When the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn caused internship cancellations, WashU Olin and the Center for Experiential Learning stepped up to provide summer learning opportunities for students while supporting St. Louis-based businesses. Today, we hear from Toby Warticovschi, EMBA ’09, partner at Millstone Capital Advisors, as well as Carin Stutz, CEO of Native Foods, a Millstone portfolio company.
Given the pandemic, what compelled your company to get involved with this program?
Warticovschi: We wanted to provide an opportunity for world-class talent, and to see if these students could assist us in deriving value from the data from one of our portfolio companies that, due to resource constraints, we have not been able to analyze. I have a sophomore in college and a junior in high school. Their internship plans were canceled, too. I brought my daughter to work for one of our portfolio companies for the same reason we’re working with WashU students: It’s a mutual benefit.
Stutz: We all want our companies to be relevant to future generations, so the opportunity to participate and hear the perspective of your students is invaluable.
What is your project about?
Warticovschi: We asked students to our data to see if they could find any key insights to our guest/consumer behavior when it comes to choosing healthy or indulgent menu items; willingness to try new menu items or limited-time offers; and menu pricing.
What was it like working with WashU Olin students?
Stutz: They came prepared and asked insightful questions. For some, it may be the first time communicating directly with an executive team, so some seemed a little hesitant to engage. Having the advisor involved, in our case Zachary Kaplan, helped bridge the newness of the situation.
What advice would you give students on the cusp of graduating at this time in history?
Warticovschi: These are certainly unprecedented times, but my main advice is to remain optimistic. As this change happens, every business is having challenges—and that also presents new opportunities. Those who ask themselves the question “How can I leverage this opportunity to add or create value?” are the ones who will be best positioned for the future.