Author: Molly Cruitt

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About Molly Cruitt

Molly Cruitt is the digital content specialist for Olin Business School. She is passionate about telling great stories and showing the lesser-known side of things. Molly holds a master of arts in communication from Saint Louis University and loves dogs, food, and crafting.


The first-of-its-kind event honored the best of 100 video elevator pitches submitted by 243 students across programs.

Olin’s first BIG IdeaBounce pitch competition held a virtual celebration on Wednesday, April 22, to announce 64 prizes.

The competition split a $20,000 prize pool sponsored by the National Security and Innovation Network between graduate and undergraduate first and second place winners, plus 50 runners up.


The 100 teams, including 243 students across programs, each submitted a two-minute elevator pitch-style video describing their innovative product idea. Pitches were then reviewed by a panel of 87 judges, including alumni and St. Louis entrepreneurs and funders like Carl Casale, Maxine Clark and Valerie Toothman.

Submissions came from Olin and non-Olin students in every grade and program, including students in the first-year Management 150 course who pitched a product as part of their final projects.

Dean Mark Taylor speaks before the BIG IdeaBound awardees are announced.

“Entrepreneurship is one of our core pillars at Olin—and we’re proud of the entrepreneurial ecosystem St. Louis has achieved,” Dean Mark P. Taylor said during program to reveal the winners. “Being part of that is so important to the school—and this contest has in its first year proven to be a great way to bring us together and celebrate the creation of new business ideas.”

The winners

Doug Villhard, director of entrepreneurship for WashU Olin, announced the award of four top prizes, including first- and second-place awards for both graduate and undergraduate students.

Graduate awards

First place: Pareto

The pitch: An innovative solution to the multi-billion dollar problem of infusion drug wasting every year. Pitched by Mitchell Lynn, Rachel Heymach and Kelley Coalier

Second place: Lifted Pouches

The pitch: A pre-workout supplement in pouch form. Pitched by Derek Leiter, Tyler Edwards and Irina Grekova

Undergraduate awards

First place: 3Dux Design

The pitch: An architectural modeling system consisting of cardboard connectors and curriculum that supports STEM education globally. Pitched by Ayana Klein

Second place: Alms Banking

The pitch: A credit union that generates revenue and donates it to charities. Pitched by Chase Kallhoff

Runners up

Villhard announced 50 runners up, a mix of undergraduate and graduate student projects who each received a small grant.

Runners up listed in order from first to 50th.

Sanitek | A health club yoga mat sanitation solution.

Z Education | Education consulting focusing on helping Chinese students find universities in the United States.

Empower Through Health | Empowering marginalized societies to achieve self-sufficiency.

Sirona | A digital health platform where medical data can be accessed at any time, anywhere.

Localize | Simply connecting users to volunteer opportunities.

SpanAbility | Virtual reality games for stroke rehabilitation.

Halo | A durable, yet fashionable bracelet that tests for drink-spiking drugs.

True You | Concierge name-change service for individuals to claim or reclaim their identity after a major life event.

Me’ver Crisis Volunteers | Fast-reacting flexible crisis aid.

SexyQ | A sex tech platform focused on communications and self-exploration.

democracy | A fashion design incubator for designers and creators who need a catalyzing push to start their career.

Presence | Bonding activity subscription boxes backed by teachers, psychologists and child psychiatrists.

Create Space | An easily accessible studio space for artists and creatives.

Welldrinks | A bar ordering and experience app.

Man Up | An easy-to-use makeup kit designed for men.

NAAPCO | National Association of American Peer Counseling Organizations.

Caralyst | Optimally matching patients and physicians based on identity, personal characteristics and communication styles.

St. Louis Online Farmstore | An online farm store with local delivery.

Talking Teddy | A teddy bear that uses smart technology to speak to children and teach them new languages.

Smart Hanger | Multi-directional adjustable clothing hanger.

Umma | An umbrella sharing system on college campuses.

Happy Chinese Gray | A tech-based social entrepreneur to support Chinese-American family caregivers of older adults.

