Alison Davis Blake

The Ross school at the University of Michigan has received a pledge of $60m from the Zell family to extend programmes at the school’s entrepreneurship centre, which already bears the Zell name. The gift is one of the largest ever to be dedicated to building entrepreneurship expertise in a business school.

Some $10m of the gift will be used to create a fund specifically to invest in student ventures. Michigan Ross has already supported the development and growth of hundreds of start-ups, including more than 100 companies in the 2014-2015 academic year.

The gift will build on the prevailing success of this type of education at the school, says Ross dean Alison Davis Blake, who points out that the first entrepreneurship course was taught at the University of Michigan in 1927. Prof Davis Blake rejects the idea that Ann Arbor and Detroit are not a natural starting point for budding founders. “What we find is that areas that are redeveloping [often] become centres of entrepreneurship.”

The Zell family has helped develop other related initiatives at the university over the years — Sam Zell is a University of Michigan alumnus.

In 2011, the family supported the launch of the Zell Entrepreneurship and Law Programme at the law school, which includes a clinic to give free legal advice to Michigan’s growing community of student start-ups. It also trains law students to work with entrepreneurial ventures.

Since joining Michigan Ross four years ago, Prof Blake has raised more than £275m for the school. She announced in May that she would step down as dean at the end of her five-year term in 2016. “I intend to get that first figure up to three before I go,” she says.

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