Tag: Entrepreneurship

Five students in a grid format who were named to the Inno Under 25 list of entrepreneurs.

Nancy Nigh contributed this post to the Olin Blog. She is the communications and events manager at the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

On September 16, 2021, the St. Louis Business Journal announced its first “Inno Under 25” list of up-and-coming founders in St. Louis’ startup community.

According to author Nathan Rubbelke: “Our inaugural Inno Under 25 feature is designed to spotlight some of those up-and-coming innovators. The list includes college students balancing studies while building promising startups as well as recent grads and young adults focused full-time on their ventures. Unsurprisingly, this list features many with ties to Washington University, which has had an outsized role in boosting St. Louis’ entrepreneurial economy.”

The WashU entrepreneurs recognized for their contributions to the St. Louis startup ecosystem, include Joe Beggs with Hive Medical and GenAssist, Chiara Munzi with Closet Switch, Lloyd Yates with Tylmen Tech, Ayana Klein with 3Dux Design and Owen Zhang with Caralyst.

“The diversity of these founders—including students studying in Olin, McKelvey and Arts & Sciences—creating startups to solve unique problems is at the core of how WashU approaches entrepreneurship,” said II Luscri, managing director and assistant vice provost for innovation and entrepreneurship at the Skandalaris Center.

In addition, to support them through their academic programs, the Skandalaris Center worked with each of these young entrepreneurs as they established and continued to grow their startups through advising, mentoring, competition preparation and funding.

“We are beyond excited for these founders to be recognized and look forward to helping them and others elevate their ventures at WashU and in St. Louis.”

Learn about each of these founders below and read St. Louis Inno’s article here.

Joe Beggs HIVE Medical and GenAssist: HIVE incorporates a wireless sensor into IV lines to improve medication adherence and prevent expensive unplanned readmissions. Founding member Joe Beggs (BME ‘2020) received the first place Skandalaris Venture Competition trophy in spring 2021 and a $10,000 cash prize. Joe’s other venture, GenAssist, was started with the intent to commercialize the biomimetic sponges so that muscle loss may be healed in human patients.

Chiara Munzi, Closet Switch: Closet Switch is an online and mobile platform that makes getting trendy clothes affordable and social by facilitating nationwide clothing trades between high school and college-aged girls. Founded by Chiara Munzi, BS ’23, and Cosima Munzi. Chiara earned a finalist position for Closet Switch in the spring 2021 Skandalaris Venture Competition.

Lloyd Yates, Tylmen Tech: Tylmen Tech integrates technology, sustainability, and accessibility to create the best fitting, custom-tailored suits available on the market. Founder, Lloyd Yates, MBA ’22, was a featured panelist for the event Black Entrepreneurship in St. Louis, a panel discussion with veteran and rising innovative entrepreneurs from the St. Louis area organized by the Olin Black MBA Association. He has competed in the Skandalaris Center Venture Competition and Skandalaris’ IdeaBounce events.

Ayana Klein, 3Dux Design: Founded by current WashU student Ayana Klein, LA ’22, 3Dux Design supplies children around the world with the educational materials and academic skills they need to succeed. Anna was a Skandalaris Center Global Impact Award winner in 2020 earning an award of $20,000. She also competed in Olin’s Big IdeaBounce in spring 2020 and took home the top prize of $2,500 in the undergraduate category for her architectural modeling system, consisting of cardboard connectors and curriculum, which supports STEM education globally. Ayana planned to use a portion of the prize money to employ her fellow Washington University students as interns with 3Dux Design and offer educational opportunities to children.

Owen Zhang, Caralyst: Caralyst is a healthcare innovation startup, focused on increasing the quality of healthcare by matching patients and physicians based on preferences like communication style and personal characteristics. Caralyst allows patients to find physicians based on shared identities, communication styles, and personal characteristics. Founded by Owen Zhang, EN ’23, BSBA ’23, an undergraduate student at Washington University studying in the joint business and computer science program, and his team of Havisha Pedamallu, LA ’21, BSBA ’21, and Matthew Millet, ME. Caralyst placed third in the spring 2020 Skandalaris Venture Competition, winning $5,000.

The Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship is the home of Entrepreneurship at Washington University. We support startups at all stages by providing opportunities and resources from idea to launch and beyond. We are dedicated to providing programs, services, and opportunities for all members of the WashU community. We encourage individuals, startups, ventures, and teams to connect with us for help throughout their entrepreneurial journey at sc@wustl.edu.

Established by former Olin professor Cliff Holekamp, the Holekamp Seed Fund provides $1,000 in funding to student entrepreneurs. The award helps students kickstart their business ventures without financial obligation.

Fund directors—Holekamp, Elise Miller Hoffman, BA ’11 and MBA ’16, and Doug Villard, Olin’s academic director for entrepreneurship—select deserving students. Applicants are accepted on a rolling basis until the funds run out.

This year’s awardees

Lloyd Yates, MBA ’22, founded Tylmen, a direct-to-consumer line of accessories includes ties, belts, scarves and even face masks that double as pocket squares.

Greenlight, co-founded by Evan O’Connor, BSBA ’20, is an online shopping extension that grades sustainability of brands and offers alternatives.

Arron Zheng, BSBA ‘22, co-founded EDUrain. EDUrain is an app that simplifies college financials by bringing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), scholarships and housing fees together in one place.

Made by BLU creates gourmet nut butters using natural, high-quality and traditional ingredients in the base product then adding exciting mix-ins. It was created by Fiona Blumin, BSBA ’21.

Elijah Olasunkanmi, BS ‘22, is the operating officer at Innovative Apollo Media. The service, RaiseMeFunds, is similar to GoFundMe, but is accessible to people in West African countries.

FreeEats, founded by Trey Rudolph, BSBA ‘23, seeks to reduce food waste. The mobile app provides information on leftover free food produced on college campuses.

Founded by Laife Fulk, MBA ‘21, Sherpa combines data and technology to guide event staff with real-time information.

Lumière is a streaming platform designed for short films aimed to revolutionize the way that short films are consumed worldwide. Trey Checkett, BSBA ‘22, is the founder.

Amanda Foley, MBA ’21, and Tom Dart, MBA ‘21 are co-founders of DRIPTEK. DRIPTEK automatically lubricates wires for cranes and elevators significantly reducing downtime.

Applications for the fund are open to current Washington University juniors, seniors and graduate students. Students must be US citizens or permanent residents. You must have at least 25 percent ownership of your startup venture. To apply, visit the Holekamp Seed Fund website

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 USA, as well as Millstone CEO Carin Stutz.

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.

The following post originally appeared on The Consortium website and was reposted with permission.

As a burn survivor, Antonio Rivera-Martinez learned the hard way the importance of slowing down, of taking life day by day as opposed to rushing. 

Now a first-year MBA student and Consortium fellow at Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis, Rivera-Martinez is finding success applying this same mindset to his studies and career. 

“As MBA students and as professionals, sometimes, we get really focused on ‘I just want to graduate, I just want to get through midterms, I just want to get a job,’ and sometimes, it’s more about what you need to do in the next hour or the next day,” he says. “Going through the burn injury recovery process really helped me to be patient with myself and everyone around me, and be more conscious. I just focused on doing what I needed to do in the next minute to be sure that I could become the person I wanted to become the next day or the next week.”

With a passion for helping entrepreneurs and small business owners, Rivera-Martinez hopes to use his MBA and the lessons he’s learned to empower people and businesses by connecting them “with the resources they need to succeed and make the world a better place,” he says — “an economic-type diplomat, in a sense.” 

A moral imperative

Raised in Puerto Rico, surrounded by family, Rivera-Martinez became interested in community development as a result of his participation in humanitarian and economic development missions across Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries, as well as in Model UN. These experiences influenced his decision to enter the field of economic development and international relations, and it’s how, following high school, Rivera-Martinez ended up at American University studying economics and international studies. “I was very much convinced that I wanted to be in public service, particularly economic development,” says Rivera-Martinez. 

Internships in the U.S. Department of State and the Organization of American States, however, steered him in a new direction. There, he learned about the challenges faced by entrepreneurs in disadvantaged communities and potential policies to overcome these. 

“I noticed how both the U.S. and Mexican economies, most economies really, are driven by small and medium-size businesses,” Rivera-Martinez says. “A lot of them, if not most of them, are being led by underrepresented communities — Blacks and Latinos — and you really see a disproportionate amount of financial resources that are available to one demographic versus the other.”

