Tag: Center for Experiential Learning



The St. Louis Economic Development Partnership highlighted the Center for Experiential Learning’s community work in a recent feature on Olin’s Small Business Initiative.

The St. Louis Economic Development Partnership and the Regional Business Council have partnered with the CEL to identify small businesses in the recovery areas—also referred to as the Promise Zone—of Ferguson, Dellwood, and Jennings and assist with business development.

Olin’s Small Business Initiative connects WashU students to small business owners in the St. Louis community. Through a 12-week, team-based management consulting project, students provide actionable recommendations in areas including market research, branding, financial assessment, and operations. The projects help students build their consulting competencies and apply classroom learning to real-world issues facing small businesses.

“We have an immense resource in our students who have passion, raw intelligence, and incredibly quickly developing leadership skills, and the question was, ‘What are the best ways to leverage that for the greater good in the community?’” Program Director Daniel Bentle told the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership. “In the end, this initiative is simply focused on supporting our small business leaders in the local economy, which we have a responsibility to do.”

To date, more than 50 students and 13 small businesses have participated in the program.

Check out the full story on STLPartnership, and learn more about the Small Business Initiative on the CEL’s website.




Last semester, Richard Payton served as a United Way Board Fellow for Sherwood Forest, a year-round youth development organization. The project was part of the Center for Experiential Learning’s United Way Board Fellows Program, which partners students with local agencies supported by the United Way of Greater St. Louis. The students serve as a consultant and a voting member of the organization’s board, providing a unique experience for students interested in social impact.

Richard truly immersed himself in his client’s mission to transform the lives of children in need, and he came away from the experience with a strong sense of applied learning and a better appreciation for youth development in the community. Learn more about his experience as a board fellow, and his advice for students interested in the program:

Who is your client and what interested you about working with them?

Richard: I’ve had the good fortune to sit on the board of Sherwood Forest, a youth development agency that uses a resident summer camp in the Ozarks and year-round programming to help kids from underserved communities reach their fullest potential. I worked in K-12 education for 8 years before enrolling in Olin’s PMBA program, and I love the outdoors, so Sherwood Forest is a natural fit for me.

Two girls who are a part of the Sherwood Forest community.

How do you hope to provide impact to your client?

Richard: Lots of youth development agencies target kids from underserved communities, but I can’t think of another that is anchored in a resident summer camp experience. It’s easy to call Sherwood Forest a “summer camp,” but there’s a lot more to it. With my Board Fellows project, my aim is to help Sherwood Forest better communicate “the why behind the what” to stakeholders—in other words, to better explain the theory and evidence behind the agency’s work so that parents, families, donors, and funders understand the sophisticated and evidence-based thinking behind the agency’s service model.

How does the CEL Board Fellows experience differ from other classes?

Richard: One of the reasons I applied to WashU’s part-time MBA program was the experiential opportunities at the CEL. The hands-on experience has been incredibly valuable, especially in considering how I can apply concepts that I learned in courses that were focused on critical thinking, communication, and strategy. This experience has been different from other courses because of that experiential element, as well as the opportunity to draw from what I learned in so many different courses.

What has been the highlight of your experience?

Richard: In addition to its amazing staff and board members, I’ve also met many students who “grew up” with Sherwood Forest. Hearing about how much Sherwood Forest impacted their lives and how excited they were for college and their careers was really inspiring. Since nonprofit work can often be intangible, these stories were so compelling.

What advice would you give to students interested in becoming a United Way Board Fellow?

Richard: Know that your assigned project is just one component of the Board Fellows experience—another big piece is learning about the agency and its work, and how nonprofits function. That being said, spend as much time with the agency as possible—board meetings, committee meetings, fundraising events, etc. Make sure you see the agency “in action.” I spent a day at Sherwood’s summer camp in the Ozarks and it really brought the agency’s work to life.




Students in the CELect Entrepreneurship Course, held at the T-REx startup accelerator, are sharing their team projects with the Olin Blog. Student team Anna Cossio, Mark Gum, Nick Rafferty, and Shannon Turner describe the experience of consulting for their client, alum-founded GiftAMeal. 


The CEL entrepreneurial consulting team course (CELect) provides WashU students the opportunity to work with and solve business challenges for St. Louis-area startups. Our team is working with GiftAMeal CEO Andrew Glantz, BSBA’17, to develop a marketing strategy for the company’s St. Louis region. Through this marketing strategy, we hope to increase downloads and engagement on GiftAMeal’s mobile app.

