Tag: Center for Experiential Learning

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. Today, we hear from Toby Warticovschi, EMBA ’09, partner at Millstone Capital Advisors, as well as Carin Stutz, CEO of Native Foods, a Millstone portfolio company.

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

Warticovschi: We wanted to provide an opportunity for world-class talent, and to see if these students could assist us in deriving value from the data from one of our portfolio companies that, due to resource constraints, we have not been able to analyze. I have a sophomore in college and a junior in high school. Their internship plans were canceled, too. I brought my daughter to work for one of our portfolio companies for the same reason we’re working with WashU students: It’s a mutual benefit.

Stutz: We all want our companies to be relevant to future generations, so the opportunity to participate and hear the perspective of your students is invaluable.

What is your project about?

Warticovschi: We asked students to our data to see if they could find any key insights to our guest/consumer behavior when it comes to choosing healthy or indulgent menu items; willingness to try new menu items or limited-time offers; and menu pricing.

What was it like working with WashU Olin students?

Stutz: They came prepared and asked insightful questions. For some, it may be the first time communicating directly with an executive team, so some seemed a little hesitant to engage. Having the advisor involved, in our case Zachary Kaplan, helped bridge the newness of the situation.

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

Warticovschi: These are certainly unprecedented times, but my main advice is to remain optimistic.  As this change happens, every business is having challenges—and that also presents new opportunities. Those who ask themselves the question “How can I leverage this opportunity to add or create value?” are the ones who will be best positioned for the future.

Olivia Stevermer, BSBA ’23, wrote this post for the Olin Blog.

Although cryptocurrency recently garnered the attention of millions through a short-lived “to the moon” era, the momentum of blockchain is continuing to skyrocket and shape the future of our transactions. As a young Gen Z adult, a considerable portion of my time goes toward scrolling through various media, taking in more information than I can process. I’ve seen the data and heard the financial analysts report on the rapid growth of blockchain and cryptocurrency, yet there is no amount of information that equates to the knowledge and experience gained from Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning.

CEL gave me the opportunity to work on a team with Abhay Bhandari, BSBA ’22, Yubo Rao, BSBA ’22, and Sharika Singh, BSBA ’23, to determine how international blockchain company Horizen Labs could position itself to enter the gaming industry.

From the first time I opened Zoom to meet my teammates to the last time I closed Zoom after our final presentation, the learning curve was nothing less than steep. As four undergraduate business students with little to no blockchain knowledge, we learned the importance of communicating with experts, and from that we were able to get hands-on experience in one of the most rapidly evolving industries.

The CEL experience provided endless room for creativity and detailing while still following the data and research. Additionally, there was always room to improve and motivation to strive for perfection. Working with a client to produce impact-oriented results provided an understanding of the client-consultant relationship and the importance of seemingly small details. The passion and enthusiasm of the client was especially motivating.

The best part about CEL was the opportunity to explore an unfamiliar industry and experience the startup ecosystem. As second and third year undergraduates, each of my teammates and I are still young; there are numerous career paths we could take. Getting the opportunity to explore the blockchain industry opened our eyes to new opportunities within the sector and encouraged us to explore opportunities in unfamiliar sectors.

Horizen Labs’ startup ecosystem enabled us to think entrepreneurially, and knowing our results would have notable impact pressured us to emphasize listening to the consumer. Experiencing the success of a start-up showed us that there truly are methodological approaches to becoming successful and furthered our entrepreneurial spirits.

Overall, the hands-on experience CEL provided boosted my confidence. The opportunity to work with Horizen Labs was incredibly inspiring. I gained a new awareness of the power and need for innovation along with the belief that I have the power to make a positive difference in the world.

Olin’s CELect program offers students an opportunity to engage in management consulting projects for start-ups and early-stage companies. Our team members worked as consultants for St. Louis-based startup NourishSTL.

Founded by Rhonda Smythe, a registered dietitian, and Colleen Clawson, head chef of Milque Toast Bar and Baba Xavi, NourishSTL provides ready-to-eat meals made with locally sourced, farm-fresh ingredients. NourishSTL products range from snacks and essentials to hearty meals, soups and stews.

At the start of our project, Smythe told us they wanted Nourish STL to enter the mainstream grocery market. Our work focused on analyses of operational changes, finances and marketing to help the company achieve this goal. Our team consisted of James Dutton, James Bambury, Hongjin Lyu and me. Each of us had a specific area of expertise, and we delegated our work based upon how we felt our contributions could be the most efficient and impactful.

