Tag: accelerator

Half of the companies selected to join the Capital Innovators’ accelerator Spring 2016 portfolio were founded by Olin entrepreneurs.


Debbie Sterling graduated from Stanford in 2005, the year that Steve Jobs delivered his now famous commencement address, emphasizing the importance of following one’s passion. Jobs’ message combined with the encouragement of a high school teacher to study engineering, and a self described “itch” to change the world, sent Sterling on a mission to create toys to “get girls building.”

Sterling launched her award winning toy company GoldiBlox in 2013. She spoke at the Leadership Perspective Series: The Female Entrepreneur’s Guide to Raising Startup Capital, sponsored by Olin’s Executive MBA program and held at the Knight Center March 26. Sterling described her entrepreneurial journey and how she went about raising startup capital.

Sterling began raising funds first by saving up enough money to quit her job as a brand manager for a jewelry company. Next, she submitted an application for an elite capital accelerator program that rejected her idea. Then she tried friends and family, and finally Kickstarter, an online threshold pledge system for funding creative projects.

She said that in the beginning, she had absolutely no interest in asking family and friends for money. “But once I asked, I believed that GoldiBlox was a great investment, and anyone who got involved would be lucky to be a part of it.”

The accolades for Sterling and Sterling’s company have rolled in steadily since she got funded. For Sterling, Time’s “Person of the Moment” and Business Insider’s “30 Women Who Are Changing the World”.

Honors for GoldiBlox include:

  • Most Audacious Companies of 2014, Inc. Magazine
  • World’s Most Innovative Companies of 2014, Fast Company
  • Educational Toy of the Year 2014, Toy Industry Association
  • People’s Choice Toy of the Year 2014, Toy Industry Association

The session with Sterling also included a panel discussion on the topic of raising startup capital facilitated by Michelle Duguid, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at Olin, Maxine Clark, Founder of Build-A-Bear Workshop and Mary Jo Gorman, Lead Managing Partner of Prosper Capital.



This semester, I have had the incredible experience of serving on the Center for Experiential Learning Entrepreneurial Consulting Team (CELect). The CELect program pairs graduate students with St. Louis based startups. Over the course of the semester, student teams complete consulting projects designed to help young companies achieve specific business outcomes.

T-Rex Lammert bldg

Coworking space at T-Rex. Photo courtesy of John Warren, Jones Lang LaSalle.

CELect classes are held at T-Rex, a technology incubator and coworking space located in downtown St. Louis. The modern workplace stations at T-Rex are complete with dinosaur-themed murals, glass-paneled conference rooms, and individual phone booths. The juxtaposition of the building’s historic architecture and its creative, fun-loving interior make T-Rex the ideal entrepreneurship classroom. Located close to a MetroLink train station, it is very convenient for students to travel back and forth from campus.

Our first CELect class was a full day of instruction, co-taught by Cliff Holekamp, Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship & Director of the Entrepreneurship Platform, and Bart Hamilton, Robert Brookings Smith Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship. Together, the professors gave an overview of the St. Louis entrepreneurial landscape and provided tips for how to be an effective startup consultant. Throughout the day, Olin alumni stopped by to share the personal reasons why they chose an entrepreneurial career over the traditional corporate path.

ProsperAfter our first class, we were divided into teams and set loose to get started on our projects! My team’s consulting project is for Prosper Women Entrepreneurs Startup Accelerator, a new player in the St. Louis venture capital scene. Founded in 2014, Prosper Accelerator makes twelve $50,000 equity investments each year in women-led technology, life sciences, and CPG startup companies. The businesses selected to receive capital participate in a three month program designed to help female entrepreneurs scale their companies and receive additional venture investment.

Throughout the semester, we have had the opportunity to meet with Prosper executives, interview the entrepreneurs running Prosper’s portfolio companies, and get an inside look at how the accelerator operates. It has been very rewarding to work with an organization dedicated to supporting women entrepreneurs, especially since I have future entrepreneurial plans of my own. Our team is excited for what the rest of the project will bring, and believe that we can make a lasting impact on the future of the accelerator!

Pictured above, Prosper CELect team from left to right: Fabiola Paz, MBA’16; Elise Miller, MBA’16;  Alicia Harris JD’16; and John Hamlett, JD’16.

Things move quickly in the startup community.  Very quickly.

Less than six months ago, SixThirty financial technology accelerator was just an idea being tossed around by Square’s Jim McKelvey, Cultivation Capital’s Brian Matthews, the Regional Chamber and Growth Association’s Jay Delong, and Capital Innovator’s Hal Gentry and Matt Menietti.  Halfway through the summer, that idea started becoming a reality.  And by August 1, it officially launched.

The idea behind SixThirty is simple:  St. Louis is an established financial services hub and an emerging entrepreneurial hotspot.  SixThirty combines the resources of both these communities in a unique four-month accelerator program.

Every six months, SixThirty’s team will choose four finalists to take part in the program.  Those companies will receive $100,000 in funding, incredible mentors, free legal and professional services, and a free workspace in which they can build their companies.

The goal is to show these startups what a powerful community we’ve built in St. Louis, help these startups grow to be successful, and hopefully relocate permanently to St. Louis.

And if you were wondering about the name– it’s a tribute to St. Louis.  630 is both the height and the width, in feet, of the St. Louis arch.

I’m lucky to have been a part of this team since the very early stages.  I used the tools I learned in Professor Holekamp’s Intro to Entrepreneurship class and the Hatchery to help build out the business plan, created an outreach program to target potential applicants, helped build a pool of mentors for the program, and worked to create a marketing and promotions strategy for the accelerator.

On Wednesday morning, I arrived at the Channel 9 studio to help prep Jim McKelvey for his satellite interview with CNBC’s ‘Squawk on the Street.

He nailed it.  Within minutes of the interview airing, our phones started ringing off the hook with investors, applicants, and supporters, hoping to get involved with SixThirty.

This is HUGE for St. Louis.  Far too often, our city makes national headlines for the wrong reasons.  SixThirty helps to change that.  There’s still about a week left to apply for SixThirty’s inaugural class.  You can find the application at www.sixthirty.co/apply.

From there, it will be another mad rush to select the finalists, bring them to St. Louis, and start the program on October 1.  I’ve seen the caliber of applications we’re receiving.  I’m confident these companies will be making positive headlines for St. Louis in the months and hopefully years to come.  Stay tuned…