Lloyd Yates, MBA ’22, knew in high school that he wanted to be an entrepreneur.
“It stemmed from my father,” a physician who went into private practice and also started opening other businesses, he said. Yates saw his father succeed not only for their family, but also for others.
“If I could create some jobs, I think it would be a very fulfilling feeling for me,” he said.
Yates was one of four Olin students and alumni who participated in a roundtable discussion on October 27, when Poets & Quants announced that, for the second year in a row, Olin claimed the top spot as the best MBA program for entrepreneurship.
John Byrne, Poets & Quants’ editor-in-chief who moderated the discussion, commented, “I think the best part of entrepreneurship is generating meaningful employment for others, frankly.”
Yates founded men’s clothing accessory site Tylmen while he was an undergraduate. Tylmen’s direct-to-consumer line of accessories includes ties, pocket squares, belts, scarves and even face masks that double as pocket squares.
How Olin supported their startup ambitions
The panel also included Tova Feinberg, MBA ’22, cofounder of S.T.L. Loaves; Byron Porter, MBA ’20, founder and CEO of HUM Industrial Technology; and Shannon Turner, MBA ’18, founder of the Maria Lida Foundation.
The video event featured a discussion of how Olin supported them in their startup efforts.
Turner said she was drawn to Olin because its curriculum offered options to focus her studies on social entrepreneurship. Her foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to promoting self-sustaining economic development in Alausi, Ecuador, her father’s hometown.
“I’ve always felt extremely blessed to get the education that I’ve received in the States and have always had a passion to use that education to get back to my roots,” Turner said. She started the Maria Lida Foundation after she graduated almost two years ago. “We’re trying to use education and vocational training and tourism as vehicles for economic development in the area.”
Said Byrne, “I’m loving the fact that we have a social impact person on the on the crew here, because it just shows you the variety, the diversity of startup activity in business schools and particularly in Olin.”
The foundation recently began providing a business consulting program for the local indigenous community.
“Tourism has taken a big hit, unfortunately, during this time,” Turner said. “Something that we can help the local community do in the meantime is maybe promote tourism to the domestic population as people start to kind of move around within the country.”
‘I gave it a shot’
Porter said he had no intention of becoming an entrepreneur.
“I was hoping for a nice, cushy general management job when I entered business school,” he said. Then he talked with a good friend who’d spent 15 years at multinational conglomerate General Electric before he became an entrepreneur. Porter’s friend encouraged him to reconsider his goals. “So I gave it a shot.”
Just four or five months into school at Olin, Porter decided to start a company.
The first attempt evolved into a second. HUM “was a pivot,” Porter said. Using “vibration analysis” and machine learning software, Porter created a monitoring device about the size of a deck of cards to track railcar movements and anticipate necessary maintenance—before a big accident happens.
“This is predictive maintenance,” he said. “Right now, the rail industry is on a reactive maintenance cycle.”
Porter said he can’t say enough good things about Olin faculty and classes. “I’m still in touch with a least a half a dozen professors.”
Yates said Olin “has been super helpful” with his startup.
“There’s definitely a multitude of different funding resources, different professors who are looking to help me grow and scale” his business, “whether that be with marketing, with strategy, with operations. And it’s been really fun. Well, fun and rigorous, taking these core MBA classes.”
The sweet spot
Feinberg, a passionate foodie who founded an e-commerce bakery business, said she applies what she learns at Olin to her startup.
“It was very hard for me coming from a food and beverage background, seeing a lot of these restaurants shutting down left and right,” she said. Then she lost her bartending job while she was studying for grad school.
She decided to open an e-commerce business based on Amish friendship bread. “The best way to someone’s stomach is through sweets.” Feinberg currently delivers in St. Louis and ships loaves to other places.
At Olin, she has made strong connections with her peers and students in the class ahead of her, she said.
“They’re really cheering me on and really spreading the word” about her breads “and buying them, and tasting and giving me constructive feedback, as well.”
Also, Doug Villhard, academic director of Olin’s entrepreneurship program, “has been truly amazing,” she said. He is cheering her on, as well. Feinberg recently entered the Skandalaris Venture Competition, which provides mentorship to new ventures and startups to ready them for commercializing their idea, launching and pitching to investors.
“I’m learning how to do the executive summary and going for the seed money so I can really grow this business,” Feinberg said.
At one point, Byrne asked a question from the audience: “Since business school costs quite a hefty sum for most students, how did you reconcile that with your desire to become an entrepreneur?”
Said Feinberg: “There’s always that lingering thing in the back of your mind about money, money, money. And there’s no doubt that this program is intense as far as financials.” But the school is “really there” for students, she said, plus financial aid and scholarships are available.
“It’s about your passion. If you’re really passionate for your business, you go for it.”