GiftAMeal is the perfect example of the amazing work for-profits can accomplish when they tackle social causes. Since 2015, Andrew and his team have worked with various mentors, accelerators, and investors to develop an app meant to address food insecurity by providing meals to food banks.

[RELATED: Gift A Meal doubles donations]

Here’s how it works: Download the app and check out one of your favorite participating St. Louis restaurants. When your meal arrives at the table, take a picture of your food, and share with your friends via the social media outlet built into the GiftAMeal app. Once your photo has been shared, GiftAMeal will donate a meal to Operation Food Search in St. Louis at absolutely no cost to you. It’s as simple as that!

[RELATED: Glantz named to AKPsi 40 Under 40 list]

Our team has loved working with Andrew and his team on this project. His drive to address food insecurity in the community has proven to be contagious. Beyond that, it is inspiring for us to know that our recommendations will translate into a larger impact for GiftAMeal. Not only are we learning how to formulate and communicate our recommendations in a professional setting, we are also contributing to the success of an application that will provide support to many families in need.

Working on this project has given us the experience of working from the ground up to understand the current needs of clients and users of the app. We have interviewed restaurant owners who are registered under the GiftAMeal application, analyzed feedback from current app users, and experienced using the app first-hand by donating meals as we dine at restaurants. Each of these steps have allowed us to begin formulating ideas for the recommendations we will provide Andrew and his team in the following weeks. Stepping into the business world has given us the opportunity to attain real-world knowledge, an experience not often available to students stuck in the classroom.

Guest Bloggers: Anna Cossio, BSCS/BSSSE ’20, Mark Gum, Law ’18, Nick Rafferty, BSBA ’20, Shannon Turner, MBA ’18 




By Kurt Greenbaum

This article was originally published in the 2017 Olin Business Magazine.

As a first-year business student, Hannah Perl found inspiration for a startup. As a sophomore in her first entrepreneurship class, she gained the motivation to launch it. As a senior, she had the savvy to sell it for a five-figure payday and parlay her skills into a job with one of the rock stars of St. Louis’ startup community.

Along the way, her entrepreneurial education at Washington University carried her to Budapest to consult for an Eastern European startup and to the streets of St. Louis for another classroom-based consulting gig.

In June, Perl (BSBA ’17) sold Pyramid Promotions, her event management and promotion company targeting young audiences. Today, she’s chief of staff for Jim McKelvey, the St. Louis entrepreneur and financier who’s had a hand in Square and LaunchCode.

In many ways, Perl embodies the entrepreneurial spirit at Washington University—a spirit Olin educators intend to infuse into every student, whether they’re destined for a career at a major corporation or a newly conceived startup.

“That’s the biggest effect Washington University’s had on me,” Perl said. “It completely defined my path for where I am today.”

Students are engaged in consulting projects for startups around the block and around the globe. They’re partnering with WashU’s Brown School of Social Work to learn about and launch social enterprises. They’re earning stipends from the Weston Career Center for internships with startups instead of traditional Fortune 500 jobs.

Dean Mark Taylor wants his message to be clear:

“Every business student today must understand how to think like an entrepreneur.”

Mark Taylor

“Being entrepreneurial, regardless of the size or scope of your organization, is absolutely imperative for the mindset of future business leaders,” said Taylor, who has made entrepreneurship a key tenet of the school’s new strategic plan.

Established companies increasingly demand bold ideas and innovative thinking, said Taylor, whose plans include putting students in close contact with entrepreneurs already in the marketplace.

Nimble, innovative, creative

For years, Olin has promoted entrepreneurial education and supported student startups through competitions, classwork, and experiential opportunities. That work has put Washington University squarely in the midst of a trend that has swept business schools since 1985.

At that time, according to the Kauffman Foundation, business schools offered about 250 classes in entrepreneurship.

By 2012, the number exploded twentyfold, with more than two-thirds of business schools offering courses on the subject. Of the 1,250 business incubators in the United States at the time of the study, about a third were based at universities.

Numbers also show that today’s businesses—large and small, established or emerging—need entrepreneurial leaders. A 2013 Harvard study showed failure rates between 70 and 90 percent for large corporate entrepreneurship efforts—often referred to as “intrapreneurship.” The numbers suggest demand for leaders with the time, talent, and vision to drive change.

