Tag: Alumni



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.”




Schindler (center) with his cofounders.

A startup born in WashU Olin’s Hatchery course has continued to grow into a full product line, with a focus on improving hydration and fostering healthier consumers.

Buoy (formerly BetterTomorrow) started based on the concern that Americans tend to be chronically dehydrated. Daniel Schindler, MBA ’19, developed a formula for a flavorless liquid supplement that can be added to any drink to foster hydration and overall health by helping people retain water.

Three years after its incorporation, Schindler’s company has grown into a full line of hydration products. After completing what the team calls “phase zero,” Schindler is proud to report a series of updates on the product.

Sales

Through August 2020, Schindler reports a total of $177,467 in sales for the year—with a projection of $300,000 by the end of the year. “Our sales so far have come from very minimal marketing and ad spend, so once we begin our growth phase we expect sales to increase exponentially,” Schindler said.

Marketing

Schindler is proud of his new website, justaddbuoy.com. On the site, consumers can find three products under the Buoy label: BuoyBuoy + CBD, and Buoy + Immunity, plus “a bunch of cool merch.”

Schindler and his team have also invested in content creation—an essential piece of modern marketing. “We are about to begin unleashing everything through social media and Google to begin growing our brand awareness,” he explained.

Strategic growth

Schindler reports a series of growth updates as he looks toward the future:

  • Forming the structure for a commission-based sales team
  • Launching an ambassador program, “designed to increase brand awareness both across social media and among healthcare professionals.”
  • Creating a discounted subscription program for people living with chronic illness. Schindler reflected, “We’ve gotten a ton of touching feedback from that community. We’ll be the first and only company among our competitors to offer this type of program.”
  • Growing the team with 9 new employees.

Schindler’s product exemplifies the entrepreneurial spirit WashU Olin students embrace, whether they’re starting their own company or working with larger ones—and his mission to promote health for all Americans shows his commitment to being a leader who changes the world, for good.




Mell Ellen

Ellen Mell, MBA ’12, is featured in this month’s Authority Magazine in a series on Inspirational Women Leaders of Tech. Mell discusses her career path, five things to know to build a successful company, and a movement she would like to inspire.

Mell is CEO of Custom Technologies,  an engineering and manufacturing business in Brentwood, Missouri, that provides product development, manufacturing and business services for clients. She is also a registered US patent attorney and an adjunct professor in the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis.

Here are her five tips, abbreviated for the Olin Blog:

  • Recognize that the lines between your professional and personal lives are going to be very blurry. Be ready and willing to live and breathe the business for a long time. That’s why it is crucial to surround yourself with people who support the effort of growing your business.
  • Expect to be a jack-of-all-trades in the early stages of your company and be ready to constantly shift gears. If you are the type who is best at focusing on one large and in-depth task, then you need to surround yourself with other team members who can each do a whole lot of diverse things.
  • Build your core team with equally motivated, self-starting individuals. Make sure the motivations and goals of your core team are properly aligned with your own.
  • Focus on launching a minimum viable product. Don’t be seduced into thinking that every bit of feedback from every potential customer should go immediately into your first product launch. Get your product to market in its simplest form that solves a novel pain point.
  • Be agile and ready to pivot. Don’t become so in love with your tech creation that you cannot recognize when something needs to change. It has been said many times that the true key to success of a startup is its ability to change plans along the way.

Environmentalists and business owners

The magazine also asked Mell, “If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?”

Mell replied: “What if we could find a way for environmentalists and business owners to be on the same side for once? Wouldn’t that be powerful? In today’s hyper-polarized political climate, it seems that nobody wants to find middle ground anymore, yet I believe it is there. There are people on one hand (including me!) who are very worried about the environment. …

“My inspired movement is simple: Encourage laws that help the environment and our US-based businesses at the same time. Do this by requiring imported goods to be produced under proper environmentally friendly conditions that are on par with what we require of our companies here at home. Specifically, I propose to initiate an import tax that is based directly on each country’s environmental-friendliness score. It would be good for our local businesses, and it would be good for Mother Earth. I think that is something both sides can agree on.”


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. We’ll be sharing their stories on the Olin Blog. Today, we’ll hear from Phyllis Ellison, executive director of InvestMidwest Venture Capital Forum and  vice president of partnerships and program development, CORTEX Innovation Community

Given the pandemic, what compelled your company to get involved with this program?

 The CEL summer project program was offered at the perfect time. A practicum student that was scheduled to work in Fall 2020 with InvestMidwest cancelled. We had no idea if we were going to be able to find a student for summer, and how we would manage an internship. Cortex submitted two project ideas to the CEL, and one was selected. I’ve worked with three CEL teams in the past, and knew that having a team of WashU Olin Business School students working on our project would help us get the information and results we need to move any of our projects forward.

What is your project about?

InvestMidwest is an annual investor forum that connects venture capital investors to Midwest startups in the life science, tech, ag/food and energy sectors. The 20-year-old event recently transitioned to Cortex’s management. This project was to research the outcomes of the 700+ companies that have participated in InvestMidwest. That data will support marketing efforts and guide selection criteria in the future. 

What was it like working with WashU Olin students?

Olin students are great workers. Some are working on their organization and leadership skills; others are gaining an understanding of project management and the progression of a research project. They are all fine tuning their professional skills, and it was great to support that process.

What advice would you give students on the cusp of graduating at this time in history?

