a hands-on approach to investing that leverages the talents and resources available at the Ross School of Business to make a real impact for the entrepreneur and the University. The typical investment is approximately $25,000 to $50,000, and the fund currently has nine active investments.

“The Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund gives student teams the opportunity to source and close their own deals, and with this investment they’ve done an excellent job in selecting a company with great prospects and the potential for a good exit down the line,” said Stewart Thornhill, managing director of the Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund and executive director of the Zell Lurie Institute. “Reveal is a strong addition to our portfolio.”

Reveal Design Automation develops software tools that streamline the process of verifying semiconductor chip designs from days down to hours. As a typical verification cycle for a new chip design requires dozens to hundreds of such verification runs, Reveal can save chip designers millions of dollars in verification expenses, reduce time-to-market by months and significantly improve confidence in chip design correctness. Founded at the University of Michigan, Reveal has won prize money from both the Michigan Business Challenge and the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, and has presented at the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium. This investment will help Reveal double its headcount over the next year and further develop its assets to attract a tier-one customer as it prepares to raise its Series A sometime in the next two years.

A team of four graduate students—Graham Garvin, MBA ’16; Matthew Reardon, MBA ’16; Noam Sosnovitch, MBA ’16; and Parakhar Goel, MBA ‘15—conducted in-depth due diligence on the company, including gathering information from local networks on the company’s prospects. “We talked to other investors and advisors in the community, and there’s a lot of confidence in CEO Zaher Andraus’s ability to carry his company forward,” Garvin said. “That was a big stamp of approval for us.”

“Following the whole process from sourcing companies to invest in and conducting a formal due diligence to negotiating and closing the deal is an incredible hands-on experience,” Garvin said. “Because this fund focuses on early stage companies, we have many opportunities to work our networks to source companies and make our own decisions.”

“This investment represents a major validation of our work by the University of Michigan community,” said Zaher Andraus, president and CEO, Reveal Design Automation. “We’re looking forward to working with the Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund to bring our company to the next level.”

Plans Unveiled for 10th Annual Michigan Private Equity Conference

Organizers of the Michigan Private Equity Conference today unveiled initial plans for the 10th annual event, which will be held Oct. 8-9, 2015 at the University of Michigan. The “boutique” conference covers current and emerging topics in the nation’s credit markets that pose challenges and new opportunities for those in private equity and institutional investing. More than 250 private equity, investment banking and business professionals from around the United States and from the University of Michigan alumni community will be in attendance.

Pre-conference events held on Thursday, Oct. 8 include a golf outing at the University of Michigan golf course and the opportunity to go on the U-M football field and tour the locker rooms. That evening, a dinner reception will be held at the Campus Inn for all conference registrants. A Fireside Chat for students on How to get into Private Equity Consulting will be hosted earlier in the day by Centerbridge with the Center for Venture Capital & Private Equity Finance. Panelists include Andrew Kunkel, consultant at Bain and Company, and David Shapiro, project leader for the Boston Consulting Group.

On Friday, Oct. 9, the conference will run from 7:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Michigan Union on the University of Michigan campus. The event will kick off with a panel discussion on Private Equity in China, which will feature Yi Lou, senior managing director at Blackstone, and H. David HE, Partner/Managing Director at Pacific Alliance Group Asia Capital.

The program will also feature panel discussions led by some of the investment industry’s leading experts who will offer insight into a variety of topics, including consulting for the private equity industry, public policy and financing sell-side advising state of market. At this early date, confirmed panelists include:

  • Yi Lou, Senior Managing Director, Blackstone
  • David HE, Partner/Managing Director, Pacific Alliance Group Asia Capital
  • Richard Lui, News Anchor, MSNBC and NBC News
  • Andrew Mullin, Partner, McKinsey
  • Pam Hendrickson, COO, The Riverside Group
  • Amber Landis, Senior Director, Public Policy, Association for Corporate Growth
  • Matt Heinz, Vice President, AON Private Equity and Transaction Solutions Group

The Michigan Private Equity Conference is produced by the Zell Lurie Institute’s Center for Venture Capital & Private Equity Finance at the Ross School of Business. Online registration for the conference is open. For more details on speakers and topics or to register, visit

Ross junior publishes blog series on entrepreneurial journey

Earlier this month, Innovate Blue published the first two entries in a blog series by rising Ross junior Praveen Loganathan on his entrepreneurial journey at U-M.

In his first entry, Praveen reflects on why he became the CEO and co-founder of InFusion Technologies, a firm focused on energy research and design and his experiences with the Ross Center for Social Impact. In his second entry, Praveen shares the seven tips for pitching a startup he used in the Center for Entrepreneurship‘s The StartUp pitch competition.

You can catch up on these two posts here and here.

Alumni startup team gives advice to aspiring student founders

Startup Casual recently featured Ross alumni Jason Okrasinski, Tim Jones and Evan Dancer in an article on advice for students trying to turn their ideas into a full company. The co-founders of Cribspot, a rental marketplace for college housing, Jason, Tim and Evan began testing prototypes while still enrolled at U-M and have since expanded to 175 schools in 48 states. They offer advice on everything from forming a team, using campus resources, spending money and applying to accelerators, to perhaps the most difficult thing of all: telling your parents.

For the full list of advice, click here to read the article.

Former Zell Lurie Advisor provides update on ZLI-Finland partnership

Though Prof. Peter Adriaens has returned to the College of Engineering, he hasn’t left ZLI behind entirely. He recently shared an update on a multi-year collaboration between ZLI and the Research Institute for the Finnish Economy, a think tank based in Finland, that aims to design investment instruments that are attractive for pension funds to become enablers of economic development.

For a full update on the project, check out Prof. Adriaens’s recap on LinkedIn.


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