Eager to translate this new interest into working with entrepreneurs on the ground but about to graduate with a degree in international studies, Rivera-Martinez applied for and received a Fulbright scholarship to work in Mexico City. “I wanted to understand really well the process of how to build a small business and what the barriers are that are limiting communities from becoming more economically self-sufficient,” he says. 

In 2015, after a year of working as an investment operations associate at Cambridge Associates — where he says he “got a crash course in everything related to investing, finance and business” — Rivera-Martinez moved to Mexico City as a Fulbright Binational Business Scholar. Working as a senior analyst and strategy director at Angel Ventures, he learned all about the startup ecosystem, including how venture funding is processed, how entrepreneurs craft their pitches, how they secure funding and what financial institutions are looking for in entrepreneurs. “I was slowly but surely learning all the informational symmetries to connect the dots,” Rivera-Martinez says. 

Following completion of the Fulbright program, he was offered a full-time position as a strategy director at Angel Ventures. The opportunity allowed him to travel throughout remote areas of Mexico, where he talked about entrepreneurship with locals as well as worked with government entities, small business incubators and universities. Through the experience, Rivera-Martinez learned that no matter where you are, the same development gap exists among entrepreneurs, and although information about securing funding is often presented in a complicated manner, it’s actually very basic. “Being able to understand that and communicate it to other people was very important to me,” he says. 

Ready to run with this new knowledge, Rivera-Martinez unfortunately hit a roadblock. An incident at a bonfire left him with second- and third-degree burns on 25 percent of his body. With a full recovery projected to take a year, he returned to Puerto Rico to be closer to his family and doctors. “I went from being on a ventilator, to walking with a cane, and back to working while still on treatment within a year’s time,” he says. 

During this time, Rivera-Martinez began working at a new seed fund that was just getting off the ground in Puerto Rico with Grupo Guayacán — the first of its kind on the island. But then, in September 2017, Maria hit. 

The hurricane wiped out power to his family’s home for four months, complicating his recovery efforts and challenging him in new ways. However, he says, helping family members and friends kept him busy and moving forward amidst the chaos. “I remember thinking, ‘I’ve been through worse. I know we’ll be able to get through this,’” Rivera-Martinez recalls. 

The hurricane ultimately shifted the focus of the seed fund where he worked as they heard from local businesses about the hardships they were facing and tried to identify companies impacted by the hurricane that could greatly benefit from their assistance. “After the hurricane, it definitely took on a deeper purpose. Now it wasn’t just about funding companies, it was more about doing my part to help with Puerto Rico’s economic recovery,” says Rivera-Martinez. 

He enjoyed his experience at the fund, which included investing in companies in industries ranging from food and beverage to AI and software development, but found himself wanting to do even more. “I was reaching a point where I wanted to do more than just connect companies with the resources they needed,” Rivera-Martinez says. “Ideally, I want to be a resource, help build a company or help a particular organization grow, and invest in companies using my time and connections.” 

Lacking the operational knowledge to do this, and with encouragement from his mentor Jorge Negron, he decided to pursue his MBA. “Jorge was a Consortium alum from Michigan Ross, and he always talked to me about The Consortium and how it was a great experience, how it really helped him and gave him a lot of tools to be able to help businesses in Puerto Rico,” says Rivera-Martinez, adding that Negron passed away last year. “He was very inspiring in terms of pushing me to apply through The Consortium. His life work and character continue to move forward today. Jorge really helped me realize I had what it takes.”

The Consortium, Rivera-Martinez says, aligned perfectly with what he had been doing and what he hopes to do following his graduation from Olin. In addition to helping Latino and other underrepresented entrepreneurs overcome the obstacles they face through better access to resources, his plans include returning to Puerto Rico, where he hopes to help spur growth in his own community — not to mention, spread the word about The Consortium. 

In addition to helping make their future organizations great, Rivera-Martinez believes he and his Consortium peers also have the moral imperative to do as Negron taught him: “to always inspire others to apply to The Consortium and to be better through their work.”

“Business tools are just a way to help and empower others,” he says, “and I think everyone in The Consortium family knows and lives by that.”

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.