Tag: Entrepreneurship



Doug Villhard on stage at one of Second Street

Doug Villhard, EMBA ’14, academic director for WashU Olin’s entrepreneurship platform, announced today the $30 million sale and acquisition of the startup he co-founded in 2007.

St. Louis-based Second Street, co-founded with Matt Coen, gives publishers and other clients the capacity to provide contests, interactive content and emails to grow revenue, database and engagement. The company has more than 500 clients, including news publisher Gannett, the Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network and WGN-TV in Chicago.

According to a news release today, Upland Software, which provides cloud-based tools for digital transformation, agreed to acquire Second Street for $25.4 million in cash at closing (net of cash acquired), paid out of cash on hand, and a $5 million cash holdback payable in 12 months.

“At Olin, I teach students to first ‘fall in love with the customer’s problem,'” said Villhard, who is also professor of practice in entrepreneurship. “If you get that right, it can lead to amazing things.”

Villhard said he worked on growing Second Street at the same time he was working on his MBA. “Every class I took I applied it to the company I was growing.” he said.

“Our customers’ business is only going to accelerate with Upland, which is tremendously gratifying for all of us who have been involved over the past 14 years in building such a special product,” Villhard said in a blog post on Upland’s website, co-founder and president of Second Street.

Other highlights from Upland’s announcement of the acquisition:

  • “Our customers need to deliver content experiences consumers enjoy interacting with and benefit from,” said Jack McDonald, chairman and CEO of Upland (which is publicly traded on Nasdaq: UPLD). “Contests and interactive content are a proven and effective way to engage, attract, and retain consumers, and Second Street delivers this at scale.”
  • Upland expects the acquisition to generate annual revenue of approximately $9.4 million, of which all is recurring.
  • The Upland Cloud enables thousands of organizations to engage with customers on key digital channels, optimize sales team performance, manage projects and IT costs, and automate critical document workflows.

Villhard is also a partner with his brother in Villhard Growth Partners, a private equity firm that invests in, partners with and grows strong, tech-enabled business and healthcare services companies. He has been involved in the launch and operation of two other startups. And he started Father McGivney Catholic High School in Glen Carbon, Illinois.

Pictured above: Doug Villhard on stage at one of Second Street’s annual customer summits (photo courtesy Doug Villhard).


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 Nick Mueller, BSBA ’22, who acted as team lead working with GO! St. Louis.

Tell us about your summer project.

I worked with three other students as team lead for GO! St. Louis, a nonprofit running organization that promotes health and fitness in the St. Louis area by hosting running events such as marathons, half-marathons, 10K races, 5K, races, etc. as well as some biking and hiking events.  We worked to mitigate the detrimental effects of COVID-19 on our organization’s ability to continue its operations. 

In what ways has this CEL experience been helpful in applying your education or sharpening your skills?

This CEL experience gave me the opportunity to lead a team of my peers through a professional yet low-stress consulting engagement. We worked closely with a faculty member who provided feedback throughout the project, but gave us a great deal of discretion in how we approach it.  This freedom replicated the independence of a post-graduation consulting job and forced me to apply my own education and creativity, while the guidance I received helped me discover and improve upon my weaknesses. As a result, I emerged from each task as a more confident and competent consultant. 

What was a “day in the life” of this CEL program?

Each week began with a class on Monday and a check-in with our faculty advisor on Tuesday.  During this check-in, we discussed our objectives for the week and how we would accomplish them.  For the remainder of the week, the student team worked on our own doing research, crafting messages, meeting with experts (runners, PR specialists, etc.), completing our deliverables, and other required tasks.  During this time, we typically met about once day, and we were always allowed to contact our faculty member for questions or assistance.  On Sundays, we submitted a weekly update that outlined what we accomplished that week and what we hoped to do next week. 

What was it like working with a real-world client?

We met with our client on Zoom every two weeks and communicated via email or text whenever necessary.  Our Zoom meetings included our faculty member as well, who gave us feedback after the meeting.  Faculty feedback on client meetings was especially helpful in teaching me the professional courtesies and leadership skills that display confidence and competence in a business setting. It really taught me how to how to deal with a client, how to lead meetings both with a student team and with clients.

We speak of Olin as a values-based, data-driven business school. Have you seen that in action?

Absolutely.  Both clients I have worked with through the CEL have had a precise mission.  My first client promoted literacy among African American children and positive images of African American culture.  My second client was focused on promoting fitness, health, and exercise in the St. Louis community – a mission complicated by COVID-19, but more critical than ever in the wake of social distancing and people becoming more reclusive.  The Center for Experiential Learning chooses its partnerships carefully, and I believe the missions of these organizations reflect the values of Olin Business School, such as social reform and community engagement. 

The faculty in this program have placed strong emphasis on the importance of using data to formulate and justify recommendations. Furthermore, our Monday classes typically feature guest speakers and our most recent class was led by a panel of business analysts who gave a lesson on data visualization and communication. 

What surprised you about the experience?

