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Zell Family Foundation Endows Program for Entrepreneurs

The gift ensures the Zell Fellows accelerator program will exist in perpetuity at Kellogg.

David Schonthal Zell Foundation
David Schonthal, left, is faculty director of the Zell Fellows Program as well as clinical professor of strategy and director of entrepreneurship programs at the Kellogg School of Management. Image: Jeff Sciortino

Winter 2024

Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management has received a landmark gift from the Zell Family Foundation that will be combined with past gifts from Sam Zell to endow the Zell Fellows Program. Prior to his death last May, Sam Zell expressed the desire to honor the program’s 10th anniversary by creating a permanent home for it at Kellogg. The gift from his family cements the school’s commitment to fostering entrepreneurs for generations to come. 

Launched in 2013, the Zell Fellows Program is open to select MBA candidates interested in starting a new venture or acquiring an existing one. Up to 20 Zell Fellows are chosen at the beginning of their second year on the basis of their ambition, drive and desire to be part of a cohort of 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 says. “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.” 

“Over the past decade, nearly 200 Kellogg students have participated in the Zell Fellows Program.”

As part of the Zell Fellows Program, students benefit from mentorship by Kellogg faculty, outside experts and dedicated executive coaches. They also are exposed to distinctive experiences such as regional and international treks to meet with successful entrepreneurs and global industry leaders. In addition, fellows receive stipends and other resources to advance their businesses. Upon graduation, they join the Zell Global Entrepreneurship Network of Zell Fellows alumni from Kellogg and two other top schools. 

“In the decade since Sam created the program, our Zell Fellows have accomplished incredible things,” says David Schonthal ’09 MBA, 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. This gift will enable Kellogg to provide this incredibly unique platform to our students for years to come.” 

Nearly 200 Kellogg students have participated in the Zell Fellows Program. To date, Zell Fellows have launched 127 ventures, with 66 currently active, and Zell acquisition entrepreneurs at Kellogg have completed 14 acquisitions, with an additional 24 alumni running active searches. An estimated 3,600 jobs have been created by Zell Fellows alumni businesses. 

“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,” says 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.” 

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