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$25 million new gift from Helen Zell and family to School
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$25 million new gift from Helen Zell and family to School

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.”

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.”

Helen Zell is the Executive Director of the Zell Family Foundation. She is an active philanthropist and thought leader in the arts and education, with an emphasis on music, literature, and visual arts.

Helen is the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association. She is also a member of the Board of Trustees of Steppenwolf Theatre and serves on the executive committee. Helen is a Trustee, and former Chair, of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. She also serves on the boards of directors of: the Ounce of Prevention Fund, a public-private partnership dedicated to the healthy development of at-risk children; the Chicago Public Education Fund, a nonprofit organization working to improve public education in the city; and Teach for America, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting educational equity and excellence for kids in low-income communities. Helen is also a member of the Photography Committee at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Helen’s lifelong passion for great literature and commitment to her alma mater are reflected in her advocacy of the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. The Zell Family Foundation provides significant ongoing support for the university’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree program in Creative Writing, now known as the Helen Zell Writers’ Program, which is a two-year graduate program in creative writing with a concentration in either fiction or poetry.

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. As part of the program, the foundation endowed the Zell Visiting Writers Series. It also endowed the department’s first visiting professorship in fiction, later named the Nicholas Delbanco Visiting Professorship, and the Helen Zell Director’s Fund for the MFA program in Creative Writing.

The program is recognized internationally for its excellence and regularly produces award-winning authors.

Helen also has a long history of supporting the arts and education in Chicago as well. Among numerous other initiatives, she led the Zell Family Foundation’s underwriting of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s music director position in perpetuity, now known as the Zell Music Director.

Helen’s resume includes a broad range of professional experiences including: editor of journals published by the American Society for Microbiology; project director and acquisitions editor for Science Research Associates, Inc.; and general manager for the Chicago String Ensemble. Later in her career, Helen also owned an interior design firm.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature, and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the University of Michigan.

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