Global media and internet pioneers Megha and Nirav Tolia to co-direct SMU’s

Proven business entrepreneurs and executives Megha Tolia and Nirav Tolia have been named co-founding directors of the William S. Spears Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership in SMU’s Cox School of Business.

Megha and Nirav Tolia

DALLAS (SMU) – Proven business entrepreneurs and executives Megha Tolia and Nirav Tolia have been named co-founding directors of the William S. Spears Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership in SMU’s Cox School of Business.

William S. Spears, founder and CEO of Cenergistic, launched the institute in April 2022 with the largest gift by a non-alumnus in the history of SMU. University President R. Gerald Turner announced the Tolias’ new role Thursday evening, Sept. 7, at an event hosted by the Spears Institute – a moderated conversation with Lorie K. Logan, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

“Entrepreneurship often starts with a spark, but the opportunity to learn from the experiences of others is key to reaching the finish line,” Spears said. “I cannot imagine two better people than Megha and Nirav Tolia to inspire excitement on the SMU campus and beyond, focus our students’ talents and demonstrate what it takes to succeed.”

Megha Tolia is president and COO of Shondaland, the television production company founded by renowned Hollywood showrunner and storyteller Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Bridgerton and Inventing Anna. Megha began her career as a brand manager for Neutrogena, spending the last twenty years building and operating mission-driven, consumer-centric, innovative brands. Prior to Shondaland, Megha spent eight years managing several businesses for SC Johnson, including Method, Ecover, Mrs. Meyer’s and Babyganics.

Nirav Tolia is the founder and former CEO of Nextdoor (NYSE: KIND) – the world’s largest local social networking service. He is currently the executive chairman of Hedosophia, a leading technology investment firm. He spent the last 24 years creating and leading early-stage, pioneering consumer Internet companies. After beginning his career as employee No. 84 at Yahoo!, he founded and served as CEO for three successive companies: Epinions, Fanbase, and Nextdoor. Under Nirav’s leadership, Nextdoor grew into the world’s largest local social network and was adopted by over 220,000 neighborhoods in 11 countries worldwide, including 90% of American neighborhoods.

The Tolias moved to Dallas in 2021, getting to know Spears first as his neighbors. He is “the quintessential entrepreneur,” they agreed, “paying it forward” to build future leaders through the Spears Institute. 

“We believe the Spears Institute is absolutely essential because entrepreneurship is essential to our country,” said Nirav. “It is the lifeblood, the beating heart of free enterprise, which is what America is built on. We have a moment in time here in the metroplex where all of this great creativity, innovation, excitement and optimism is coming together. And so there is no better time to create a centralized place where students can learn how to be great entrepreneurs.”

“The Spears Institute is important because it will inspire an entrepreneurial mindset,” Megha said. “An entrepreneurial mindset goes beyond the ‘what’ that you build. It’s so much about the ‘how’ and the ‘who’ – and that is what will fuel the innovation of the future. We know the Spears Institute will catapult future generations. We are excited about our roles as co-founding directors of this institute because we bring very different experiences to the table.”

The Spears Institute is designed to encourage business creation, leadership development and economic growth, strengthening areas that are critical to the future of the Dallas business economy.

“Dr. Spears announced his gift in the spring of 2022 just as the University was preparing to break ground on the renovation and expansion of the Cox School,” said Matthew B. Myers, dean of the Cox School of Business. “With the expansion project on track for completion next summer, we are excited that the Spears Institute is already gearing up. The announcement of the Tolias as co-founding directors is emblematic of the caliber of high-profile leadership the Spears Institute will bring to campus and the Dallas community.”

Leveraging the culture of free enterprise in North Texas, the Spears Institute will enhance the business ventures of SMU students and faculty and the wider region, support the academic and professional pursuits of students and faculty, and bring speakers to share expertise of interest to the campus and business community.

Under the leadership of the co-founding directors, the William S. Spears Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership will create a program consisting of Spears undergraduate scholars, Spears graduate fellows, distinguished visiting entrepreneurs and distinguished visiting faculty. The program will include:

  • The Spears Distinguished Speaker Series – global entrepreneurial leaders invited to campus for regular presentations.
  • Spears Mentors – individual entrepreneurs who agree to mentor one or more undergraduate or graduate students per semester.
  • Academic content – credit-bearing courses on entrepreneurial leadership each semester taught by a distinguished visiting entrepreneur or Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurial Leadership.
  • The Spears Internship Program – opportunities for Spears scholars and fellows to intern with entrepreneurs in Dallas; Washington, D.C.; California and international settings.
  • Spears Entrepreneurial Certification – development of short courses on entrepreneurial leadership leading to receipt of a branded Spears Certificate.

The gift creating the Spears Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership was a signature moment for SMU Ignited: Boldly Shaping Tomorrow, the University’s $1.5 billion campaign for impact. Read more here.


SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and more than 12,000 students in eight degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world. Building on its history of excellence, the University has launched SMU Ignited: Boldly Shaping Tomorrow – a multiyear $1.5 billion campaign to empower students, to enrich teaching and research, and to enhance our campus and community.