Peak | Online dating platform for non-neurotypical people.

MEZ Eatery | Traditional Mexican restaurant dedicated to producing a variety of wholesome plant-based meals.

CRESTE | Increasing accessibility to commercial real estate investing.

Dgit | Disruptive Green Innovative Technology; provides the primary communication channel between property managers and tenants.

The Villow | A vibrating alarm clock pillow.

Lure Consultant | An app that recommends lures for fishing conditions.

Recipher | A pen that records what you write and reads it back to you.

Golden Roots | A curation of natural skincare products made with essential African ingredients.

Kenzora Consulting | In-store retail consulting.

Airborn | Emergency response drone medical delivery system.

Elefante | An intentional co-working and community space for all identities.

Indian Clothing Rentals | Online Indian clothing rental company.

Tap-In | Magnetic strip that can attach to students’ phones and serve as a key.

THEMPS Cannabis Temp Staffing | Temp staffing for the cannabis industry with a focus on social equity.

Toao Design House | Casual, personal and sustainable fashion dedicated to giving clients stylistic agency to form their identity.

Flow (Drink) | A juice-based, healthy energy drink.

Lil Kings & Queens | Children and teens clothing line for African American kids.

Honeymoon Chocolates | Bean-to-bar chocolate sweetened with raw honey.

RELocator | Website that helps with home buying by providing digital tours of urban neighborhoods for people who are relocating to new cities.

Flow (Supply Chain) | The new way to make fashion closed-loop.

ModBars | Customizable snack bars.

TalentShare | A platform where students can exchange their talents and teach each other.

Student Financial Literacy Platform | All-in-one platform for students to learn about and make good financial decisions.

BREEKZI | Beats and music services marketplace.

PeerPoint Helpline | A helpline that provides support and resources to students who are experiencing domestic abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic.

RackAttach | A universal bike rack that fastens to the bike and lets you attach to any car and ride.

Epitrac | The low-cost, high-tech Epi-Pen alternative.

Kantame | Vehicle exportation.

Honorable mentions

Ten projects that didn’t receive a prize, but merited attention.

Listed from first to 10th place within this category.

Shorte | A short-film curated streaming service.

UpDog | A dog boarding facility with airport transportation services.

EHS+ | Remote, real-time control of environmental, health and safety standards in manufacturing facilities via low-cost sensors.

The Sand Fan | A machine to remove sand from your feet using highly pressurized air.

Indigenous Fashion Products | A digital platform selling indigenous products transparently, educating people and giving back to the community.

TrainMates | A platform to connect fitness trainers and trainees.

Food Truck Gameday | A service that inceases the visibility of black and migrant business owners at Major League Soccer games.

Oystar | Giving African students access to educational opportunities in the United States.

WashU Innovators | Leak-proof contact case.

The Helpful Horn | A  multi-sound car horn for different driving situations.

Congratulations to the winners of Olin’s first BIG IdeaBounce competition!




Though the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down campus and eliminated the possibility of in-person celebrations, WashU Olin still plans to recognize all our graduating students this year.

Washington University’s Chancellor Andrew Martin announced his creation of an Alternate Commencement Committee on April 17. That committee will examine the best way to honor the class of 2020 throughout WashU when it becomes safe to do so. While no formal announcements have been made, the committee plans to have more information available soon.

In the meantime, WashU Olin will move forward with virtual graduation recognition ceremonies that supplement, but do not replace, the university-wide celebration. On May 8 and May 15, Olin will release virtual graduation videos for each planned ceremony at the time of the original event.

Olin professor Hilary Anger Elfenbein wore her regalia to record her speech from home.

Each video celebration will include remarks from Dean Mark P. Taylor and Chancellor Andrew Martin, student speakers, announcements of student award recipients and remarks from the Reid Teaching Award winners. Though the degree candidates will not be able to “walk” during the ceremonies, their names will scroll on the screen during the presentations.

