Since launching this column two and a half years ago, I’ve discussed the many ways WashU Olin has secured its standing as a world-class institution for business school education and research. The wide variety of topics I’ve covered includes digital education, cross-disciplinary programs, the MBA global immersion, scholarships, gender parity, alumni engagement and much more.
But with today’s 31st edition of the Desk of the Dean—the first of the new year—I’m focusing on an area I’ve never addressed before: the entrepreneurship platform, one of our crown jewels and a key pillar of excellence in Olin’s strategic plan.
Nearly a month ago, I was privileged to deliver a congratulatory message to an impressive group of students honored with entrepreneurship awards and, collectively, more than $40,000 in funding from various competitions. As I said at the time, I couldn’t have been more proud of how the WashU Olin community has adjusted to the realities of the coronavirus, and how our students persisted in pushing forward with creativity and innovation during this challenging time.
That December 8 celebration came six weeks after Poets & Quants recognized Olin as the No. 1 entrepreneurship program globally for MBAs—the second consecutive year Olin received that honor. Cliff Holekamp laid the foundation for that recognition a dozen years ago. Doug Villhard, who took over the program when Cliff retired, continued that momentum through the balance of 2019 and all of 2020.
“We’re really proud of pushing the entrepreneurial mindset,” Doug said in our recent interview with P&Q editor John Byrne. “People have a misconception that entrepreneurship is only about starting companies. Our program is also about being innovative and creative within larger organizations—corporate innovation.”
The entrepreneurship award celebration was one of Doug’s additions. It also hailed the return of the Olin Cup, honoring the winning project in Olin’s Hatchery course—dedicated to forging student ideas into startups. The ceremony also highlighted Olin’s BIG IdeaBounce, another new competition Doug introduced.
And last spring, Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning added a marketing Metrics Clinic course to the existing finance Metrics Clinic—both focused on providing student-led consulting projects for local startups.
Continuing the momentum
Those are just a few examples. But what is a program dedicated to teaching entrepreneurship and innovation if the program itself doesn’t innovate? That’s what Doug is continuing to do, in collaboration with the CEL, WashU’s Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship and its director, II Luscri.
In the coming year, additional courses are joining an impressive slate of more than two dozen focused on innovation and entrepreneurship. For example, Doug has partnered with the US Department of Defense on “Innovating for Defense,” a course focused on solving real-world problems confronting the defense department and the intelligence community.
Another new course—”The Endgame of Entrepreneurship: Leveraging Capitalism for Good”—will help students understand how skills from entrepreneurship and venture creation can be used to improve water quality, climate, education and gender equality globally and here in St. Louis.
Engaging with the community
Those are just two examples of new courses approved by the BSBA curriculum committee recently. Meanwhile, Doug is also working toward a new expansion of the CEL Entrepreneurial Consulting Team course.
Traditionally, the CELect program has paired student consulting teams with St. Louis-based startups on semester-long projects. Soon, however, the program’s reach will extend beyond St. Louis as students consult with startups on both coasts and around the world.
I’m also thrilled to see our entrepreneurship program further engage with Olin alumni and corporate partners, who serve as competition judges and mentors for budding business innovators. Through one simple form, they can connect with Doug to either provide support to our programs or get support through consulting projects and interns.
Two of those avenues of support are also recent developments: First, there’s the Olin Entrepreneurship Fund. This fund will support entrepreneurial initiatives within the Olin Business School, including curricular enhancements, faculty research, student experiential learning and prize money for elevator pitch and business plan competitions.
Then there’s the WashU Venture Network, inviting angel investors to connect with promising WashU-based startups.
In this space, I can only scratch the surface of the work underway as we continue to build, promote and, yes, innovate on our entrepreneurship platform.
We are fortunate to have an extraordinary team focused on this work, a St. Louis ecosystem that strongly supports innovation and values our participation and, of course, creative minds who come to Olin seeking this training.
Pictured above: Doug Villhard leading a class discussion focused on entrepreneurship—prior to the pandemic.