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  Larry Levy
  Photo © Matthew Gibson

Larry Levy continues support of Kellogg entrepreneurship with new gift

Funds and ideas target social entrepreneurship initiative

Larry Levy '67 doesn't want to talk about himself or his considerable success over three decades as an entrepreneur. He's too excited about something else these days.

The founder and chairman of Chicago-based Levy Restaurants has always had big ideas to help fuel his enterprises, which also includes The Levy Organization, a real estate development company where he is chairman and CEO. But today the Kellogg School graduate is more focused on ideas that help other entrepreneurs — especially those who are using their talents to tackle pressing social problems.

"I still have plenty of fire in the belly to make a difference, but rather than leading ventures exclusively, I'm now working to support others' efforts too," says Levy, 63.

Kellogg has already benefited from Levy's largesse: A gift in 2003 established the Larry and Carol Levy Institute for Entrepreneurial Practice. Today, Levy and his wife are again lending major support — financial and conceptual — to build the school's entrepreneurial strengths.

Before making these commitments, though, the couple performed some due diligence.

"When my wife Carol and I endowed the program, we had a tremendous debate between us," says Levy. "She comes from a medical family and wasn't sure we should be putting our largest donation ever to entrepreneurship education, as opposed to helping people who are working on children's causes and curing diseases. We concluded that entrepreneurs would probably work with medical and social scientists to solve many of the world's issues."

Levy says he is "thrilled" at the way Kellogg has leveraged his gift to advance entrepreneurship. He praises the leadership of Professor Steven Rogers, director of the Levy Institute, and the efforts of Scott Whitaker '97, the institute's associate director, and says Dean Dipak C. Jain's "unwavering support" has been instrumental.

"The program is successful beyond our expectations in both teaching and inspiring Kellogg students and alumni," says Levy.

While Dean Jain and Northwestern University President Henry Bienen are determining specifically how to leverage the new gift, it is clear that Levy's passion for social entrepreneurship is encouraging him to devote resources and ideas to develop that area within the Kellogg School curriculum.

In particular, Levy was inspired by Andrew Youn '06 who launched the One Acre Fund to relieve hunger in Africa. The initiative began as a business plan Youn created while enrolled in Kellogg Professor Barry Merkin's Entrepreneurship and New Formulation course and has since garnered top honors at several prestigious competitions. When the Kellogg student presented his plan at a Levy Institute board meeting, the audience was so impressed that three board members stepped forward to sponsor his program. Soon after, so did many of Youn's classmates.

"Andrew discovered that 80 percent of people starving in Africa come from farm families," says Levy. "A light bulb went off and he said, 'What an opportunity to help solve this problem,' while everyone else was saying, 'Oh, isn't that terrible. Those poor people.' Andrew sprung into action like an entrepreneur."

During the 2006 Net Impact Conference, hosted by Kellogg and attracting some 1,100 students from around the world, Levy became convinced that social entrepreneurship had emerged as a potent force that deserved more of his support.

"I served on a panel discussion with Andrew and that's where I really understood how important it is for Kellogg to house a center devoted to students pursuing social entrepreneurship," says Levy.

He and Carol Levy believe that by deepening the school's existing entrepreneurship strengths, Kellogg can offer resources to those who want to "turn their energy and altruism into enterprises that make the world a better place." One possibility could involve recruiting a superstar in social entrepreneurship to play a role at the Kellogg School.

Levy sees connections between traditional entrepreneurship and its social kin. Both share similar business skills, but social entrepreneurs may be more inclined to work with colleagues from other disciplines. Just as engineers collaborate with biologists and business people to create new nanotechnology, social entrepreneurs might work with the anthropology department, for instance, to discover multidisciplinary solutions. Levy believes the Kellogg entrepreneurship program can play an important part in this scenario.

"My job is to come up with the concept," says Levy. "It will be Dean Jain and President Bienen who will take the idea and develop it into what it should be. Dean Jain really has some great original thoughts on this." – Matt Golosinski

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