Videos will be made available at the time of each ceremony on the Olin graduation web page. Each ceremony will stream on Olin’s Facebook page, YouTube Channel and Instagram.  

Schedule of Ceremonies

Friday, May 8

  • EMBA Class 53, 10:30 a.m.
  • Executive Education: EMBA & WashU at Brookings master of science in leadership, 10:30 a.m.

Friday, May 15

  • BSBA, 11:30 a.m.
  • Graduate programs, 3 p.m.

We welcome any photos or reflections from your participation in our graduation ceremonies. Please share any images or videos with us @wustlbusiness and use #WashU20. Though this isn’t the ceremony any of us expected, we offer our heartfelt congratulations to the class of 2020.




Students in EBMA Class 53 took the “values-based, data-driven” concept to heart—literally—during their November residency in Shanghai, with an afternoon spent with nonprofit Heart to Heart and a decision that would change the life of a young girl in China.

In November 2019, students in the Executive MBA class 53 took part in a week-long residency in China. They started out in Beijing, exploring the city’s renowned landmarks and studying strategy at plants before heading to Shanghai for a series of experiential courses on trade, healthcare, strategy and more. Residencies like these combine rigorous coursework with international experiences to give executives a high-quality educational experience.

But just taking on a traditional residency experience wasn’t enough for this class. EMBA staff added an afternoon of service to the itinerary, giving students the chance to interact directly with young children and give back to the Shanghai community.

Working with Shanghai Heart to Heart, a nonprofit organization that orchestrates heart surgeries for impoverished families, students helped with the group’s monthly shoe distribution, sewed distribution bags and sorted in-kind donations.

Ben Hjelle (EMBA Class 53) sorts shoes for donations.

Ben Hjelle, member of EMBA Class 53, called the experience “profoundly humbling,” saying that it “underlined the bonds that all humans share regardless of geography or language.” The volunteer staff, many of whom were expatriates like the organization’s founders, took few resources and turned them into something exceptional—leading Hjelle to call them “civil servant entrepreneurs.”

Before going on the trip, the class was made aware of the possibility of providing donations to Heart to Heart that would help fund the group’s mission to provide heart surgeries at no cost to families who need them. Many members of the class chose to give in advance of the service afternoon, and still more felt compelled to give after the experience was over.

Reflecting on the choice the class made to fund a heart surgery, Hjelle said the class “would have contributed to countless organizations if we could.” But he and others were particularly inspired by Heart to Heart.

“I was missing our two-year-old son something fierce by that point in the trip,” Hjelle explained. “I don’t speak Mandarin, but watching those kids come into the playroom, seeing their faces shed the weariness of their journey and pick up a new toy, I immediately felt like I was at home with my son.”

Two months after the students returned to normal life in St. Louis and throughout the US, they heard from Heart to Heart’s executive director, Karen Carrington. Carrington shared the story of Dai Yuxi, an eighteen-month-old girl from the Anhui province who’s being raised by her single father.

Dai Yuxi (pictured below) was diagnosed with VSD and recommended as a candidate for heart surgery, but her father – who also cares for Dai’s twelve-year-old brother and their grandfather – couldn’t afford the surgery.

Then came the EMBA Class 53 donation. Carrington shared, “Because of [EMBA Class 53’s] generosity, Dai Yuxi was able to have her open heart surgery on January 6.  She spent 5 days on the critical lifst, but then moved from ICU to the Recovery Unit.  She is doing much better now.”

Quite simply, EMBA 53’s willingness to give saved Dai Yuxi’s life.

Reflecting on the experience of spending time with a little boy not much older than his son while in Shanghai, and how it inspired him to donate, Hjelle said, “I was reminded that, beneath the superficial differences that we in our basest moments emphasize and exploit, we are all part of the same human community. I am grateful to that little boy and his parents for conveying that lesson so clearly and effortlessly, though it may not have been their intent.”




Five Olin alumni who graduated during the worst economic recession in the US since the Great Depression share what they learned with the class of 2020 and 2021, who now face their own anxious, uncertain future.

“It’s not fair.”

