Belinsky Gifts $500K to WSU to Create Lab for Student Entrepreneurs

In August, Wayne State University held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new Mike Ilitch School of Business, a $40 million, state-of-the-art facility in Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood.

The business school announced another piece of good news this summer when alumnus Russ Belinsky donated $500,000 to establish the Belinsky Entrepreneurial Learning Library, which aims to kick-start student and faculty entrepreneurship.

Belinsky is a Detroit native who was educated at local public schools. He graduated from Henry Ford High School in the late 1970s.

“My first entrepreneurial experience was being a paper boy in Detroit,” he says. “I cut the grass, my brother and I bought and sold houses—entrepreneurship touches my heart and my history. I attended Wayne State on a scholarship, so I wanted to pay it forward at some point.”

Belinsky’s funding is meant to provide resources, training, and mentorship to students and faculty in order to help them launch investment-ready startups or startups based on the university’s intellectual property. Wayne State says BELL will closely coordinate with instructors and students taking newly created  entrepreneurship and innovation certificate programs, and will connect with the broader Detroit-area business community to create commercial pathways and attract startup funding. Jeff Stoltman, the university’s director of entrepreneurship and innovation programs, will manage BELL.

Belinsky graduated from Wayne State in 1981 with a degree in business administration before heading off to Georgetown law school. After that, he moved to Los Angeles and practiced law for a few years before founding an investment bank in 1989, which he sold in 2006. Since then, he’s served as co-founder and senior managing director of LB Advisors, a private equity firm.

While Belinsky was attending Wayne State, he had a “newbie” statistics professor named Attila Yaprak who made a big impression on him.

“He’s such an inspirational guy,” Belinsky says. After Yaprak was honored with the Inspirational Teacher of the Year Award in 2017, Belinsky gave Wayne State a “modest” gift in Yaprak’s honor and reconnected with the business school.

It was around this time that the Ilitch family donated $40 million to the university, and Belinsky was inspired to make a bigger contribution of his own. After some back and forth, he hit on the idea of focusing on innovation and catalyzing student startups.

“We wanted to put some meat on the bone,” Belinsky explains. “BELL is akin to an incubator, where you take academic knowledge and develop business ideas from across campus in the learning lab. The [Ilitch School of Business] team has a great vision and all the ingredients are there [in Detroit]. I’m hopeful the learning lab will be the center point of all those efforts.”

Belinsky is earmarking about 20 percent of his donation to Wayne State’s Warrior Fund, which supports student-led tech startups at the pre-seed stage.  Beyond enabling student entrepreneurs to start companies, he wants Detroit to be one of the “major locales” for venture capital in the country.

“In 15 years, I’d like Detroit to be mentioned as a top four or five city for VC,” he says. “I’d like to see it really flowering and attracting student talent. The momentum in Detroit is building.”

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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