I was surprised by the way we were able to do it all virtually without any problems. When the summer came around, I believe there was a good deal of skepticism regarding how feasible this would really be, to do a project like this all over Zoom. But I was pleasantly surprised by how it all turned out. And I think that the faculty, as well as the students, did a great job in pivoting and being flexible with everything.




Doug Villhard leading a class discussion focused on entrepreneurship—prior to the pandemic.

Since launching this column two and a half years ago, I’ve discussed the many ways WashU Olin has secured its standing as a world-class institution for business school education and research. The wide variety of topics I’ve covered includes digital education, cross-disciplinary programs, the MBA global immersion, scholarships, gender parity, alumni engagement and much more.

But with today’s 31st edition of the Desk of the Dean—the first of the new year—I’m focusing on an area I’ve never addressed before: the entrepreneurship platform, one of our crown jewels and a key pillar of excellence in Olin’s strategic plan.

Nearly a month ago, I was privileged to deliver a congratulatory message to an impressive group of students honored with entrepreneurship awards and, collectively, more than $40,000 in funding from various competitions. As I said at the time, I couldn’t have been more proud of how the WashU Olin community has adjusted to the realities of the coronavirus, and how our students persisted in pushing forward with creativity and innovation during this challenging time.

That December 8 celebration came six weeks after Poets & Quants recognized Olin as the No. 1 entrepreneurship program globally for MBAs—the second consecutive year Olin received that honor. Cliff Holekamp laid the foundation for that recognition a dozen years ago. Doug Villhard, who took over the program when Cliff retired, continued that momentum through the balance of 2019 and all of 2020.

“We’re really proud of pushing the entrepreneurial mindset,” Doug said in our recent interview with P&Q editor John Byrne. “People have a misconception that entrepreneurship is only about starting companies. Our program is also about being innovative and creative within larger organizations—corporate innovation.”

The entrepreneurship award celebration was one of Doug’s additions. It also hailed the return of the Olin Cup, honoring the winning project in Olin’s Hatchery course—dedicated to forging student ideas into startups. The ceremony also highlighted Olin’s BIG IdeaBounce, another new competition Doug introduced.

And last spring, Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning added a marketing Metrics Clinic course to the existing finance Metrics Clinic—both focused on providing student-led consulting projects for local startups.

Continuing the momentum

Those are just a few examples. But what is a program dedicated to teaching entrepreneurship and innovation if the program itself doesn’t innovate? That’s what Doug is continuing to do, in collaboration with the CEL, WashU’s Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship and its director, II Luscri.

In the coming year, additional courses are joining an impressive slate of more than two dozen focused on innovation and entrepreneurship. For example, Doug has partnered with the US Department of Defense on “Innovating for Defense,” a course focused on solving real-world problems confronting the defense department and the intelligence community.

Another new course—”The Endgame of Entrepreneurship: Leveraging Capitalism for Good”—will help students understand how skills from entrepreneurship and venture creation can be used to improve water quality, climate, education and gender equality globally and here in St. Louis.

Engaging with the community

Those are just two examples of new courses approved by the BSBA curriculum committee recently. Meanwhile, Doug is also working toward a new expansion of the CEL Entrepreneurial Consulting Team course.

Traditionally, the CELect program has paired student consulting teams with St. Louis-based startups on semester-long projects. Soon, however, the program’s reach will extend beyond St. Louis as students consult with startups on both coasts and around the world.

I’m also thrilled to see our entrepreneurship program further engage with Olin alumni and corporate partners, who serve as competition judges and mentors for budding business innovators. Through one simple form, they can connect with Doug to either provide support to our programs or get support through consulting projects and interns.

Two of those avenues of support are also recent developments: First, there’s the Olin Entrepreneurship Fund. This fund will support entrepreneurial initiatives within the Olin Business School, including curricular enhancements, faculty research, student experiential learning and prize money for elevator pitch and business plan competitions.

Then there’s the WashU Venture Network, inviting angel investors to connect with promising WashU-based startups.

In this space, I can only scratch the surface of the work underway as we continue to build, promote and, yes, innovate on our entrepreneurship platform.

We are fortunate to have an extraordinary team focused on this work, a St. Louis ecosystem that strongly supports innovation and values our participation and, of course, creative minds who come to Olin seeking this training.

Pictured above: Doug Villhard leading a class discussion focused on entrepreneurship—prior to the pandemic.




During his time at WashU, Rick Liu has become fascinated by the process of building a successful business. Rick, who is pursuing a joint degree in business and computer science, has spent the last six months growing this longtime interest into a successful podcast called The Seed—The Startup Journey.

As Rick, BS ’22, explains in the introductory video on his YouTube channel, he realized the best way to learn entrepreneurship—short of actually starting a business—is to hear other people talk about their startups. This curiosity prompted him to find a way to bring the stories of successful entrepreneurs into the life of everyday people interested in exploring the process of starting and running a business.

So far, Rick has interviewed 21 entrepreneurs who have shared the tale of how they got where they are now. He has interviewed businesspeople from all over the world—from here in St. Louis, to Canada, to Taiwan—on his podcast.