Our collaboration also played a key role in our success. By working closely with Smythe and with one another, and by providing transparency and flexibility throughout the project, we were a highly effective team. We worked with integrity, excellence and creativity, upholding all of Olin’s core values.

Our conclusions were based on hard data, provided value and had a forward-thinking outlook. For example, one modification we implemented was to change the pricing of items to adequately reflect the premium value of the product. We suggested a 120% markup on 32-ounce packages, a 140% markup on 16-ounce packages and a 30% markdown for wholesale. Given that NourishSTL’s profitability was a concern, we believed that these changes would have an immediate positive impact on cash flow. Our market research also showed that these markups would have little effect on customer willingness to pay.

We developed numerous other recommendations for the company, and one of the things we most appreciated was Smythe’s receptiveness to our suggestions. She immediately implemented several changes based upon our feedback and, likewise, we remained flexible based on her feedback. Our team held Zoom meetings twice a week, one as a group and one with Smythe to ensure our shared direction, and we also communicated frequently through Microsoft Teams.

Our experience in this course had a tangible and immediate impact. Much of what we learned can be applied to our future careers and business endeavors. One highlight from our experience was being able to meet as a team with Smythe, despite COVID, in the kitchen where all of her food is made. In a time of isolation and Zoom calls, having this experience made the work feel “real.” Anyone interested in business, consulting or entrepreneurship should take this course.

Top photo courtesy of NourishSTL.

Joel Hsieh, BA

Joel Hsieh, BA ’22, wrote this for the Olin Blog on behalf of CEL teammates Tarhe Osiebe, MBA ’21, Phillip Clifton, JD ’21, Saavan Rijsinghani, BSBA ’22, and Anthony Williams, BA ’21.

Kwema, a safety wearables company founded in 2016 by Ali Al Jabry, took the pandemic’s challenges in stride. The St. Louis-based startup’s primary product is a smart badge used in the workplace for a variety of safety and emergency situations, described as “OnStar meets E-ZPass for employee safety.”

Seeing a potential new market in 2020, Kwema upgraded its technology to include GDPR and HIPAA compliant COVID-19 contact tracing.

Last fall, Kwema participated in WashU Olin’s Entrepreneurial Consulting Team program through the Center for Experiential Learning to explore new avenues for fundraising and investment in the company that would offer the best terms of investment.

As the five-member student consulting team, we focused our research on the online equity crowdfunding space and detailed strategies, insights and points of interest for use in a potential future campaign.

Failure isn’t wasted time

Top to bottom, left: Joel Hsieh, Amy VanEssendelft, Tarhe Osiebe. Top to bottom, right: II Luscri, Kwema founder & CEO Ali Al Jabry, Saavan Rijsinghani.

Sometimes the original recommendation just doesn’t work out. That doesn’t mean the time spent was a total loss. In mid- to late-November, the project was humming along nicely. The team was giving updates to the client and receiving feedback constantly, and the midterm presentation went smoothly.

However, as we continued, a critical issue emerged with our first recommendation: The equity crowdfunding platform WeFunder required disclosure of sensitive information. Kwema found it unstrategic to share the information publicly because it would require publishing trade secrets that anyone would be able to see.

Rather than scrapping equity crowdfunding altogether, Saavan directed our efforts towards Fundable, a platform that functions not as the primary handler of the investment, but as a selective place to meet individual investors. Many of the lessons learned about how to prepare the necessary paperwork and best present the company in a campaign setting applied to both the original and final recommendations.

Prepare for the unexpected

That leads to our second revelation: The limitations associated with consulting in a classroom environment can repackage real-world lessons in unexpected ways. Make sure to communicate often and precisely.

Introducing the team during the final presentation, December 18, 2020. Right side, top to bottom: II Luscri, Amy VanEssendelft, Tarhe Osiebe, Anthony Williams and Phillip Clifton.

Now, we didn’t immediately move on to this new recommendation. Given that the original idea was now sidelined, a consultant would maybe negotiate a project extension, but as students operating within the constraints of a single academic semester, Kwema suggested we take the remaining month of school and improve the company business plan.

