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Exploring Entrepreneurship in Zell Fellows Program

MMM students learn in accelerator program at Kellogg

In 2013, the Kellogg School of Management launched the Zell Fellows Program, an applied entrepreneurial experience for selected students. The program was funded by a gift from Sam Zell, an active philanthropist with a focus on entrepreneurial education.

The program provides mentoring, leadership coaching, and guidance aimed to help each Fellow launch a startup or acquire an existing venture.

The program includes three new venture tracks: Consumer & Enterprise, Healthcare, and Emerging Markets & Social Impact. The Emerging Markets & Social Impact track helps students starting ventures located in developing economies or ventures with social impact. The fourth track of the program, Acquisition & Ownership, is for students approaching entrepreneurship through acquisition and/or growing a business.

Meet Layon Costa and Robbie Sutkay, two students in the MMM Program, who are applying human-centered design principles to their experience in the Zell Fellows Program.


Layon Costa, MMM '19Layon Costa - Emerging Markets & Social Impact track

Q: What drew you to the Emerging Markets & Social Impact track?

LC: Last year, the Zell Fellows Program added Social Impact businesses to the already existing Emerging Markets track. The people behind the Zell Fellows Program knew entrepreneurs could benefit from this focused experience since start-ups face lots of challenges that are particular to the regions where they are founded at. Since I’m working on a Brazilian business, the EM&SI track was the logical choice for me.

Q: Describe your startup GetNuts.

LC: GetNuts is focused on providing Latin American ridesharing drivers with new means to make money. We noticed lots of drivers work over 10 hours per day. Increasing their compensation could improve their life significantly. We provide products, services and a platform for drivers to turn the time they have with passengers into a valuable experience for everyone in the car.

Q: What has been most impactful about your experience in the Zell Fellows Program so far?

LC: I have to say the commitment and accountability that the program requires from us was a decisive factor for my business to move from an idea to an actual product. Lots of people say they want to start a company someday and discuss cool innovations, but just a really small number of students actually do it. Having the weekly meetings with our amazing cohort and chatting about the updates on their business is not only an extra motivation but, in my opinion, it’s a guarantee that you will also work really hard to make your idea happen.

Q: What lessons from your MMM classes do you feel you have leveraged during the Zell Fellows Program so far?

LC: Many things. If I had to pick one I’d say research. Entrepreneurs don’t have historical information about their industry, company or competitors. They don’t even have last year’s results to understand where to improve and to focus. So all the information will come from potential buyers, providers, distributors and so on. Understanding the real pain points and what people would be willing to adopt is our main goal. The MMM Program teaches us through Research-Design-Build and Business Innovation Lab projects (and also in specific classes like Design Research) some tools and best practices for every different kind [of research] from conventional questionnaires to deep ethnographic research.

Q: What's the next step for you after graduation?

LC: Things move so fast that it’s hard to predict at what size (and even if we’ll still exist) by July. But I expect to use my two months after graduation to scale the business to around 2,000 drivers in São Paulo and launch our platform at another Brazilian city.


Robbie Sutkay, MMM '19Robbie Sutkay - Acquisition & Ownership track

Q: What drew you to the Acquisition & Ownership track of the Zell Fellows Program?

RS: I came to Kellogg looking to pursue entrepreneurship broadly, but had never heard of Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition (ETA) or Search Funds at all. Fortunately, Kellogg provides ample opportunity for exposure to all possibilities, and I was able to discover this concept and have never looked back. For me, ETA is the best path to accomplish my life design with a career that affords me the autonomy to control my time and have a significant impact on my community and workplace while providing ownership.

Q: What has been most impactful about your experience in the Zell Fellows Program so far?

RS: For me, it has been all about the cohort. Having a group of people with similar goals and ambitions to bounce ideas off of and act as a sounding board for how to best pursue this risky endeavor has been immeasurably valuable. Their perspectives and candid feedback on how I will structure my search for a small company and the ways to de-risk the search have allowed me to refine my plans.

Q: What lessons from your MMM classes do you feel you have leveraged during the Zell Fellows Program so far?

RS: I have always said that the human-centered design process can be applied to any discipline, including searching for, buying, and then operating a small business. Whether it’s finding investors, sourcing deals, convincing business owners that you are worthy of their company, or leading and inspiring your employees, focusing on the other’s needs and perspective is vital to an ideal outcome. The thought process and concepts will be crucial as I look to grow the business and create value.

Q: What's the next step for you after graduation?

RS: The first step is my long-overdue honeymoon to Europe! When we get back, I will launch my search for a growth-stage, small to medium-sized company in Virginia, North Carolina, or South Carolina with the hopes of continuing the successful legacy that the previous owner has built before me and flexing my newly minted MBA and MMM skills to take the business to the next level!

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