Tag: Center for Experiential Learning

A student team from the CEL meets to discuss a project (photographed before the pandemic).

In one project, WashU Olin students developed a new and untested go-to-market strategy for a St. Louis-area startup—plus, they identified additional opportunities within the company’s existing strategy.

In another, students worked with a different startup to organize and segment thousands of contacts in the company’s database, helping to target the contacts most likely to be converted to customers.

The two cases are examples drawn from one of WashU Olin’s newest courses, the Marketing Clinic for Startups, launched in spring 2020 and taught by Michael Wall, professor of practice in marketing and entrepreneurship.

“The class creates an opportunity for students to work on a half-semester practicum focused on helping real-life St. Louis startups tackle their sales and marketing challenges,” Wall said. “The inaugural class went incredibly well.”

The course aligns both with Olin’s focus on its strategic pillars of excellence—particularly those around values-based, data-driven decision-making and entrepreneurship—and on WashU’s broader focus on serving the greater St. Louis community.

The course is something of a counterpart to an existing class offered through Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning, the Metrics Clinic in Finance. Both task teams of students to work with startup companies to tackle real-world problems.

“We received great insights in the new market as well as validation on our current strategies,” said Fady Hawatmeh, founder and CEO of Clockwork, which uses artificial intelligence to create a customizable tool for businesses to create financial projections, cash flow forecasts, metrics and scenarios all in one place, in real-time.

Hawatmeh was among the startups that participated with student teams in the debut of the Marketing Clinic for Startups. His team worked on go-to-market recommendations. “We’ve made some adjustments based on the team’s findings to our marketing material and our content strategy.”

Fridaouss Nabine was also a client. She’s a mentoring expert and founder of Fyrst Gen, an online platform built to help first-generation college students and business professionals promote their businesses, build their personal brands and connect with other “first gens.”

“The recommendations were extremely helpful in determining our ideal customer profile and segmenting accordingly,” Nabine said. “While we didn’t build the contact-rating system they suggested, we cleaned the list to prioritize those who were most likely to convert to customers.”

Both entrepreneurs connected with Wall and the CEL through the St. Louis region’s startup network—Hawatmeh, through the Arch Grants startup competition, which provides funding for locally based startups, and Nabine through the CEL’s relationship with the T-Rex business incubator, where she is based. Wall is continuing to look for new project opportunities within the St. Louis startup ecosystem.

Wall also said the course is now open BSBA students, as well as marketing and entrepreneurship students in the MBA programs, “so, it’s a course for all Olin programs which is pretty exciting.”

Pictured above: A student team from the CEL meets to discuss a project (photographed before the pandemic).

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 businesses, nonprofits and startups. We’ll be sharing their stories on the Olin Blog. Today, we’ll hear from Jay Li, BSBA ’16, director of marketing at Regatta Craft Mixers.

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

Honestly, we had to scrap existing plans to bring on summer interns due to the pandemic. When I received the email from Dean Taylor about the program, we rushed to pitch a strategic project we’ve been struggling with. 

What is your project about?

Our students worked on using insights from consumer research to inform a selling strategy for the grocery channel. 

What was it like working with WashU Olin students?

The additional bandwidth and their fresh perspective was great. It was a pleasure working with our team, and they definitely challenged some assumptions we’ve held for a while. We were really impressed with the depth of thought and analysis we’ve seen from them. 

When you’re so focused on fighting daily fires, other things—like figuring out exactly who our consumers are—have to wait. The students have really helped us work on some badly-needed projects. Plus, the students’ fresh perspective has been great—they helped us find ways we were looking at the wrong hypotheses.

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

I would encourage them to try and find silver linings. Although COVID-19 has disrupted our lives, there’s a lot of opportunity for innovation and disruption as our behaviors change. 

Julia Zou, MSBA ’20, wrote this on behalf of her CEL team. Editing help was provided by Lungile Tshuma, MBA ’21 and Michael Spiro, BSBA ’21.

Growing up in a family-owned restaurant, Fady Hawatmeh knew what it was like to run a small business. During the years when he ran a CFO consultancy firm in the greater Chicago area, Fady saw firsthand how countless small companies were struggling with the same issues he had seen in his father’s restaurants—managing finances and cash flow. That’s when he realized how systemic the issue was.

