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Message from Stewart Thornhill

Executive Director

As the new executive director of the Samuel Zell and Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the Ross School of Business, I look forward to working with talented staff and faculty in an Institute that has earned a top-level national reputation for excellence in entrepreneurship education and has gained the respect and support of the state of Michigan's entrepreneurial and venture investment community. Credit for this remarkable success goes to Tom Kinnear, who has demonstrated exemplary leadership as executive director over the past 14 years, and, more broadly, to the Institute's co-benefactors Sam Zell and Ann Lurie, and to the many donors, Advisory Board members and volunteers, who have bought powerful vision, experience and influence to the Institute's programs. I was attracted to the Zell Lurie Institute by its proven track record as one of the world's best places to study, learn and work in an entrepreneurial setting, and by the opportunity to be surrounded by smart, ambitious, hardworking faculty, staff and students. What strikes me most about the Institute is its willingness to experiment — to try new approaches, to make mistakes, to fine-tune initiatives and, ultimately, to find innovative ways to do things better. This try-fail-learn, try-succeed-learn sequence is the same iterative process we teach student entrepreneurs. At the Zell Lurie Institute, however, this is not just classroom theory — it is the way business is done here. This culture of experimentation sets the Institute apart from its peers at other universities, and I'm very excited to become part of it.

Another advantage I see at the Zell Lurie Institute — an advantage that no other institute in the world has — is the University of Michigan, a $1.3 billion research and development powerhouse with centers of excellence in many different disciplines, among them business, engineering, law and medicine. The potential for leveraging the multidisciplinary talent across campus is enormous and offers a broad collaborative platform for commercializing research discoveries, spinning out start-ups with cutting-edge technologies and investing in high-growth, high-performance emerging companies.

What I hope to impart to the Zell Lurie Institute through my leadership is a very practical and pragmatic approach to academics. I try to put theory into practice by conducting research in strategy and entrepreneurship and collaborating with tier-one academics but also spending my time in business, working with young entrepreneurs, start-ups and investors. I live in both of those worlds. Before coming to the Ross School, I taught strategy and entrepreneurship at the Richard Ivey School of Business at Western University in London, Ontario, Canada. There, I served as executive director of the Pierre L. Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship for five years and coached leading entrepreneurs through the QuantumShift Executive Development Program. I also helped top executives at major corporations retool their entrepreneurial skills as faculty director for the Maple Leaf Leadership Academy, Industry Canada's Executive Learning Initiative, and the ATCO Strategic Leadership Program. In addition, I extended the reach of my teaching around the globe through my various professorial roles in Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, Paris and Bremen, Germany.

To augment my classroom teaching and coaching, I bring first-hand knowledge of entrepreneurship and venture investment. My undergraduate background is in mechanical engineering, and before entering graduate school at the University of British Columbia, I worked in industry for five years. On the side, I launched my own entrepreneurial company, which was a great learning experience. I have put my own money on the line by making personal angel investments in new business ventures. Finally, I have served as an advisor and board member at a number of start-ups. I continue to be involved in these different aspects of entrepreneurship in order to keep my entrepreneurial instincts sharp and my teaching current.

My guiding vision of entrepreneurship education centers around three major components: technical skills, self-confidence and a networking ecosystem. First, I believe it is critical to impart lessons-learned about what makes some businesses more likely to succeed, and then prepare students by giving them the technical skills to find the right opportunity and launch a successful venture. Second, I think we need to help students gain the self-confidence to seize that opportunity and take a chance. This confidence building may require giving them a gentle nudge and instilling a mindset that they can achieve their entrepreneurial goals if they apply themselves. Finally, it is important to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem that can support students while they are in school and after graduation while they are pursuing their careers. I believe that students learn from people they respect and who have experiences they value. We need to help students understand that broader entrepreneurial community and build networking connections among Ross School alumni, as well as entrepreneurs and venture investors who want to give back to the University through their mentorship, time and guidance.

In coming months, I look forward to connecting with the Ross alumni community and continuing to build on the outstanding curriculum and programs that Tom and his colleagues have put in place at the Zell Lurie Institute. The next generation of young entrepreneurs is already here, and they will need our combined efforts, working together on their behalf, in order to succeed.

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