On the strength of the many startups launched by recent WashU Olin students, the school once again snagged the No. 1 spot in Poets & Quants 2020 ranking of top MBA entrepreneurship programs.
For the second year in a row—and in the second year of the ranking’s existence—Olin placed ahead of 49 other schools evaluated in the ranking published by P&Q and Inc. magazine today. Olin also scored the No. 1 ranking for global entrepreneurship in 2019.
Villhard gave credit to his predecessor, Clifford Holekamp, who retired from the role in 2019. “Over the last 10 years Cliff and others laid a solid foundation,” Villhard said. “The ranking validates those efforts and justifies our plans to take the program to even higher levels than it is today. We will be continually innovating. The ranking just adds more fuel to the fire.”
The ranking measured participating schools across 10 categories, including the number of recently established startups by students and alumni, the number of students involved in venture capital, funding raised by student- or alumni-led startups, dedicated entrepreneurship courses and more.
“We are deeply gratified to once again see WashU Olin’s substantial investment in entrepreneurship and innovation recognized by Poets & Quants in this ranking,” Dean Taylor said. “We long ago tightened our focus on fostering the endless creativity of our students. That’s why entrepreneurship is one of Olin’s four pillars of excellence.”
Villhard also credited the three “legs of the stool” that support the program: a robust suite of courses and experiential learning offerings, the rich entrepreneurial ecosystem of the St. Louis region, and the ambitious, creative students who bring their ideas to the table.
Some components of the Olin approach
Olin’s entrepreneurship program includes 21 courses specifically targeting the discipline. Meanwhile, fully 90% of the school’s MBA courses deal with content related to entrepreneurship.
Additionally, Olin, in partnership with the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship, runs a foundational course called the Hatchery—one of the nation’s oldest startup business planning courses. Since its inception, startups spawned in the Hatchery have raised more than $87 million, created 466 positions in St. Louis and filed for 17 provisional patents to date.
Last year, Olin also introduced the Holekamp Seed Fund, providing $1,000 grants to help students “move to action” with their startup ideas. Students are asked to pay that support forward.
Poets & Quants’ recognition
In its story about the 2020 ranking, Poets & Quants noted that nearly one in five Olin MBAs had launched a business within three years of graduation between 2017 and 2019, the highest percentage among the 50 schools ranked.
“Besides topping the list for the highest percentage of graduates to launch businesses, the school placed among the top 15 in eight out of 10 other categories,” the publication wrote. WashU Olin “dished out $738,000 in startup award cash to MBAs during the 2019-2020 academic year. A third of its student-run MBA clubs are focused on entrepreneurship or innovation. It boasts more than 25,000-square-feet of accelerator space for just 221 enrolled full-time MBAs.”
Poets & Quants also highlighted a key advantage of Olin’s program, the ecosystem in which it operates: “That commitment to entrepreneurial thinking occurs in a metro environment that has encouraged new venture creation.”
Babson College, the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and Harvard Business School rounded out the top five in the ranking of 50 programs.
Villhard said the ranking has made a difference in how students approach WashU Olin. “Before the 2019 ranking, students were discovering entrepreneurship once they got on campus,” he said. “Now, they are coming here for it. They are engaging with us on Day 1.”
The Poets & Quants video event today featured a panel of students and alumni from Olin’s program in a panel discussion about how WashU supported their startup efforts.
“I was particularly drawn to Olin because its curriculum offered options for students to focus their studies on entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship,” Shannon Turner, MBA ’18, said before the event. Turner is the founder of the Maria Lida Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting self-sustaining economic development in Alausi, Ecuador.
Lloyd Yates, MBA ’22, founder of men’s clothing accessory site Tylmen, said he was drawn to Olin and its entrepreneurship program by the strength of its faculty, including Villhard. Tylmen’s direct-to-consumer line of accessories includes face masks that double as pocket squares.
Tying together Olin’s pillars of excellence
“Olin is a very rigorous program that takes a values-based and data-driven approach to strategy and problem-solving,” Yates said. “I’ve benefited from the program thus far through gaining incredible perspective. All my classmates come from different backgrounds and have something unique to bring to every table.”
Villhard said he expects further growth in the program as the school and Washington University explore entrepreneurial partnerships with WashU’s highly ranked engineering and medical schools. Increasingly, Olin is gaining access to capital to fund Olin MBA startup businesses. And additionally, Olin’s brand and alumni base are global, creating opportunities to expand coursework and build partnerships in Silicon Valley, New York City and internationally.
See Taylor and Villhard’s “fireside chat” with John Byrne
“I am being exposed to many CEOs of start-ups within the St. Louis area,” said Tova Feinberg, MBA ’22, cofounder of S.T.L. Loaves, an e-commerce bakery business. “This has allowed me to connect and learn about their personal experience as well as receive advise on my future goals and my current startup.”
Although the entrepreneurship ranking puts a premium on students and alumni who have launched startups, Villhard notes that isn’t the path most MBA students take—though entrepreneurship remains an important component of their business school education.
“The majority of students put their entrepreneurial mindset to work in corporate environments, venture capital firms, private equity firms, existing startups, or existing social entrepreneurial entities,” he said. “There is a misconception that entrepreneurship is only about starting new companies. It’s actually about innovation—a highly desired skill for any industry.”