Tag: consulting



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 Andrew Smith, Daniel Kalvaitis, Jeffrey Lantz,  and Trent Pavic describe the experience of consulting for their client, Segue Partners.


Every semester, a few undergraduate and graduate students are chosen to participate in the Center for Experiential Learning’s Entrepreneurial Consulting Team (CELect) program. Participants are paired with St. Louis-area startups and tasked with solving a critical business problem.

Our team was selected for this program, and though we’re only a few weeks in, the journey so far has been intense.

WashU’s esteemed entrepreneurship professors prepared us with an intensive, full-day class. After that, it was our responsibility to meet with our client, determine the scope, plan how to meet deadlines, and deliver the most value possible. Professors provided guidance on aligning the team’s work with the client’s vision. But as with a real startup, we are the ones that need to make everything happen.

The following week, our team met with our client’s founder and core team members to discuss their objectives. Our client, Segue Partners, specializes in tackling the unique accounting and financial consulting needs of private funds and venture capital portfolio companies.

After an intense two-hour meeting, our team was tasked with sizing the market and planning next steps for a concept aimed at providing an innovative solution to back-end accounting services for startups and small businesses in the St. Louis area.

An integral aspect of such a project is to understand the market that exists and the needs of potential customers. To get us started, our team was given some initial contacts to interview. This will come as no surprise to those of us familiar with the St. Louis area, but everyone was incredibly welcoming. One contact often led to another…and another…and another.

In fact, the St. Louis entrepreneurial community is so welcoming that even after several dozen interview requests, not a single person has declined to speak with us. Not one.

Several weeks in and nearly a hundred interviews later, we’re starting to get a clear picture of the needs of potential clients. In addition to interviews, our team is studying competitors, modeling assumptions, aggregating data into actionable insights, and formulating a strategy for the potential launch. Leveraging other lessons that we’ve learned in classes at WashU, we’re almost ready to determine final recommendations.

This has been a tremendously rewarding experience for each member of the team. We’re grateful to the CELect program and WashU for giving us the opportunity to engage with the fascinating world of startups in the area, and for allowing us to give back to the St. Louis community.

Guest bloggers: Andrew Smith, BSBA ’18; Daniel Kalvaitis, BSBA ’18; Jeffrey Lantz, MBA ’18; and Trent Pavic, PMBA’18.




Last semester, BSBA students Ryan Farhat-Sabet and Betsy Morgan were part of a student team that provided consulting services for Drake’s Place, a family restaurant in Ferguson. The project was part of the Center for Experiential Learning’s Small Business Initiative, which partners area businesses with student teams, who work closely with the client to generate actionable insights and results.

We talked with Ryan and Betsy about their work with Drake’s Place and their experiences in the Small Business Initiative. Check out their insights below:

Q: What interested you in working with Drake’s Place?

Ryan: I was very excited to help a client in the food industry. Growing up in a Middle Eastern household, the dinner table holds a special place in my memories, as it was always a time where the entire family came together and bonded over a nice meal. Drake’s Place does exactly this, treating the greater St. Louis community as a family. Drake’s Place is a community staple, and the combination of the quality food, comforting atmosphere, and people really help to shape that vision.

Betsy: The restaurant was opened only a few months before the unrest in Ferguson, and has become an important part of the local community. Bridgett and Drake, the co-owners of the restaurant, are great to work with and are very inspiring. The growth potential of their restaurant also made it a really fun project.

Q: What has been your experience working with the CEL?

Ryan: Participating in the CEL was such a joy. Both Daniel and Beth are so passionate about their role in guiding students’ learning and creating an impact in the St. Louis community. The student leadership is refreshing, since most classes have such a rigid path to success, and that simply doesn’t exist here. The CEL community has been so supportive of every team’s work by providing constructive feedback along the way, helping to create high caliber results for clients continually each semester.

Betsy: Working with the CEL has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career as a business student. The ability to create tangible, sustainable solutions for an actual client has been invaluable and given me a lot more context for the rest of my business classes. I’ve also gotten the opportunity to develop both my technical and client-facing skills in ways I don’t believe are possible in a traditional classroom. The most rewarding part is getting to deliver effective solutions to our clients at the end of the project and, hopefully, provide them with tools to grow and succeed long after our time on the project has finished.

Q: Can you share a highlight from your time working on this project?

Betsy: A teammate and I were going to Drake’s to conduct a customer survey to find out their preferences and demographics early in the project. Not only were we able to have an amazing meal while we were working, but we got to see Bridgett in action. Bridgett knows the majority of her customers by name, and was constantly greeting people as they walked in. When we approached customers to ask them to fill out a survey, everyone was more than willing because we said we were working on a project to improve Drake’s. That was the day I really recognized how important Drake’s was to the community—and who we would be helping if we could help Drake’s grow.

Q: How has this experience prepared you for the future? 

Ryan: I aspire to work in the consulting field, and this experience has provided me with an actual opportunity to see what this line of work is like. I believe I have relatable experiences that I can draw upon and skills I have developed through the Small Business Initiative to differentiate myself during the internship recruiting process this semester.




A successful business depends on the community of contributors that carry out its mission. Since arriving at Olin last fall, I have found a strong community in Bear Studios, a student-run strategy firm providing a variety of client-based services under the umbrella of consulting, tech, design, and accounting.

Bear Studios has formed several key strategic partnerships with WashU and St. Louis-area organizations, with a focus on organizations that share a similar mission and that have a strong sense of community. In 2015, Bear Studios found that community in TechArtista, a collaborative startup space located in the Central West End.

WashU alumni Eric Hamblett (BA’13, International Studies) and Chris Holt (BS’13, Chemical Engineering) started TechArtista in 2014 to provide local entrepreneurs with an innovative working space and community. The company, now home to more than 120 local organizations and entrepreneurs, provides meeting and work spaces, design rooms, digital and filming equipment, and a variety of other amenities and resources to its members.

Bear Studios and TechArtista both seek to provide assistance and support to the local start-up community through different approaches and operations. The partnership provides TechArtista members with undergraduate talent and resources to aid in their operational development, while Bear Studios fellows gain real-world working experience and expertise from entrepreneurs on the ground.

To further the relationship between the two organizations, Bear Studios and TechArtista recently hosted a joint Happy Hour at TechArtista, where members of each organization could network, converse, and learn. TechArtista and Bear Studios plan to continue the tradition of Happy Hours, while building on the value that is created during those events. The Happy Hour setting provides ample opportunities to discuss particular trends in the start-up space and educate attendees about relevant topics through the perspective of both a student and a working professional.

Building the Bear Studios and TechArtista community will require more than an official partnership or even regular events. A community requires a faithful contribution from each of its members—something that is of abundance in both Bear Studios and TechArtista alike.

Photos courtesy of techartista.org.

Guest Blogger: Lexi Jackson, BSBA’20, is majoring in Leadership & Strategic Management, Political Science; she is a Strategy Fellow at Bear Studios LLC.


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