Q1:2021 Inaugural Issue

Zell Global Entrepreneurship Network

Welcome to the Inaugural ZGEN Newsletter!

Dear ZGEN Alumni,

As our global network continues to grow each year, the ZGEN team remains focused on delivering value to our alumni by keeping the community informed, fostering strong relationships between individuals, providing a platform for productive discussion, and bringing the Kellogg, Michigan ZLI, and IDC networks together.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has made in-person gatherings more challenging, it has also created new opportunities for ZGEN to connect virtually. To that end, we wanted to thank everyone who participated in the ZGEN social media survey we sent out earlier this year. Based on your feedback, we are pleased to announce that this quarterly ZGEN newsletter will be our primary avenue for sending information out to the community, and that the ZGEN Group on LinkedIn will be our primary avenue for fostering community participation and engagement.

So what can you expect to see in our newsletter?

  1. ZGEN Community Forum: Each quarter, we will engage you via the ZGEN LinkedIn group to create the content for the Community Forum. For our first issue, Ellen Havdala interviewed Sam using questions posted to the ZGEN group by our alumni!
  2. ZGEN Program Highlights: Stay close to each of the three ZGEN programs through feature stories, alumni highlights, and updates on the current classes.
  3. Equity Group Investments Highlights: Follow Sam in the news and keep in touch with EGI.
  4. Special Announcements – Supporting ZGEN Alumni in 2020: The Zell Entrepreneurship Fund at IDC, the Kellogg Startup Assistance Fund, and the Zell Founders Fund at the University of Michigan have each supported numerous alumni ventures in 2020. Check out this year’s class of alumni ventures in this section!

For those who posted a question for Sam on the LinkedIn Group, thank you for participating in our first Community Forum. Please continue to stay tuned to ZGEN Group on LinkedIn for announcements, events, and other opportunities to participate and engage with the ZGEN community.

If you need access to the ZGEN LinkedIn Group, please contact

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year,

The ZGEN Team

ZGEN Community Forum:
Hosted by Sam Zell & Ellen Havdala

Zell - Havdala
Password: newsletter

Please continue the conversation by sharing your thoughts, questions, and comments on the ZGEN LinkedIn Group!

ZGEN Program Highlights

University of Michigan Program Highlight

Exit, Exit, Read All About It!

Morning Brew, a digital media company and publisher of a daily business e-newsletter for young professionals that was cofounded by Michigan alumni Austin Rief (BBA ’17, Zell Entrepreneur 2016-2017) and Alex Lieberman (BBA‘15), recently signed a multi-million dollar agreement with Insider Inc. for a majority stake in the startup. Lieberman and Rief will retain a minority stake with an earn-out clause, which encourages them to stay and grow the business long-term.

Lieberman and Rief started Morning Brew as Ross undergraduates. During their time at Michigan, the co-founders participated in numerous Zell Lurie Institute programs. Rief was a 2016-2017 Zell Entrepreneur, and the team participated in the Michigan Business Challenge (MBC) as well as the Eugene Applebaum Dare to Dream Grant Program. In addition, Morning Brew received an investment from the Zell Founders Fund.
Connect with the founders -> Alex Liberman (Class of 2015) and Austin Reif (Class of 2017)

Morning Brew co-founders Alex Lieberman (U-M BBA ’15) and Austin Rief (U-M BBA ’17, Zell Entrepreneur 2016-2017)

Welcome to the New U-M Zell Entrepreneurs!

Nine of the University of Michigan’s top student founders were recently selected as 2020-2021 Zell Entrepreneurs, including graduate and undergraduate business students, a computer science major, and a graduate student from the School of Public Health. Their startups include B2C and B2B ventures in a broad range of industries, including consumer products, education, healthcare, medical devices, and software. Read about this year’s cohort.

Kellogg Program Highlight

DinDin Acquired by Bradesco: DinDin, started by Brunna Seabra ’20, was recently acquired by one of the largest banks in Brazil, Bradesco, in Bradesco’s first ever startup acquisition. DinDin will be part of Bitz, the wallet and digital account owned by Bradesco. With Bitz, they will continue to promote the financial inclusion of the underbanked population in Brazil. Brunna started DinDin with her co-founders before beginning her MBA at Kellogg but credits support from the Zell Fellows program with helping to refine their business model, design their growth-hacking strategy and strengthen their network internationally. Connect with the founders -> Brunna Seabra (Class of 2020)

Welcome to the New Kellogg Zell Fellows!

