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Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management has received a landmark gift from the Zell Family Foundation. The $25 million gift will combine with past foundational gifts from Sam Zell to endow the successful Zell Fellows Program. Prior to his passing in May, Zell expressed the desire to honor the program’s 10th anniversary and create a permanent home for it at Kellogg. His gift cements the school’s commitment to fostering entrepreneurs for generations to come.  

Launched in 2013, the Zell Fellows Program is a unique entrepreneurial experience for a select number of MBA candidates interested in starting a new venture or acquiring an existing one. The Zell Fellows are selected in the beginning of their second year on the basis of their ambition, drive and desire to be part of a cohort of like-minded entrepreneurs aiming to run small businesses upon graduation.  

“With Sam’s passing, we lost a visionary entrepreneurial leader and a dedicated champion of our school and students,” Kellogg Dean Francesca Cornelli said. “The best way to honor Sam’s memory is to continue improving the Zell Fellows Program, which has made and will continue to make the aspirations of some of our incredibly creative students possible. Sam was so proud of them, and always enjoyed meeting and talking to them. He wanted this gift to ensure the program continues to shape and inspire entrepreneurs and innovators who will have meaningful impact around the world, as Sam did.” 

”This gift will enable Kellogg to provide this incredibly unique platform to our students for years to come. Sam encouraged us to ‘go for greatness,’ and we will continue to do so.”
David Schonthal
Faculty Director, Zell Fellows Program

As part of the Zell Fellows Program, students benefit from mentorship by Kellogg faculty, outside experts and dedicated executive coaches. They are also exposed to distinctive experiences that include domestic and international treks to meet with successful entrepreneurs and global industry leaders. In addition, the fellows receive stipends and other resources to put towards their businesses. Upon graduation, they join the Zell Global Entrepreneurship Network, a deeply connected and active community made up of Zell Fellow alumni from Kellogg and two other top schools.  

“We sincerely appreciate the generosity of the Zell Family Foundation and everything it has done to bolster entrepreneurship at Northwestern,” University President Michael H. Schill said. “This gift endowing the Zell Fellows Program at Kellogg will have far-reaching impact, strengthening our reputation as a top destination for future creators and entrepreneurs.”  

Over the past decade, nearly 200 Kellogg students have participated in the Zell Fellows Program, pursuing either the creation of a new venture or acquiring an existing small business. Up to 20 students are chosen each year, and thus far Zell Fellows have launched 127 ventures, with 66 currently active and seven having exited. To date, Zell acquisition entrepreneurs at Kellogg have completed 14 acquisitions and an additional 24 alumni are running active searches. Businesses started by Zell Fellows have raised more than $705 million in capital with upwards of $4.75 billion in collective market capitalization. An estimated 3,600 jobs have been created by Zell Fellow alumni businesses.  

“In the decade since Sam created the program, our Zell Fellows have accomplished incredible things,” said David Schonthal, faculty director of the Zell Fellows Program. “They've created and grown businesses in wide-ranging fields, from medical devices to global logistics and sustainable agriculture. They bring to the program a desire to make the world a better place, to create something meaningful and to have lasting impact. This gift will enable Kellogg to provide this incredibly unique platform to our students for years to come. Sam encouraged us to ‘go for greatness,’ and we will continue to do so.” 

Zell was chairman of Equity Group Investments, the private investment firm he founded in 1968, and an active philanthropist focused on entrepreneurial education. Through the Zell Family Foundation, he led the sponsorship of several leading entrepreneurship programs around the world. The Zell Global Entrepreneurship Network unites the students and alumni of these programs and actively provides them with connections, opportunities, mentorship and support. Sam Zell was the recipient of the 2007 Kellogg Award for Distinguished Leadership.  

“The Zell Family Foundation is proud to continue Sam’s legacy of supporting entrepreneurs who have big ideas, the passion to execute and the drive to go for greatness,” said Helen Zell, president of the Zell Family Foundation. “Sam’s vision with the Kellogg Zell Fellows was to invest in talented people and help them pursue their dreams. We look forward to seeing the results as the Zell Fellows continue that vision going forward.”