In the context of a consulting class, the line between consultant and intern work would be blurry, as we discussed with II Luscri, our professor and the managing director for the Skandalaris Center for interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Though Kwema’s initial pivot idea wasn’t used, finding a new solution to the original problem allowed us to compromise and ensure both parties received value from the program that aligned with what we each originally signed up for.

I can’t think of a future where practicing thoughtful and decisive negotiating would not be useful. Shoutout to Tarhe, our team lead, who always made sure communications were timely and not wasteful.

Whether that was pruning emails and calls down to the essentials or keeping pace with a meeting agenda, the act of minimizing friction when trying to adapt to an unexpected problem cannot be understated.

Pictured at top: Joel Hsieh, BA ’22, author of this blog post.

This post was written by Dana Ward, Yijia (Alice) Xu, Danial Kang and Christopher Daniel, pictured above.

This semester, we participated in the CEL Entrepreneurial Consulting Team course. This unique course provides students an opportunity to work with a startup company and help it solve various issues. We would like to share our experience with you.

Our client

Zoog is an asynchronous communication smartphone app that allows consumers to bring books to life using built-in augmented reality face masks, filters, sound effects and animations. It provides an interactive platform to connect people, especially during the pandemic.

This is particularly attractive to grandparents, who may not have seen their grandchildren for a long time but can still read and record stories for them via Zoog. We were deeply intrigued by this creative product and interested in contributing to the app, which can foster connection during this difficult time. You can learn more about our client on their website or download the app. Use the access code ILOVEZOOG

Zoog is in its early phase. It recently introduced its product to schools in Atlanta, and it is expected to grow its library of content for users.

Zoog’s primary concerns are in two areas: business and legal. Accordingly, we divided our team into two corresponding groups and compiled our findings. The business team researched and recommended the most suitable subscription model for Zoog, and it proposed a model for Zoog to cooperate with book publishers.

The legal team analyzed copyright license agreements and the various related legal issues, including the derivative use, the doctrine of fair use, and vicarious and contributory liability. The legal team related the issues to Zoog so that it will be more informed about how to proceed in legal negotiations and in what ways the use of copyrighted materials might be allowed.

Our experience

During this course, our team members applied our classroom knowledge to the project. For instance, we applied knowledge from the pricing strategies course and entrepreneurship class to help our client solve business problems, and we also used different legal resources and issue-spotting skills we learned in law classes.

This course has also helped us prepare for our future aspirations and for becoming better leaders. For instance, one of our team members is interested in working in consulting full time. This class provided her a unique experience to understand what that could really look like.

She has also gained lots of project management and client communication skills that will be essential in her career moving forward. This course has also taught us how to solve complex problems, how to communicate with teammates and clients, and how to work with others.

The CELect experience is different from other classes because it provides us an opportunity to work with a real startup company. Instead of a detached reading of a case about other companies’ issues, we actively participated in solving various problems for our client, sharing their concerns and brainstorming ideas that may affect the future of their product.

Advice for CELect participants

It offered us a vivid experience of the satisfaction and bewilderment harbored by entrepreneurs, encouraging us to proactively search for information and make decisions, instead of following others’ direction.

For those who are interested in CELect, our team has some advice for you! First, we think it is very important to listen to the client’s preferences and concerns while conducting research and making recommendations.

You should also read deeper into what the client wants. They may say they need one thing, but don’t stop there. Let them know what they are missing so they can make a complete and informed decision.

You should also be very organized about your tasks and actively cooperate with teammates, and be ready to help each other when needed. We are sure that you will learn a lot from this fulfilling and enjoyable experience.

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 Joshua Rahn, BSBA ’94, co-founder & general partner at Oceans Ventures.

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

I am an alumnus from 1994 who got my entrepreneurial career kickstarted at Wash U, as I was an owner of one of the University trucking companies.  That experience set the groundwork for my 25-year career in tech and start-ups.

I am also a believer that karma works, and I wanted to pay it forward to the next generation of graduates. Couple that with my recent dialogues with Doug Villard and Ted Manion, and I was excited to engage with Wash U’s student body as soon as I could.

What is your project about? 

We are building a social network/sharing operating system for early stage investors. In essence, we are building a platform to reduce friction in a very old system.

How have you found working with Olin’s students?

Working with these students is awesome. They are itching to be exposed and engage with tech forward companies and we are loving working with them.

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

Take internships. Take all opportunities presented to you. Learn. Ask questions: lots of them. Add value. Get experience. Become irreplaceable.