The Kellogg Zell Fellows program recently selected 17 MBA students to join the 2020-21 cohort: 10 students who are building ventures in areas as diverse as healthtech to baked goods to jewelry and sustainable apparel, and 7 students who are interested in acquiring and leading an existing lower-middle market venture post-graduation. Read more about them here.

IDC Program Highlight

Congratulations to Bizzabo on raising their $138mm Series E round led by Insight Partners! 

Bizzabo was founded during Zell 9 by Eran, Alon, and Boaz as a communication platform for conferences, evolving into a managing platform for conference production companies. Despite the suspension of the half-a-trillion-dollar conferences industry, the Bizzabo team reinvented itself to navigate the unprecedented challenge.
Connect with founders -> Eran Ben ShushanAlon Alroy,Boaz Katz (Zell 9)

Kicking off Zell 20 at IDC!

The Zell 20 class kicked off this Fall with 17 students, a smaller class to accommodate for COVID-19 and allow for a more hands-on approach in an era of virtual interaction. The students quickly formed seven teams and have set off on the challenging idea validation stage.

While all academic studies are currently online, the Zell Entrepreneurship Program can also meet in small teams (masked, and socially distant) at IDC’s newly renovated lab, the Zellerator.

Zell Alumni

ExZellence – The first of its kind leadership program for Zell alumni is a four-month executive excellence program, specially tailored to twenty-four hand-selected alumni of the Zell Entrepreneurship Program at IDC Herzliya. The program will be led by Prof. Fred Kofman, a prominent leadership expert and coach to top business executives, including Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadela. The program is offered by the Hoffman Kofman Foundation and generously funded by Mr. Reid G. Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and Partner at Greylock Partners, and by Prof. Fred Kofman.

ZEP Fund Demo Day – We collaborated with GKH Law Firm to host the first ZEP Fund Demo Day with over 40 investors and 10 ZEP Fund portfolio companies. The ZEP Fund was created to help bridge financing for companies founded by Zell alumni. As of today, we have funded 26 outstanding companies, well on their way to disrupting various industries, from tourism to finance, and more.

To watch the demo day, please visit the following link.

Equity Group Investments Highlights

EGI - Able Freight

Equity Group Investments Fuels Able Freight Services Growth with Investment

EGI’s Fourth Recent Investment in Transportation & Logistics

Equity Group Investments, Sam Zell’s private investment firm, announced its investment in Able Freight Services, a provider of airfreight forwarding services focused on time-sensitive perishable goods. Able provides airfreight forwarding services from North America to more than 60 countries on behalf of prominent global brands of growers, shipping and freight forwarding companies, retailers, distributors and government bodies. The company has eight cold-storage locations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Hawaii and Mexico, and long-standing partnerships with leading commercial and cargo airlines. As a top 10 forwarder of goods to markets outside the United States, Able’s services include transportation of perishable products such as fresh fruits and vegetables, protein, and seafood, as well as the handling of critical pharmaceutical, medical and e-commerce product. See the full press release here.

Connect with EGI -> Ellen HavdalaAaron Zell

Sam Zell in the News

  • Billionaire Sam Zell Talks Trump, SPACs, And Interest Rates In Forbes Q+A (Forbes)
  • Zell Says Biden Could Be Positive For The Country (Bloomberg)
  • Zell Says The Energy Environment Is Very Treacherous (Bloomberg)
  • Fed Has No Choice But To Keep Rates Low: Zell (Bloomberg)

Special Announcements – Supporting ZGEN Alumni in 2020

ZEP Fund Class of 2020

The ZEP Fund was created to help bridge financing for companies founded by Zell alumni. As of today, we have funded 26 outstanding companies, well on their way to disrupting various industries, from tourism to finance, and more. The Fund has recently supported the following companies:


ZOOG helps kids and their grandparents (or any other remote family member) communicate across the technology gap. Books are the gateway between generations, and by offering a unique book reading experience, ZOOG brings generations closer to each other. Connect with the founders -> Matan Guttman (Zell 10)


BALENA is a D2C brand that utilizes biomass and organisms as a renewable source of material to replace plastic in wearables. Their first product, sandals, will reduce the use of fossil fuels and push the fashion industry toward more circular practices. Connect with the founders -> David Roubach (Zell 19)


VirtualOffice helps companies and remote teams enhance their virtual meetings, by allowing them to remove distracting surroundings, embed in-video productivity tools, and receive post-mortem briefs of their meetings. Connect with the founders -> Ido LavieBar WolfYonatan Eldan (Zell 19)


magical is a new kind of calendar tool that helps teams meet, plan, and optimize their most valuable asset at work – their time. Connect with the founders -> Tommy Barav (Zell 13)