“The war for talent has just started,” Deloitte asserted in a 2015 white paper devoted to corporate entrepreneurship. “However, some companies fail to foster a source of great talent: intrapreneurs. Encouraging employees in intrapreneurial thinking will lead to a growing number of high potentials.”

Meanwhile, startups have a growing appetite for MBAs with entrepreneurial skills.

The Graduate Management Admission Council this year reported that 75 percent of startups planned to hire recent MBA graduates, up from 52 percent in 2016.

“We’re looking for tenacity, grit, can-do, quitting-is-not-an-option attitudes.”

Daniel Bentle (MBA ’13), director of Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning, which leads several initiatives in the strategic plan.

They include a finance and accounting clinic in which master’s students provide free services to area startups and an international impact initiative that “takes our consulting services global” as select students work with social enterprises in developing countries.

“It’s about infusing the nimble, innovative, and creative spirit of entrepreneurial management through the cases we teach, in the projects students undertake, and in the community,” said Todd Milbourn, vice dean and Hubert C. and Dorothy R. Moog Professor of Finance.

Seizing on the need for proactive, nimble, and interdisciplinary thinking, several parts of the strategic plan focus on getting students outside the classroom, learning how entrepreneurs confront problems, grow their businesses—and even deal with failure.

Borderless classrooms

For example, students from across the university are invited to apply for two different entrepreneurship career treks. One trek will visit executives at mature startups, the other will go inside established corporations that have launched intrapreneurial teams. The Weston Career Center organized the first entrepreneurship trek in March.

In a whirlwind two-day visit to New York City, students visited six companies—some new, some well established—including Nomad Financial, which develops financial analysis technology, and Woosh Beauty, which develops innovative makeup and beauty products.

Karen Heise, interim director of the career center, said students appreciate rubbing shoulders with executives who demonstrate innovative thinking and problem solving across a range of industries and corporate structures.

“Our students have a very strong entrepreneurial spirit,” Heise said, “but they don’t all want to start their own companies.”

The career center is also the hub of another off-campus initiative: the Entrepreneurship Summer Stipend Award. Launched in the spring, the program awarded up to $5,000 to each of four students who wanted to forego traditional MBA internships for the freedom to explore and develop their entrepreneurial skills.

“There’s so much pressure to get a high-paying summer internship at a top firm,” said Josh Henschen (MBA ’18), a recipient of the new entrepreneurship stipend. “Thanks to this support, I could afford to veer off that corporate path and pursue alternative career possibilities.”

Inspired by classmates in Cliff Holekamp’s introductory entrepreneurship class, Henschen’s mind overflowed with startup ideas—diverting him from his intended career path in consulting. Holekamp, senior lecturer in entrepreneurship, academic director for entrepreneurship, and director of the Entrepreneurship Platform, persuaded Henschen to apply for the stipend.

“In certain fields, there are very clear career paths,” Holekamp said. “MBA finance students have traditionally gone to Wall Street or banking for summer internships that often result in job offers. But for those interested in entrepreneurship, the options aren’t as obvious or lucrative. We really wanted to normalize the summer internship experience for students who want to pursue entrepreneurship.”

So rather than “giving up” a summer internship, Henschen’s resume shows that he won a summer stipend fellowship, which let him spend the summer in Bulgaria evaluating the viability of several startup ideas. His first—a chain of hostels for Eastern European travelers—still needs development, due to unstable real estate prices.

He’s since spoken to Bulgarian diplomats, importers, automotive industry experts, and soybean growers as he evaluates other startup ideas.

“It’s changing as I learn,” Henschen said. “But honestly, that’s the whole point of this summer. I needed to learn by doing.”

The experience has given Henschen the opportunity to test what he’s learned at Olin across a variety of disciplines—corporate finance, operations, marketing, sales, product development, and accounting. That cross- disciplinary experience is key to what Olin educators say entrepreneurship demands.

“This can be a way of thinking rather than just about going off and creating a company,” said Barton H. Hamilton, Robert Brookings Smith Distinguished Professor of Economics, Management, and Entrepreneurship and the academic advisor for the Center for Experiential Learning. “Students can take this way of thinking about combining resources in a different way, empowering them to bring that thinking to their organization.”

Culture of collaboration

Increasingly, students are eager to apply their business savvy and entrepreneurial spirit to some form of public good. Oft-reported statistics show that social impact education was virtually nonexistent even 10 years ago. Now, half the world’s top business schools offer it.

