Tag: Center for Experiential Learning

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.

Frankie Hong, MSFQ ’20, is a Center for Experiential Learning practicum fellow—and the first from Olin’s Specialized Masters Program.

I was placed on the team for the practicum project of Midwest BankCentre in the spring 2020 semester, and this project is still one of my highlights at Olin. It was the first time that I interacted with a real-life client to such an extent.

I still remember being nervous and anxious, trying to play it cool. But I could not keep my legs from shaking at the first in-person client meeting in January 2020 in the Pagedale community. 

Stepping into the unknown can be intimidating, but this experience excited me even more as we started to see the bigger picture. We held multiple stakeholder meetings with the clients and the faculty advisors to tell the story using the best models we could find. The clients were supportive and able to provide resources and feedback. They became my mentors when I landed in this part of the finance world.

It was a fortunate coincidence that my summer internship was at a St. Louis FinTech company, where our clients were community banks across the US. The knowledge I gained from the spring practicum was valuable throughout my summer internship. Working alongside several Olin students, we managed to create a valuation tool for community banks in only eight weeks. This experience reinforced the importance of experiential learning and implementing the values-based and data-driven approaches I learned at Olin.

Continuing his CEL journey

These experiences helped me make up my mind to apply for a practicum fellow role to continue my CEL journey. It did not occur to me then that I would become the first fellow for practicum from the SMP population.

As a practicum fellow, I had the honor of working with the Purina team for the fall 2020 semester. Each team member brought passion and expertise to the work and strived to deliver a successful final product to the client. The team also gave me full support on my fellowship project, which is to look at how to improve the SMP students’ recruitment process and facilitate collaboration among different communities.

Ability and diversity

Through interviews and surveys, I learned more about this cohort’s ability and diversity and was amazed by the talents people can bring to the table. The awareness of CEL experiential programs is relatively high among the SMPs. Some even indicated that these programs are one of the biggest reasons they chose to attend Olin, since successfully managing the programs reflects the business school’s power to offer quality service and professional guidance to students. For students coming straight to Olin after finishing their undergraduate study, the variety of experiential programs provide a valuable way to gain their first consulting experience working with real clients and apply skills learned in the classroom to practice.

When asked about their experience, many SMPs participants in the fall semester told me they were surprised at how the team collaborated efficiently in the virtual setup. Some of them took up the role of “technical team lead” when the project required unique skills such as website design and data analytics.

Even when entering an industry that they were not familiar with, students believe a fantastic team lead, an engaged faculty advisor and a responsive client will all contribute to achieving a satisfying result.

I encourage all SMP students to participate in experiential learnings programs where theory meets practice. Do not hesitate to offer your fresh perspectives and even plan on showing your leadership skills in a team. 

We have come a long way and will continue navigating through the uncertainties ahead of us. As I continue to work as a CEL practicum fellow in the spring semester, I look forward to the journey ahead and am more than happy to connect with Olin’s talents.

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 Akio Yahiro Korte, MBA ’21, who worked on competitive landscape analysis for Capacity.

Over the 2020 summer, I worked on the CEL summer project, a seven-week consulting opportunity to help a client with their business needs. In my case, the client was a privately held startup company that wanted help with its competitive landscape analysis. Capacity, our client, was really excited and passionate about sharing information with us, so we could give them the best recommendations possible.

This project sharpened my project management, planning and coordination toolkit. From a technical perspective, this project has refined my competitor analysis and marketing skills. I also helped the team using my finance background when appropriate. 

Our team lived on a weekly cycle. Weeks started with a one hour class on Monday. Client meetings occurred every Wednesday afternoon. Client meetings were earmarked for one hour, but we always went over due to great client engagement.

Since team members were working virtually across three different time zones, we sporadically set up team huddles to address timely needs. Typically, a team member would spend several hours a week working on a specific function (think deep diving a competitor’s entire marketing strategy). 

From a team leader perspective, it’s always great to work with new and diverse teams. I worked with a healthy blend of graduates and undergraduates sprinkled with different business disciplines (finance, entrepreneurship, consulting, marketing). I worked with five other students—and I was thoroughly impressed with each of them.

Particularly thinking about the undergraduate students on my team, there were people who hadn’t had previous work experience. So for the first time, they were talking directly with business owners and leaders—and they really stepped up to the plate, asked detailed questions and shared their expertise. It was a huge win for those students—it wasn’t an experience you could get anywhere else.

Client interactions were a big win. Capacity went above and beyond by letting us talk with different business leaders. Even though this was a marketing project, we talked with leaders in finance, sales, and execution. We even got the opportunity to talk directly with the CEO, David Karandish, BSCS ’05.

Not only is David a WashU alum, he also sold the parent company to Answers.com before starting Capacity. David had some very cool stories to tell, everything from writing a text-to-speech app around his high school years to being on “The Apprentice: Martha Stewart.”

In addition to answering questions to help the team with the CEL project, he had some parting words of wisdom for future leaders: keep morale up by being transparent, keep one foot in present reality while keeping another in future potential (be the bridge between the two realities). We were honored to spend this time working closely with the client, learning from their perspective and providing recommendations.

This has been a very interesting experience from a project management perspective. The project’s scope shifted several times, another team merged into mine, not to mention working virtually across different time zones always poses unique limitations. But the team successfully adapted to meet these challenges head-on. This resilience is a hallmark of the quintessential Olin business student. 

This is the second successful team project that I have led while at WashU. Given the great experiences both projects and teams have been, I am contemplating doing at least one more this coming academic year.