Vyzer is the only digital-first wealth advisor, offering a holistic financial overview and recommendations based on crowd-sourced, AI-driven data for a flat fee. Vyzer is never incentivized to convince users to take actions that are not in their own interest. Connect with founders -> Litan YahavTomer Salvi (Zell 9)

The Kellogg Startup Assistance Fund Class of 2020

The Kellogg Startup Assistance Fund was put into place in the summer of 2020 to help recent alumni and graduating students who were impacted by COVID-19 and not eligible for any of the federal PPP loans. We were excited and grateful to be able to make this happen to support the following ZGEN alumni. Congratulations to all!


reBLEND uses surplus and imperfect produce to create frozen smoothie pops.  As a result of COVID-19, reBLEND had to curtail growth in B2B outlets and needed to refocus on digital platforms of growth. Connect with the founders -> Kathryn Bernell (Class of 2018)

Kim Industries

For the past 15 months, Kin Industries has built Brinkos, a new healthy high protein snack made with cricket flour. They are now focusing on growth and expansion of this new brand during a difficult time.  Connect with the founders -> Enrique Evoli (Class of 2019)


Serionix produces Colorfil, a home air filter that removes more toxins and odors from the environment and changes color when it needs to be changed.  Connect with the founders -> Will Zheng (Class of 2020)


UnifiHealth is rebuilding health insurance for small businesses using components to make it more economical.   The investment is helping propel them towards their goal of launching in Q2 2021. Connect with the founders -> Olivia Cameron (Class of 2020)

True Fiktion

TrueFiktion is creating history comics for the classroom to teach black history that students can relate to, filling in details that modern history education has omitted. Connect with the founders -> Steph Manuel (Class of 2019)


Recigases is a Brazilian refrigerant reclamation company that enables companies to reuse their refrigerant. Recigases solution enables companies to reduce their costs, fulfill legal requirements, and be more sustainable. Connect with the founders -> Fernanda Colaco (Class of 2020)


Kengos (recently rebranded from Scoots) is making casual, sustainable footwear. Connect with the founders -> Dave Costello (Class of 2019)

The Zell Founders Fund Class of 2020

The Zell Founders Fund supports startups founded by recent University of Michigan alumni who have just completed an undergraduate or graduate degree, to help them launch and grow their ventures. The Fund has recently supported the following companies:

Lillian Augusta

Lillian Augusta revolutionizes Black hair care by offering plant-based braiding hair, an alternative to the traditional plastic-based braiding hair that causes discomfort for women who wear it and plastic pollution in our environment. Read a profile of the founders in Crain’s Detroit BusinessConnect with founders ->Jannice Newson and Nana Britwum


LoanSense creates personalized student loan plans that help users lower their payment, file their paperwork… and can save them hundreds monthly on their student loans while also boosting their credit. Read a profile of the founder from The Ann Arbor Observer. Connect with founder -> Catalina Kaiyoorawongs (Zell Entrepreneur 2018-2019)


Nochi is an entertainment studio that develops character-based intellectual property (including thought-provoking and socially impactful games) and related merchandise. Nochi recently launched its first title (an otome romance novel called Sifting Thyme), as well as a Kickstarter campaign for its second title (a choice-driven, magitech isekai visual novel called Somnium Eleven). Connect with founder -> Natalie Fang (Zell Entrepreneur 2019-2020)

Thawra Network

Thawra Network (creator of Dearborn Girl) aspires to be the largest and most impactful media company representing Arabs and Muslims through authentic content. In September, Thawra Network was chosen as a 2020 Most Disruptive Startup by Poets & QuantsConnect with founder -> Rima Fadlallah (Zell Entrepreneur 2019-2020)


YourChecks mission is to become the Credit Karma of background checks. Its purpose-built, tech-enabled platform specifically designed for consumers and gig workers features a unique algorithm that enables users to gain trust and transact online without having to worry about their safety and privacy. Listen to a podcast with the founder.Connect with founder -> Adam Smiddy


Vitresoft is a privacy-conscious Brain Computer Interface (BCI) startup developing a revolutionary pair of earphones that allow the wearer to connect with their self, their friends, and the digital world, using only their mind. Utilizing Vitresoft’s patent-pending approach, users and developers will have access to an intuitive digital toolset that lets them create expressive art, share intimate experiences, and have a deeper insight into their own thoughts and emotions. Connect with founder -> Angel Rodriguez (Zell Entrepreneur 2019-2020)