Author: Kurt Greenbaum


About Kurt Greenbaum

As communications director for the Olin Business School, my job is to find and share great stories about our students, faculty, staff, and alumni. I'm also on the U College faculty in the journalism sequence. My background includes a stint at the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management and as a journalist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sun-Sentinel in South Florida and the Chicago Tribune.

WashU Olin had the world’s highest percentage of female startup founders among its alumni, and their firms drew the highest average funding among any business school globally, according to an analysis done for business banking app Tide.

A review of the backgrounds of nearly 80,000 entrepreneurs found that 26.1% of startup founders from WashU Olin were women. In second place, 16.8% of startup founders with a Harvard Business School credential were women.

Women-led startups with an Olin credential have secured an average of $71.2 million in funding—more than any other school in the world—followed by female grads from Canada’s York University, who attracted an average of $54.5 million for their firms.

The analysis for the UK-based banking application provider was part of a “Pioneering Women” marketing campaign distributed this month. The analysis used the backgrounds of 72,200 men and 6,940 women in the Crunchbase directory of public and private company data, finding that female-founded companies received 17% or $8 billion of all venture dollars in the first quarter of 2019.

“While that might seem low, there’s a different record of success when it comes to the making of female founders,” the firm said on its Pioneering Women website. The analysis looked at firms that received more than $1 million in funding using Crunchbase data that was current as of July 3, 2019.

WashU officials noted that Olin and the university have a variety of programs that encourage and reward entrepreneurship. They credit the persistence of female students and the existence of a strong culture of entrepreneurship education and preparation for pitch competitions for drawing motivated students—both male and female.

“New entrepreneurs are inspired daily at WashU Olin and we are inspired as well from them,” said Doug Villhard, director of Olin’s entrepreneurship platform. “I can tell you many, many more are on the way.”

Percent of female startup founders

Source: Analysis of Crunchbase data for business banking app Tide.

Through the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Education and Entrepreneurship, WashU hosts a number of pitch competitions and women-focused entrepreneurship events such as the Helping Entrepreneurs Rise (HER) Summit in November 2018. The second year of that summit will be on campus October 2019 and is part of the Skandalaris Center’s Simon Initiative for Women Entrepreneurs. Skandalaris also recently hosted Ascend 2020 IdeaBounce, a pitch competition targeting women and minority innovators.

“While we don’t have separate prizes for women founders, we provide guidance to our judging pool to ensure unconscious bias is set aside during our competitions,” said II Luscri, WashU assistant vice provost for innovation and entrepreneurship and managing director of Skandalaris. “Diversity exists across the board and across all efforts, in not only the entrepreneurs, but also our speakers, judges, mentors and more.”

The report confirms an earlier analysis from several years ago showing WashU women had founded more than 40% of successful companies started through the university’s business entrepreneurship courses.

The analysis included female founders receiving 5,670 degrees from 1,447 higher education institutions. In raw numbers, Harvard led the pack: 160 female startup founders had an HBS degree. Harvard also led in terms of raw dollars invested into women-owned startups: a total of $4.6 billion was invested in startups led by women from Harvard.

Average investment among women-led startup firms

Source: Analysis of Crunchbase data for business banking app Tide.

But WashU Olin was the leader in terms of the proportion of women entrepreneurs and the average dollar amount invested in women-led firms. The research was designed to quantify the role of women in founding startups, but also to “discover their paths to success.”

A few other noteworthy numbers from the analysis of Crunchbase data:

  • Vietnam had the highest percentage of female founders (17.1%), but women-led US firms drew the most investment internationally, totaling $85.5 billion.
  • China had the highest average investment globally among women-led firms at $127.2 million.
  • In the United States, Hawaii had the highest percentage of female founders (19.4%).
  • California startups led by women drew the most investment ($38.6 billion) while Georgia saw an average of $82.2 million poured into women-led firms.

William F. Gephardt

When we unveiled the new brand strategy for WashU Olin Business School a year ago today, Dean Mark Taylor made a point of saying we weren’t changing who we are as a school. The notion of a business education that is values-based and data-driven—a key pillar of Olin’s strategic plan and our brand identity—has been there since Olin’s beginning.