I really feel for students graduating during an economic downturn. I experienced it myself, as well as watching students go through the 2008-2010 recession. I would encourage them to be diligent in trying to find a job in their field. Don’t give up! Volunteer at a not-for-profit to gain experience and meet people. Attend events, when we’re able to do that again. Talk to people you know, asking about opportunities. Even if it’s below your preferred salary level, you’ll have the opportunity to grow your field. It will be difficult to return to your field of interest a couple years down the road if you don’t have any experience when a fresh class of graduates is entering the work force too. 

What are you going to take with you from this experience?

This experience has been such a great reminder. I’ve worked with CEL teams in the past, and this reminded me how valuable these teams are. The research and analysis the students did was incredible—and it’s a good reminder to remember WashU Olin as a resource we can tap into.




Leaving her full-time, stable job to take a leap into entrepreneurship the day before a national shutdown isn’t what Jessica Landzberg (right), BSBA ’17, imagined for herself. But she and Olivia Bordson (left), BSBA ’15, are redefining the women’s clothing industry—and they couldn’t be happier with how it’s going.

After their respective graduations from WashU, Landzberg and Bordson each spent years working for traditional retail brands. But, Landzberg explained, “we started to feel disenchanted by this industry that we thought we’d be working in for the long run.”

Landzberg and Bordson found themselves in an endless cycle of “more”—more product, more new ideas, more frequent brand launches. It was uninspiring, frustrating and—perhaps worst of all—wasteful.

Enter Pareto: a new venture from the Olin grads that seeks to make the best versions of the clothes women wear. Named for the Pareto Principle, an economic phenomenon remarking on the incongruence of causes and effects, the shop operates on the assertion that women tend to wear 20% of their closet 80% of the time.

This realization, confirmed by speaking with friends and other women in their lives, “pushed us to take the leap and start our own company.”

A deliberate, thoughtful launch

Bordson and Landzberg are doing things intentionally, taking their time and releasing pieces that are built to last, comfortable and made with an all-American, short supply chain. They started on August 20, 2020 with a traditional T-shirt dress that can be dressed up or down. On November 20, they launched addition No. 2: a comfortable, durable crew neck sweater.

Pareto’s first and second wardrobe additions, the T-Shirt Dress and the Crew Neck Sweater

“If you have a really great T-shirt dress and a really great crew neck sweater, that already solves a ton of your wardrobe needs,” Bordson explained.

The COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t part of the plan—and it had the potential to change everything. But, in fact, the pair see the pandemic as simply accelerating what they already predicted.

“Long before today, we started to see this scary but inevitable reevaluation of what ‘normal’ looked like in consumerism,” Landzberg explained. “There’s this juxtaposition between industry actors who force brands to rely on endless product development, and consumers who are starting to question whether they really need to endlessly buy more.”

Anticipating a consumer trend?

The pandemic and resulting economic scares accelerated this reevaluation; in-store shopping came to a halt, and brands started to face harsh financial realities as consumers rethought their buying habits. The pair imagined that a brand focused on simple, sustainable and basic pieces meant to last could be the solution.

And that solution is rooted in a rethinking of growth, defined through values-based, data-driven habits. “We’re telling our community a story about every hand that has touched each one of our pieces,” Bordson explained.

That’s not an easy way to do business—and plenty have said so along the way. Bordson and Landzberg know their focus on sustainability, creating fewer, more purposeful pieces and making each of those pieces perfect is more expensive and time consuming. But with a capital-efficient model and a focus on what the consumer wants, they’re confident in their success.

So far, that’s been working for them: the company sold through 75% of their inventory in the first month post-launch. Bordson sees this as just the beginning: “We have an amazing, diverse set of customers from 20+ states. Many who initially bought the T-Shirt Dress in black already came back and bought it in gray because they found themselves wearing it day after day. That’s the best measure of success for us!”

“Growth doesn’t have to come from more product, more often,” Landzberg explained. “We’re going to be deliberate in the way we grow while staying true to our core mission. We’re excited to rewrite the playbook on what growth means.”




Lisa Lewin, BSBA

Lisa Lewin, BSBA ’96, was recognized for extraordinary leadership through adversity by a 145-year-old culture and arts organization for her work in June to launch an initiative designed to “dismantle three of the biggest levers of racist power in this country: biased policing, electoral disenfranchisement and economic exclusion.”

The 92nd Street Y in New York City, a nonprofit community and cultural center that provides programs fostering individual physical and mental health, announced the “extraordinary women” awards on November 10, including Lewin among five women so honored.

Lewin is CEO of General Assembly, a pioneer in education and career transformation offering dynamic courses in data, design, business, technology and other high-demand skills.

According to the announcement from the 92nd Street Y, Lewin and the Leadership Now Project—where she is a member of the steering and investor group—”launched the Business for Racial Equity pledge, bringing together a coalition of leading executives to mobilize businesses to take concrete action.”

That action included working toward dismantling biased policing, electoral disenfranchisement and economic exclusion. The pledge includes a series of concrete steps executives and their organizations can take toward addressing those three sources of systemic bias and inequity. The announcement noted that more than 1,000 executives of businesses and organizations across sectors have signed the pledge.

Lisa serves on the boards of the Wikimedia Foundation, Bank Street College of Education, and the Leadership Now Project. In addition to her business degree from WashU Olin, she earned an MBA with honors from Harvard Business School.