Small businesses typically don’t have a CFO. Now as an experienced CFO, Fady knows that no one in small businesses likes laying out 5-year financial projections, but understanding a business’s financial standing and cash flow is key if that business wants to survive and thrive.

“It doesn’t matter what business you’re in, you have to manage your cash flow and your finances. I knew there was a better way to do it.” said Fady.

Hence, he founded Clockwork. Clockwork is the only tool that builds your financial models, cash flow forecasts, metrics, and scenarios all in one place and in real-time. Before Clockwork was founded, Fady built financial models and cash flow forecasts for every one of his clients because 90% of them didn’t have one, and the rest were essentially ineffective.

As a consultant and outsourced CFO, he could help hundreds of companies. With the help of software, this number can scale to millions. In addition, Clockwork provides a platform for individual CPAs and accounting firms to offer more advanced financial forecasting services.

Founded just over two years ago, Clockwork has focused heavily on product to date. Now, with over 200 customers and helping save CPAs 5 hours per month per client, Clockwork is expanding its services in order to stay ahead of their competition. Clockwork wants to apply their early successes to serve to more clients, potentially expanding into new markets.

Fady is working on a semester-long practicum project through Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning. With faculty support from II Luscri  (Direct of CELect), the students — Julia Zou, MSBA ’20, Julie Zhang, BSBA ’23, Lungile Tshuma, MBA ’21, Mingqian Li, JD ’21, and Michael Spiro, BSBA ’21 — will designate strategies to help Clockwork expand its product offering into the venture capital market. Venture capital firms typically have a large portfolio of companies they invest in, resulting in a strong need to efficiently monitor the financial standings of these portfolio companies. While we have only completed preliminary research to date, we believe that selling to VCs will have an amplifying effect on Clockwork.

Pictured above: Julia Zou, MSBA ’20, Lungile Tshuma, MBA ’21, Mingqian Li, JD ’21, and Michael Spiro, BSBA ’21 during their first meeting with Fady Hawatmeh.

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 Rob Poirier, EMBA ’14, clinical chief, emergency medicine, assistant professor of emergency medicine at WashU School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

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

As frontline emergency department clinicians battling the pandemic daily since it began in March, we have recognized immediate needs to operationalize innovative new technology to better serve patients requiring medical care. When I received the notice that there would be a summer class, especially with all the new projects we had, we decided that having a CEL team to help us out with these projects is was perfect timing to address some of the issues we had before us.

Olin students are bright, motivated problem solvers adept with technology who can think outside the box, devising solutions to new challenges. We thought the CEL program and students could quickly help us plan and implement new telehealth solutions improving care for patients in this socially distancing era. COVID has changed how we work in the hospital. The Olin CEL team has helped us successfully develop and implement new technology plans allowing us to meet new challenges posed during this pandemic.  

What is your project about?

Our project focused on telehealth solutions that can be used to extend emergency care expertise outside of the traditional emergency department. Telehealth is a new tool emergency clinicians can use to benefit individuals who may not need to physically visit an emergency department. 

What was it like working with WashU Olin students?

We found working with Olin’s students stimulating and educational. I think we learned as much from the students as they learned from us. Having outside opinions regarding how telehealth could be used was so important. They really helped us think outside the box.

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

Do not be afraid to learn how you personally can help yourself and others get through these tough pandemic times. COVID creates many new societal and industry problems that need solving. We all benefit from the creative ideas and brain power of current and graduating students alike to solve current issues at hand. Working together to find successful solutions is crucial to helping  us all make it through these challenging times.

What will you take with you from this experience?

This summer really reinforced for us how important diversity of opinions is. We can become tunnel-visioned at times, thinking we know what’s best for our patients. Working with the students this summer encouraged us to continue staying in contact with the CEL moving forward on operational projects.

Danielle Bateman Girondo, BSBA

Eight years ago, St. Louis’s Midwest BankCentre opened a branch in Pagedale, a suburb with a median household income of $27,000—about 40% of the entire region’s median. Five years later, the bank opened a branch inside a North St. Louis Baptist church, in a neighborhood with a median household income of about $31,400.

Serving underbanked communities serves as part of the bank’s mission as a values-based organization, but Danielle Bateman Girondo, BSBA ’00, executive vice president of marketing, and Alex Fennoy, executive vice president of Community and Economic Development, wanted to go further. They wanted to make the case that it was also good business.