Olin is expanding its commitment to that sector by collaborating with the Brown School of Social Work to create a social entrepreneurship innovation accelerator. Led by Heather Cameron, the Brown School’s Michael B. Kaufman Professor of Practice in Social Entrepreneurship, WashU has retooled its existing social entrepreneurship competition.

In the past year, Cameron’s classes have evaluated a host of social startups and recommended several for seed funding to explore their viability. Two students are interning for two of the startups. The idea, Cameron said, is to “move away from prize culture and into investment culture.” Meanwhile, the fledgling accelerator is actively seeking investors for existing startups that are ready to move to the next level.

The future, embodied

To see how far entrepreneurship education has come at Olin—and where it can continue to go—look no further than the experience of Elise Hastings (PMBA ’19). From a business incubator in downtown St. Louis, she embodies the many ways a WashU business student can intersect with entrepreneurship education at Olin.

She’s executive director for Givable, a microgiving platform designed to reach the next generation of charitable donors. Founded by Cultivation Capital, the Staenberg Family Foundation, and the Regional Business Council, Givable hired Hastings as its sole employee in October 2016. She quickly applied her accounting, management, and marketing skills from the classroom.

In the spring, Hastings worked with the Weston Career Center and hired intern Nathan Vogt (MBA ’18), among the first summer stipend recipients. He worked with Hastings to develop a marketing pipeline for Givable. “I can sit back and think a little more about strategy and the big picture,” Vogt said. “That’s incredibly helpful to Elise.”

As the operator of a startup, Hastings engaged one of Holekamp’s student consulting teams through the CEL’s Entrepreneurial Consulting Team course. For the market analysis project, the student team recommended that Givable target small businesses as customers.

“I’m wearing all the different hats of an entrepreneur.” Hastings said. “It’s been so valuable to take what I learned in class and apply it to my work at Givable.”




The Madagascar Sustainability Initiative, previously run through University College, is the most recent addition to the Center for Experiential Learning’s portfolio of offerings, in partnership with Missouri Botanical Gardens.

We talked with recent Madagascar alumnus Joseph Park, BSBA ’19, about the course, how it aligned with his personal goals, and his takeaways from the experience.


What is the Madagascar Sustainability Initiative?

It is both an academic and immersive course. Students spend a semester learning about the economic, political, and sustainability issues facing the country. Then, four- to five-person teams develop projects to address the problematic deforestation rate in the country and improve the lives of the people in Madagascar. At the end of the semester, students travel to the Mahabo village to implement projects, live with the native Malagasies, and explore the culture through activities like visiting the free market and going on a lemur walk.

What does the day-to-day work look like in Madagascar?

The trip to Madagascar is three weeks. Two weeks are spent implementing projects in the village of Mahabo, while the other week is spent traveling and sightseeing in Madagascar.

Joseph’s group introduced a method of converting animal droppings into charcoal, creating an alternative to wood for fires and beginning a system of waste management for animal owners. This work is a foundation for larger future projects that have the potential to significantly reduce wood usage in the country.

Projects vary. For example, other groups distributed feminine hygiene products to women and girls or revived a community garden.

The cultural immersion piece is truly what makes this class unique. “Not only do you study the issues facing the country, but you also actually experience it for yourself and have the opportunity to change people’s lives,” Joseph said.

As a business student, Joseph says his goal is to use business for social impact, and the Madagascar class helped him to do so. He described the course as the “perfect opportunity to use the teamwork skills he learned in business classes to create positive change for people living on less than a dollar per day.” Beyond that, his experience taught him how non-profits can help impoverished areas, and he hopes to leverage this understanding to have a larger societal impact in the future.

What would you say to students considering the Madagascar course?

“My advice would be to talk to as many people as you can who have done the program before, and try to understand their experiences as best as you can. That helped me a lot in grasping what exactly the Madagascar environment would be like, and I wish I had done that even more,” Joseph said. “For people on the fence about taking the class, I would say that every penny I spent going on this trip was worth it for me. It’s an experience unlike any other, and is something that is difficult to come by without a program like this. I even got quite a bit of financial assistance from both Student Financial Services and Study Abroad scholarships, so hopefully money isn’t such a large issue.”


We are excited to integrate Madagascar into our offerings at the CEL. The CEL is looking for passionate students who are intrigued to get involved. Please feel free to stop by Simon 100 if you would like to learn more or have any further questions.

Guest Blogger: Allison Halpern, BSBA ’18, CEL Marketing Student Associate


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