A Gift from Entrepreneurs to Support Entrepreneurs

A gift from Leslie Bluhm, ’89, and her husband David Helfand has further strengthened the Law School’s already-extensive business and entrepreneurship training for its students.

The gift provides funding for a clinical fellow who will supervise law students interested in start-ups and other entrepreneurial activity and will facilitate students’ participation with entrepreneurial groups in programs elsewhere on the university campus, particularly at the Booth School of Business. Mr. Helfand, who is copresident of Equity Group Investments, earned his business degree from the Booth School.

The law students will participate in programs that include the New Venture Challenge and the Social New Venture Challenge at the Booth School’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. In those programs, Booth students and others conceptualize, develop, and launch new ventures that are either traditional business ventures or socially oriented enterprises. The law students will also participate at the university’s Chicago Innovation Exchange, a hub for multidisciplinary collaborations and support for business start-up activities.

The Bluhm/Helfand fellowship complements other recent additions to the Law School’s business-related programming, including the Doctoroff Business Leadership Program, the Scott and Kathleen Kapnick Leadership and Professionalism Initiative, and the Corporate Lab.

Dean Michael Schill observes, “Our students increasingly want to use their legal, business, and analytical skills to create and collaborate on new ventures. This generous gift, from two donors who are exemplary entrepreneurs in their own fields, enables us to provide our students with the hands-on experience and seasoned guidance that will help them achieve their own entrepreneurial goals.”

Leslie Bluhm’s entrepreneurial venture, Chicago Cares, arose from the intersection between a passion of hers and an unmet need. An avid volunteer as she was growing up, she continued volunteering while she was at the Law School and then when she was an associate at Skadden Arps in New York. When she returned to Chicago in 1991, she was surprised to see that many of her friends and colleagues were not volunteering. “They didn’t know where to turn to find the right opportunities,” she said, “and they were afraid of becoming overcommitted, given their very busy lives.”

Chicago Cares—which is now the largest organization of its kind in the Midwest—creates impactful, hands-on volunteer experiences connecting people, communities, and causes. It is the only nonprofit that addresses needs across the full spectrum—from hunger to education to job readiness—through innovative team volunteer efforts. In the process, the organization empowers people to lead, creates links between neighborhoods, and seeks to transform the city for good. Since its founding in 1991, Chicago Cares has mobilized more than 500,000 volunteers through its programming.

Bluhm also designed an innovative financing method for Chicago Cares: roughly 75 percent of the organization’s income is derived from donations to its Corporate Volunteer Program, which creates customized, hands-on group volunteer projects that are consistent with companies’ team building, leadership development, and philanthropy initiatives.

Although she passed the day-to-day leadership of Chicago Cares to a new executive director a few years ago, Bluhm is still actively involved in the organization’s initiatives, such as the Student Service and Leadership Program. The Chicago Public School students in that program identify critical needs in their communities and then create and implement hands-on service projects that respond to those needs.

Ms. Bluhm and Mr. Helfand have acted to encourage new thinking outside the Law School, too. In 2011 they created the Bluhm/Helfand Social Innovation Fellowship, which provides socially minded innovators, entrepreneurs, and change agents under the age of 35 with exposure to nationally recognized business and community leaders, funding to support their causes, and a platform for growth.

Bluhm sees the new fellowship at the Law School as an apt commemoration of the past as well as an important contribution toward the future. “David and I met when we were in the same business law class at the Law School, so this fellowship, which will further strengthen ties between law students and their counterparts in the business school, seems particularly fitting. It’s a way for us to show our appreciation for the educations we received and the opportunities we were able to pursue as a result, and I know it will also help create future generations of entrepreneurs and advisors who will change our world for the better.”