Equinox Gym Founder Funds Scholarships for U-M Student-Entrepreneurs

Earlier this month, the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies announced that a fitness mogul made a “sizable” donation to establish the Spevak Fund for Entrepreneurial Studies.

The fund will grant scholarships for students focused on entrepreneurship. Donor Harvey Spevak is the CEO of Equinox Holdings, a “luxury fitness” company that operates four different brands: Equinox, Soul Cycle, Blink Fitness, and PURE Yoga.

Stewart Thornhill, Zell Lurie’s executive director, said the new fund’s scholarships will be awarded to students in their second year. “It’s a good time to figure out what’s next,” he said. “A lot of students know they’ve had enough of their current major, and the business school has an opportunity to identify who really wants to pursue entrepreneurship. At the risk of being overly glib, entrepreneurship is the new black, irrespective of where people are studying.”

Thornhill said the public has become enamored with entrepreneurship thanks to cultural forces such as “Shark Tank” and “The Social Network,” which have helped feed the notion that anyone with a brilliant idea can build a billion-dollar tech company in their garage.

“Entrepreneurs pitching to investors has become part of mainstream pop culture,” Thornhill explained. “It’s become a path to success, but it’s a double-edged sword. The upside is that people like Mark Zuckerberg create motivation, but we also need to manage student expectations. We try to balance enthusiasm with what’s possible.”

The ultimate goal of the Spevak scholarships, Thornhill said, is to draw more student-entrepreneurs to the business school and, once they’re in, buy them time to shape their startups.

“It gives them time to work on their ventures and attract external funding,” he added.

The Zell Lurie Institute has consistently won accolades from the Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine for its graduate entrepreneurship program; in 2012, it was named the second-best entrepreneurial program in the nation. In addition to the creation of the Spevak Fund for Entrepreneurial Studies, Spevak’s gift will also support a new classroom—part of the business school’s $135 million addition and renovation—scheduled to be completed in the fall.

Spevak graduated with an MBA from Ross in 1987 and later started a sporting goods retail chain called Manhattan Sports. From there, he went on to create his entrepreneurial empire.

“I have been a great beneficiary of everything the university has to offer, and it is a privilege to be in a position to give back to a school that has been so instrumental in my career by instilling in me not only the spirit of entrepreneurialism, but also the ability to think creatively,” Spevak said in a press release. “My hope is that this gift will support and inspire those like me with a desire to pursue a less traditional business path.”

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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