Celebrating 10 years of the Zell Fellows Program at Kellogg
This year marks a significant milestone for supporting student entrepreneurs at Kellogg. The Zell Fellows Program — founded in 2013 by the late Sam Zell — is a unique, applied entrepreneurial experience for aspiring founders, and this year celebrates its 10-year anniversary.
Participants, called Zell Fellows, gain access to a plethora of resources, including experienced industry leaders and mentors, real-world learning opportunities and the Zell Global Entrepreneurship Network to advance their business endeavors. Importantly, the program is geared toward equipping entrepreneurs with grit, resilience, agility and a broad worldview for long-term success. To date, nearly 200 Kellogg students have participated in the program, pursuing either the creation of a new venture or acquiring an existing small business.
Prior to his passing in May, Sam Zell expressed the desire to honor the 10th anniversary of the Zell Fellows Program and create a permanent home for it at Kellogg. As a result, the Zell Family Foundation made a generous $25 million gift which, combined with past foundational gifts from Zell, endows the program, cementing the school’s commitment to fostering entrepreneurs for generations to come.
“Sam never wanted us to rest on our laurels — he always wanted us to improve and evolve the program,” says David Schonthal ’09 MBA, faculty director of the Zell Fellows Program and the school’s director of entrepreneurship programs. “What makes this program so unique is the access, experiences and resources it provides to entrepreneurs. We’re constantly evaluating ‘What can we do to provide our student entrepreneurs that what they would never be able to access or experience anywhere else?”
We asked a few Kellogg Zell alumni to share their reflections on how the program has connected them to an inspired entrepreneurial community and what it means to be a part of this supportive network.
Ian Goldberg ’19 MBA
Chief executive officer at Canopy Service Partners
”An early mentor once told me the key to success and fulfillment in business: ‘It’s all about the people.’ Life is too short not to be inspired by those around you. When I chose to apply to be a Zell Fellow, I was excited by the opportunity, but I was inspired by the Zell Fellows that came before me. These were people that took the road less traveled and bet on themselves. These were people that achieved success through grit and determination. These were people running mission-driven startups and scaling family businesses to new heights. Most importantly, these were people that had a level of passion and competitiveness that differentiated themselves. That fire and excitement drew me to the program and has kept me engaged since the day I was accepted. In Sam Zell’s Little Red Book, one of the quotes reads, ‘When everyone is going left, look right.’ The Zell Fellows program was created for those who take this quote to heart.
“I believe that we are judged by the company we keep. To this day, I am humbled to be considered among the 100+ Fellows who continue to push the boundaries of their industries worldwide. However, being part of this group is not an accomplishment, it is a challenge. It is a challenge to continue to push your own boundaries to keep pace with past and future Zell Fellows. Being part of this group is a privilege and a responsibility which I and all other Zell Fellows gladly accept.”
Jordan Hollander ’16 MBA
Co-founder and chief executive officer at HotelTechReport.com
“The people in the Zell Fellows Program quickly became some of my best friends at Kellogg. Entrepreneurship creates an immediate bond. Having the Zell Fellows network for support, idea sharing and also as a social outlet is invaluable. I still lean on Zell Fellows to help talk through business problems nearly seven years after my MBA.
“The Zell community is super tight knit, and I continue to keep in touch with many. In Los Angeles, I surf with a Zell alum from Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya. I send vertical market software deals to a Zell alum in Michigan who works for a former client that launched his own fund. I had multiple Zell alumni at my wedding. We’re now using a Zell IDC alum’s software tool within our marketing stack. Where else can you get that kind of cohesion more than five years out of a graduate program?
“Needless to say, Sam Zell’s brand precedes him, so I’m super humbled and proud to carry that name with me everywhere I go professionally. The entrepreneurial community Sam, Ellen Havdala and David Schonthal have built across top business programs is really remarkable and only gets stronger with time as they add new programming, retreats and opportunities to connect. My favorite Zell experience was a trip that program offered to Israel a couple years out of school. I don’t think there’s another business program on earth (at least that I’ve heard of) that offers opportunities like this to alumni — better yet that continues to offer skills as a life-long learning tool the way Kellogg does. It was really special to be in a remote location without phones being vulnerable, reinforcing connections with our friends and making new ones.”
Sahar Jamal ’19 MBA
Founder and chief executive officer at Maziwa
“I was immensely fortunate to join the competitive Zell Fellows Program in my second year at Kellogg. It was pivotal in helping me launch Maziwa. Being a part of this community means being supported by fellow entrepreneurs, supportive mentors and experts in the field of innovation and design. I appreciate the program's specific focus on social impact and emerging markets which has created a community of like-minded alumni who have built incredible social enterprises around the world.
“My favorite memory of the program was our joint trip to Israel where we met our fellow ‘Zellots’ working on equally impressive opportunities across the globe. The practical resources and financial support also made it possible for me to travel to Kenya to test out the assumptions behind my business model during my second year and gave me reassurance that there was a market for my idea before graduating into the ‘real world.’ Notably, I was fortunate to receive the 2019 Kellogg Social Entrepreneurship award, as well as a few prizes at the VentureCat pitch competition at Northwestern University, which gave me the safety net I needed to commit myself full-time to this endeavor.
“The social entrepreneurship journey can be a challenging and lonely road. However, being part of the global Zell community means that I always have a roster of people who understand where I am coming from and always have sage advice, and I can call or reach out to them when I need support. Thanks to this program I have built a robust network and well-rounded entrepreneurial toolkit, which have been the catalyst for my career and my company.”
Andro Rodriguez ’19 MBA
President and founder at Armour House Group
“The Zell Fellows Program was a driving factor for why I chose to pursue an MBA at Kellogg. I spent several years wanting to make it on my own after banking but lacked the tools and confidence to do so. In the program, I found a community of like-minded people determined to build big things who were not afraid to fail.
“I chose the ETA track because at the time I wasn’t comfortable with entrepreneurship via a startup. Instead, I was more familiar with the ‘buy and build’ approach that is more commonly seen in Latin America. As a student entrepreneur, I took advantage of nearly all the resources available to me — mentorship, community, funding, coaching and various opportunities to apply what we learned in a real-world setting. The most impactful for me was the combination of coaching and mentorship.
”Through our coaching resource, we were able to take a detailed personality assessment. The report gave me a better grasp of my work style and how I could become a better leader. Mentorship from Matt Littell, Alex Schneider, and my track mates complemented the assessment by reinforcing how I could put these insights to work during my time in the program. Ultimately, the combination of coaching and mentorship better equipped me for the search I launched post-graduation.”