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This content was originally posted in Poets&Quants.

After a two-hour boat ride off the coast of Townsville, Australia, Garrett Nastarin had the Great Barrier Reef to himself. He’d booked a 12-person dive boat, but he was the only snorkeler in the water.

What he saw both amazed and alarmed him. Of course, he saw some of the biggest, most brightly colored fish he’d ever laid goggles on along with giant clams 3- to 4-feet across. But, in this remote stretch, hyped as one of the best sections of the Great Barrier Reef to visit, he counted just a few big sections of healthy coral.

“It was mostly specks here and there. A vast majority of the sea floor was sand mixed with white, shattered bits of coral. The lack of coral was shocking and painful to see,” says Nastarin, of Agoura Hills, Calif., an MBA ’23 at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Nastarin’s trip to the Great Barrier Reef was funded through a Levy Inspiration Grant, a new experiential offering in Kellogg’s entrepreneurship program. The grants, which are not attached to any course, pay up to $5,000 for individual students to get out there, immerse themselves in a business problem or market of their choosing, and get inspired.

Nasatrin used his Levy Grant to explore how entrepreneurs, researchers, and businesses are tackling particular issues with ocean health – pollution, coral bleaching, acidification, etc. He’s long been interested in the intersection between profit and impact, but he’s seen few ventures tackle a very specific problem – like working to protect an endangered coral reef.

“Overall, that was a pretty special and motivating experience for me, but I also think it helped my street cred with the entrepreneurs and researchers I met with afterwards. I had seen the destruction for myself. I understood like they did.”

"Founder-focused" approach to entrepreneurship

The Levy Inspiration Grant is just one of several innovations to Kellogg’s entrepreneurship program since Poets&Quants’ last deep dive into the program in October 2020, back when COVID restrictions still grounded experiential programs at B-schools across the world.

The program appointed a new director in 2021, David Schonthal, who is doubling down on the “founder-focused” approach to entrepreneurship that is central to the school’s Zell Fellowship Program founded in 2013. Schonthal also is the faculty director of the Zell program and has led it for the last 10 years.

“One of the interesting things about the Zell program is it focuses less on the business and more on the founder. We view ourselves as an accelerator of people, not an accelerator of businesses,” Schonthal tells P&Q. The Kellogg entrepreneurship program is already comprehensive, with numerous courses, clubs, startup spaces, and funding opportunities. About 70% of Kellogg students will take at least one entrepreneurship class during their programs. The trick is creating a program that is relevant to and helpful no matter one’s age, background, field, or experience.

One of Schonthal’s goals for Kellogg entrepreneurship is to create more customizable pathways relevant to students’ varied and specific journeys. Someone who wants to be an entrepreneur in healthcare has different needs and interests than one who’s interested in sustainability, or consumer technology, or acquisition. Similarly, a student looking to build a FinTech business in Sub Saharan Africa will have different challenges than one looking to build it in Brazil. A 27-year-old MBA will come with a different set of circumstances than a founder who is 45.

“One of the things that we’re thinking about is how do we support Kellogg, students and alums, whenever they’re ready to start that business, whether they do it while they’re here, or they do it after they leave? What does lifelong entrepreneurship education and support look like for our alums?” Schonthal says.

Read the original article in its entirety on Poets&Quants to learn more about the experiences of recent Kellogg graduates.