“Values-based and data-driven is not something we just dreamed up. It’s imprinted in our DNA,” said Stuart Bunderson, director of Olin’s Bauer Leadership Center. “We don’t do enough here to clarify and take pride in our heritage.”

Actually, the notion predates the existence of the business school itself.

William F. Gephardt, who would become the first dean of the WashU “School of Commerce and Finance” in 1917, drafted a lengthy memo to Frederic Aldin Hall, the sixth chancellor of WashU, three years earlier to argue the case for the business school he envisioned.

Only a page into the typewritten document—and in the gender-exclusive language of the era—he writes that “the vision of the business man must be both far and wide. He must not only see the numerous and seemingly conflicting facts, but he must be able to analyze them.”

Sounds a lot like data-driven decision-making, no?

On the very next page of the 15-page document, Gephardt writes a bit more expansively:

“Many men in business rightly view with alarm some of the governmental tendencies in regulating business. This threatened and actually experienced undesirable restriction on business enterprise has resulted from two causes:

“(a) The excesses of a minor number of business men who in their zeal to secure private profits have needlessly sacrificed public interests.

“(b) The demagogue in office or desiring office, who would sacrifice public interests to further his political success.

“The properly trained business man will act as a restraining influence on each class. He will set an example of good private business that is also good public business…”

Does anyone else hear “values-based” in that description?

Bunderson, the George & Carol Bauer Professor of Organizational Ethics & Governance, uses these quotes in a class he co-teaches with Seethu Seetharaman. The course is called Values-Based, Data-Driven Decision-Making.

Gephardt drafted those remarks on February 19, 1914. A little more than three years later, on March 30, 1917, the School of Commerce and Finance—the precursor to Olin Business School—was established.

Pictured above: William F. Gephardt with screenshots from his 1914 memo.

The 2018 Olin Business magazine shared a series of vignettes featuring alumni (and Dean Taylor) faced with a business decision requiring them to weigh data with their values. We featured these stories to support Olin’s strategic pillar focused on equipping leaders to confront challenge and create change, for good. This is one of those vignettes.

In 2007 and 2008, as world markets tumbled into history’s worst global financial crisis, Mark Taylor was managing the European arm of a $10 billion global hedge fund—and 95 percent of his clients were pension funds. The crisis demanded staff reductions in his team, and with returns down, remaining employees took massive hits to their incentive-based compensation.

“How do you motivate a staff when you’re in the middle of a financial crisis?” Taylor asked. Part of the answer: Leverage as much data as possible to analyze long- term fundamentals—recognizing that the crisis had rendered much conventional analysis unworkable. The goal: Stem losses and preserve as much wealth as possible.

But another part of the answer meant Taylor had to reinforce for his team the reasons they came to work every day.

“This was other people’s money. If we walked away, people’s pension funds could disappear,” he said. When he met with pension fund trustees, he asked them to invite some of the retirees themselves, placing them across the table from his own junior and senior staff members.

His team responded positively to the motivation. And in the darkest moment, Taylor said, his fund was down about 10 percent when world markets were down 40 percent. The fund rebounded sharply the next year.

Ja Song

Ja Song, who was a student on the vanguard of WashU’s earliest links with Korea and rose to become president of one of its top universities, died on August 22.

Song was among the first Korean students to come to Washington University when the US government tapped Olin Business School to work with two South Korean universities to rehabilitate their business programs after the war in that country. Song earned his MBA from Olin in 1962 and his doctorate in business administration from the school in 1967.

South Korean news sources reported last week on Song’s death at age 83. He had served as the 12th president of Yonsei University from 1992 to 1996. The same reports indicated Song had also led Myongji University and the Cyber University of Korea before serving as South Korea’s minister of education in 2000. Olin named Song a distinguished alumnus in 2003 when he was CEO of Daekyo Co. Ltd., South Korea’s leading educational information service provider.

While leading Yonsei, he and then-Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton launched a student exchange agreement between Yonsei and WashU. Song also served as a member of WashU’s International Advisory Council for Asia. 

‘A very good friend’

“More than anyone, he maintained the connection of the school with Korea, and that’s continued through to the present day,” said Robert Virgil, WashU Olin dean emeritus and a contemporary of Song’s in the business school in the early 1960s. “I remember him as a very good friend, dedicated academic, a very serious person and a great ambassador of his country and of the Olin school.”