They found their answer from a semester-long practicum project through Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning. With faculty support from Sam Chun, professor of management practice, the students—Chris Colon, AB ’20; Frankie Hong, MSFQ ’20; Hannah Levin, MBA/MSW ’21; Lin Xie, MSBA’20; and Bruno Moreira Yamamura, MBA ’20—delivered their findings in May.

Midwest BankCentre’s two branches in underserved areas had created $11.3 million in additional regional revenue and more than $9.7 million in consumer wealth—as well as 124 new jobs in the region.

“It was great to be able to make the business case for why we need to make more investments in providing access to capital to all communities,” Girondo said. “We’re doing good and here’s the proof. It’s not just us saying it.”

Quantifying the ripple effect

Bringing full-service banking to traditionally underbanked communities doesn’t only serve Midwest’s community development goals. Girondo noted that it also helps differentiate the bank in a crowded marketplace. In its 2018 report to the community, Midwest noted, “With more than 130 banks and credit unions, St. Louis is one of the most overbanked cities in the country—but those services are not distributed evenly.”

The CEL team for Midwest BankCentre

Providing access to checking or savings accounts or other banking services creates a ripple effect, opening opportunities to provide financial education and offer loans that spur homeownership, business development and employment.

“It really struck me to learn how important the access to financial resources can be for households,” Hong said of the project, which was quintessentially aligned with Olin’s strategy of promoting values-based, data-driven decision-making.

“Midwest BankCentre really emphasized to us the ways in which they prioritized building trust in the community and the importance in doing so,” Levin added.

After an initial in-person meeting with bank leadership before the pandemic moved everything online, the students tackled the project by exploring ways to quantify the effect of adding banking services to an underbanked community.

“All we knew was that Midwest BankCentre was, somehow, having a positive impact in the community,” Yamamura said. “One of the biggest challenges that we faced was how to translate that into numbers.”

Data supporting values

Chun guided the students to a few existing economic measurement models, and he urged them to remember that precise numbers were not the goal of the exercise. It was about understanding on a macro level the impact of the service in the community. Chun credited the team with identifying additional modeling research on their own that they could tap and adapt as they analyzed Midwest BankCentre’s product matrix and account data.

Bruno said the team was able to construct models to interpret the strategy the bank has always implemented by investing money from the communities back to the communities.

Yamamura said one of the models calculated how Midwest’s loans were stimulating the local economy by generating more jobs and income for the population through a “multiplier effect.”

“The models are far from being perfect,” he said. “But I think they are powerful in supporting the bank’s message and its core values.”

Midwest BankCentre, the second-largest privately owned bank in the region, is a 114-year-old St. Louis institution with more than $2 billion in assets.

“The team was really inventive,” Chun said. “They put their hands in there and they created models of mortgage impact, financial training impact. I was really impressed.”

So was Girondo. “I was beyond impressed with the students,” Girondo said. “They did a really good job.”

Pictured above: Danielle Bateman Girondo, BSBA ’00, and Alex Fennoy of Midwest BankCentre.

Lin Cheng (MBA ’21) serves as an Olin/United Way Board Fellow for Senior Services Plus. She wrote this reflection on the experience for the Olin Blog.

Pictured above: : Hung Le (MBA ’21), Naotake Akaiwa (MBA ’21), Lin Cheng (MBA ’21) and Pralabh Garg (MBA ’21) volunteer at Senior Services Plus.

It has been quite an experience serving as a board member for Senior Services Plus as part of the Olin/United Way Board Fellows Program. The nonprofit world has always intrigued me, and I’m honored to serve as a board member for 2020. 

Back in February when I attended my first board meeting at SSP, it was the peak of Covid-19 in Wuhan, my hometown. I was greeted with a warm welcome and was impressed by the compassion of people in the agency. 

Since then, the pandemic has spread worldwide and our board meetings switched to online, but the good work at SSP has continued. The agency remains open and has even expanded its coverage to serve additional seniors in need, delivering thousands of meals to seniors every day. The spirit of the agency staff inspired me to serve the community as well. 

Last week, my friends at Olin and I had the pleasure to volunteer at SSP. We applied the operation knowledge we had learned in the classroom to form an assembly line and packed 600 bags of food to be distributed. 

Broadly, I am working with SSP to build smart/affordable homes for seniors to live independently. Day by day, I am more convinced of the indispensable force of non-profit in a well-functioning society. Most importantly, I am grateful to have the opportunity to be involved and serve the community.