In a panel Zoom conversation on Friday, April 17, among full-time MBA students and five alumni who graduated during the 2008-2009 recession, Davi Bryan spoke bluntly to the students.

“Relative to students who graduated a year or two ago, you are going to have to put in more work,” said Bryan, MBA ’08, and executive for workplace experience, North America lead at Avande. “It is going to be harder. You are going to have to bring more creativity to your search. And is that fair? No, it’s not. But at some point, you’ve just got to do it.”

Bryan, along with Jeannie Chan, MBA ’08, associate director at Merck; EJ Hullverson, MBA ’09, digital project lead at Nestlé Purina; Bobby Stewart, MBA ’08, marketing consultant at RDS Marketing Solutions; and Julie Zuick, MBA ’09, senior consultant for diversified search at Grant Cooper, shared their experiences and wisdom with students hoping to find jobs or summer internships amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic downturn.

Find the “new doors” that open

Recognizing that the uncertainty caused by COVID-19 has closed doors for students, who might face hiring freezes or rescinded internships, Olin’s Weston Career Center invited the five MBA alumni, who had experienced similar tumult in their own job searches, to share their insights.

Panelists and full-time MBA students gathered with Weston Career Center staff on Friday, April 17 to discuss career searching during an economic downturn.

The panel, moderated by Kendra Kelly, MBA ’21, encouraged students to consider ways this change in plans might lead to options they might not have previously considered.

“In tumultuous times, opportunity can arise,” said Hulverson. “Being able to flex and bend and approach the situation looking for opportunities is what defined my job search.”

Bryan agreed, remembering her fear of failure because she couldn’t find the jobs she’d dreamed of and planned for. “I think my experience and those of the others here today speak for themselves: this isn’t something that follows you forever, and it doesn’t create an insurmountable hurdle.”

She explained how she turned an experience working for Walmart, after which she chose to move toward consulting, still helped her land her desired job at Deloitte because she had a story to tell about what she learned about herself: “I told them the skills I’d learned. Now I’m telling Deloitte a story of how I fit in there, and how the skills I learned at Walmart make me a better candidate.”

Stewart reminded students that large, publicly traded organizations—which may have frozen hiring—aren’t the only choice for getting experience. “Use your entrepreneurial spirit, the resources Olin has provided you to help other organizations get where they need to be.”

Zuick put it simply: “Each job, each company will teach you something,” she said.

Be prepared, work hard, use your skills

It’s no secret that the class of 2020 and 2021 will have to work hard and be creative in their job search—but the panelists explored how that might set them apart.

That need to be flexible, hard-working and agile in the job search is the same need companies have for their workers. As Hullverson said, “I don’t think the world is getting any more certain. Being able to pivot is extremely valuable.”

Zuick reminded students to do their research—and keep up that hard-work mindset once they’ve landed the position. “You might want to take on more,” she recommended. “You’ll get a project—knock that out of the park. But if it’s going well, ask for a second project where you can gain more skills and become a leader.”

The panel encouraged the students to stretch. “You’re going to have to do a lot of things that are uncomfortable,” Bryan explained. “But just because it feels uncomfortable doesn’t mean you’re not good at it.”

Be yourself

At least once in the hourlong session, each panelist reminded the students of the most important part of the job search: be who you are, and be real.

The panelists recommended that students not shy away from the impact COVID-19 is having on all of us. “Be sensitive about it,” said Chan. “But there is something that everyone is going through right now. Start a conversation by talking about this common experience, and become a real person to the person on the phone.”

Stewart reminded the students, “you’re competing against a lot of other very smart, very talented people from top MBA programs. Personality really does matter.”

After an hour of question-and-answer, students expressed their gratitude at the chance to talk to people who understood what they were experiencing—and had lived through it.

Adam Hull (MBA ’21) felt edified learning from the perspective of another class who faced challenging economic times. “It was inspiring to see that each member of the panel had built a fantastic career and had used the economic difficulties as a way to build resilience and adaptability.”