In an interview with Olin Business School in 2017, Song was effusive in his praise of the contribution WashU made through the so-called “Korea Project,” partnering students and faculty with their counterparts at Yonsei and Korea universities to establish quality business curricula at the two schools.

“It was not only trying to train the teacher, they trained industry people,” Song said on the occasion of Olin’s 100th anniversary. “They had conferences for them. That project had many purposes to help us know the new developments and skills in teaching about business.”

After graduating in 1962, Song served a mandatory 16-month tour in the South Korean army and returned to Olin to earn his doctorate in accounting. He taught for 10 years at the University of Connecticut, then he taught in Korea until 1992 when he began his tenure as Yonsei’s president.

‘A great champion of Olin’

“Ja Song was a great champion of Olin Business School, Yonsei University and other business schools,” said former Olin Dean Mahendra Gupta. “He was instrumental in re-establishing relationships with Yonsei and starting the global master of finance program.”

Media reports from South Korea said Song had received honors from his country in 1997 for his contributions to education and alumni honors from Yonsei in 1998 and 2003. School officials noted that Song was instrumental in starting Yonsei’s first school development fund, raising 100 billion won during his tenure—or about $82.3 million today.

He was reportedly involved with a number of South Korean social service agencies for children and wrote several groundbreaking accounting textbooks.

Song’s survivors include his wife, Tak Soon-hee, his daughters Eun-mi Song and Jeong-yeon Song, and his sons-in-law Park Ki-nam and Choi Jae-hoon. Funeral services were reportedly held the morning of August 26 on the Yonsei University grounds.

A WashU Olin professor has been honored with a certificate of “recognition and sincere appreciation” from the government of Madagascar for her contributions and the development of the Mahabo region where she’s worked with students for more than a decade.

An official from the country’s federal government made an arduous, hours-long journey from the nation’s capital of Antananarivo to recognize Judi McClean Parks in May while she was working with yet another class of students.

The certificate Parks received from the Malagasy government.

Since 2007, Parks has worked on projects in collaboration with the Missouri Botanical Garden, projects designed to guide remote Malagasy citizens to create sustainable solutions to everyday problems that affect their lives while protecting the region’s ecology.

Parks, Olin’s Reuben C. and Anne Carpenter Taylor Professor of Organizational Behavior, said she was grateful for the recognition from the Malagasy government.

‘My heart and soul’

“To me personally it means a lot. This class is literally my heart and soul,” Parks said. “This is my ‘heart’ course. It’s the one that gives me the right to explain myself when I meet St. Peter at the pearly gates. It validates the work we’re doing.”

The course takes as many as 20 students to a remote corner of the island nation each May to work with Malagasy residents. The projects stem from issues the residents themselves raise, and some have been revisited for further development and refinements from year to year. More than 160 students have participated.

The projects derive from a careful drill-down to discern the root cause of a larger issue. For example, Malagasy women might say they want healthier children—a problem too broad to tackle. By drilling down, Parks and the students discover that poor nutrition, a slow-growing crop (rice) and a long “season of death” (with nothing to harvest) underpins the core issue.

Ultimately, they realize a program of field enrichment could help Malagasies address the core of issue of sickly babies. (Read about another example—Project Period.)

“The projects do spread, but they spread slowly,” Parks said. “We let people adopt or not adopt projects we bring to them.”

The garden connection

The botanical garden connection stems from the ability of Olin faculty and students to help the Malagasies develop sustainable solutions to their problems without stripping bare the resources of the rich flora and fauna in the region. Parks works closely with Armand Randrianasolo, a Madagascar-born PhD botanist from the botanical garden who is now a US citizen.

Parks said she was deeply honored by the government’s gesture and humbled by the way they presented it.

“They were very proud to be presenting it in English,” she said. “And they wrote the whole certificate in English so it would be for me.”

The presentation came at the same time the students presented their projects to the Malagasies they hoped would adopt their solutions.

“It was validating because it felt for so long that this was an isolated program,” Parks said. “I don’t want to diminish what the students get out of it. They can have the experience of actually helping someone and seeing how the largest portion of the world actually lives.”