As the event wrapped up, Kelly asked the panelists for parting thoughts. Bryan summed up her hopes for the class of 2020:

“I hope you are being stretched and learning things about yourself, so that you emerge from this experience knowing who you are and what your value is. Then, you’ll be able to weather whatever comes before you. That’s my wish for each of you.”




For a mother and son, the buildings of WashU Olin Business School now hold new meaning. For one, they’ll become her office space someday—for the other, they’re acting as a temporary home.

Jaya Bhat’s first day on the job at WashU Olin was normal in many ways. She isn’t new to the campus, having worked at WashU from 2014 to 2019 in various roles and having sent her son here for his undergraduate studies. But since starting her job March 25 as an HR/payroll associate for Olin, she hasn’t been able to set foot inside our buildings.

The entire time Jaya has worked for Olin, we’ve been operating remotely in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, while Jaya has had to stay away from Olin’s spaces, her son has gotten to know them well: He’s staying at the Knight Center.

Her son, on call

Dr. Adithya Bhat, AB ’10, is an anesthesiologist and WashU instructor. He’s seen his day-to-day reality change significantly throughout the crisis. Typically, he’s focused on elective surgery and obstetric anesthesia.. Now, Adithya’s responsibilities include caring for COVID-19 patients.

And as the coronavirus pandemic rages, the Charles F. Knight Center for Executive Education has opened its doors to house healthcare workers who need quick access to Barnes-Jewish Hospital and other area hospitals and must self-quarantine to avoid exposing loved ones to the virus they’re facing every day.

“One of our important roles as anesthesiologists is performing intubation, or placing breathing tubes,” he explains.   

And for Adithya, part of social distancing means distancing himself from friends and family and staying at the Knight Center. He says it’s been a surreal experience “being here so many years after my undergraduate studies in such very different circumstances,” but he’s grateful to be back and staying safe.

Adjusting to a new normal

“I know the entire WashU Olin community is delighted that we can provide a small measure of comfort and convenience to the healthcare workers on the front lines of this battle,” said Olin Dean Mark P. Taylor, referring to the decision to house clinicians at Knight Center. “More than anything, we want them to be safe and cared for while they’re doing the hard work of treating those who are sickened in the pandemic.”

Working in the dean’s office, Jaya has tried to maintain a sense of normalcy. “I got all dressed up on my first day with the excitement of a new job, despite knowing the commute was only a few steps to my desk,” she said.

And the experience has been rewarding thus far. She’s grateful for the warm welcome she’s had from Dean Taylor and her team, who hold daily Zoom calls.

“I am excited to meet my coworkers in person for the first time—the people I have been zooming with almost daily.  I’m really looking forward to this—even more than the actual physical workplace.”

The COVID-19 reality up close

Until that can happen, Adithya strongly advocates that people take social distancing seriously after observing first-hand the way this virus can affect people who were previously healthy. “The best way to defeat this virus,” he said, “is to not be infected in the first place.”

“Because of my exposure risk,” Adithya said, “it’s important to me that I distance myself from my loved ones. The Knight Center provides the perfect accommodations for myself and other clinicians to live comfortably.”

Jaya is grateful that her son’s staying in her future place of work, too. While she worries for his safety, she said, “it makes me proud that he is there, doing his very best to help people get better.” And staying at the Knight Center relieves some of her fears.

This is an impossibly difficult time for the Bhat family, just like it is for so many families across the world. But the Bhats find hope in their community—which includes the Olin family.

“Every medical professional out there on the front line is tirelessly doing their very best to help patients,” she said. “They focus on each patient with the same care and attention.”

Adithya hopes the Knight Center staff knows of his and his fellow clinicians’ gratitude. “The staff have all been incredibly kind and accommodating. I’m optimistic that we will weather the storm together, and it’s an honor to serve the community during its time of need.”

And as to the special connection he now has to Olin, “I think it’s fantastic that my mom will eventually be working in the same building when the pandemic has finally quieted down,” he says. “I’ll know just where to meet her for an afternoon coffee!”