I asked Rick about his top three takeaways since starting The Seed, and he told me that, while he’s learned a lot more than just three things, the most important lessons he’s learned revolve around three key ideas: passion, connections and persistence.

Rick told me that most entrepreneurs he’s spoken to have told him that passion is essential. As an entrepreneur, “if the problem is personal to you, you’ll be motivated to wake up even when you don’t feel like it,” Rick says.

Many founders have also told The Seed about the importance of making friends in the business world. Rick cites the particular example of Kaldi’s Coffee co-founder Suzanne Langlois, who told him that it was a connection with someone who’d been hired to bulldoze a building full of furniture who got her first Kaldi’s location its set of tables and chairs.

Finally, Rick has learned that starting small and sticking by your ideas is crucial for success in entrepreneurship and, coincidentally, the podcasting world as well.

Rick’s podcast encourages his listeners to learn with him from those who are successful in the industry, and makes the intricacies of building a business digestible and fun to learn. Anyone interested in startups and entrepreneurship can check out Liu’s podcast, The Seed—The Startup Journey, on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, YouTube, or Spotify. The Seed is also present on Instagram and has an independent website.




Lloyd Yates, MBA ’22, knew in high school that he wanted to be an entrepreneur.

“It stemmed from my father,” a physician who went into private practice and also started opening other businesses, he said. Yates saw his father succeed not only for their family, but also for others.

“If I could create some jobs, I think it would be a very fulfilling feeling for me,” he said.

Yates was one of four Olin students and alumni who participated in a roundtable discussion on October 27, when Poets & Quants announced that, for the second year in a row, Olin claimed the top spot as the best MBA program for entrepreneurship.

John Byrne, Poets & Quants’ editor-in-chief who moderated the discussion, commented, “I think the best part of entrepreneurship is generating meaningful employment for others, frankly.”

Yates founded men’s clothing accessory site Tylmen while he was an undergraduate. Tylmen’s direct-to-consumer line of accessories includes ties, pocket squares, belts, scarves and even face masks that double as pocket squares.

How Olin supported their startup ambitions

The panel also included Tova Feinberg, MBA ’22, cofounder of S.T.L. Loaves; Byron Porter, MBA ’20, founder and CEO of HUM Industrial Technology; and Shannon Turner, MBA ’18, founder of the Maria Lida Foundation.

The video event featured a discussion of how Olin supported them in their startup efforts.

Turner said she was drawn to Olin because its curriculum offered options to focus her studies on social entrepreneurship. Her foundation is a nonprofit  dedicated to promoting self-sustaining economic development in Alausi, Ecuador, her father’s hometown.

“I’ve always felt extremely blessed to get the education that I’ve received in the States and have always had a passion to use that education to get back to my roots,” Turner said. She started the Maria Lida Foundation after she graduated almost two years ago. “We’re trying to use education and vocational training and tourism as vehicles for economic development in the area.”

Said Byrne, “I’m loving the fact that we have a social impact person on the on the crew here, because it just shows you the variety, the diversity of startup activity in business schools and particularly in Olin.”

The foundation recently began providing a business consulting program for the local indigenous community.

“Tourism has taken a big hit, unfortunately, during this time,” Turner said. “Something that we can help the local community do in the meantime is maybe promote tourism to the domestic population as people start to kind of move around within the country.”

‘I gave it a shot’

Porter said he had no intention of becoming an entrepreneur.

“I was hoping for a nice, cushy general management job when I entered business school,” he said. Then he talked with a good friend who’d spent 15 years at multinational conglomerate General Electric before he became an entrepreneur. Porter’s friend encouraged him to reconsider his goals. “So I gave it a shot.”

Just four or five months into school at Olin, Porter decided to start a company.

The first attempt evolved into a second. HUM “was a pivot,” Porter said. Using “vibration analysis” and machine learning software, Porter created a monitoring device about the size of a deck of cards to track railcar movements and anticipate necessary maintenance—before a big accident happens.

“This is  predictive maintenance,” he said. “Right now, the rail industry is on a reactive maintenance cycle.”

Porter said he can’t say enough good things about Olin faculty and classes. “I’m still in touch with a least a half a dozen professors.”

Yates said Olin “has been super helpful” with his startup.

“There’s definitely a multitude of different funding resources, different professors who are looking to help me grow and scale” his business, “whether that be with marketing, with strategy, with operations. And it’s been really fun. Well, fun and rigorous, taking these core MBA classes.”

The sweet spot

Feinberg, a passionate foodie who founded an e-commerce bakery business, said she applies what she learns at Olin to her startup.

“It was very hard for me coming from a food and beverage background, seeing a lot of these restaurants shutting down left and right,” she said. Then she lost her bartending job while she was studying for grad school.

She decided to open an e-commerce business based on Amish friendship bread. “The best way to someone’s stomach is through sweets.” Feinberg currently delivers in St. Louis and ships loaves to other places.

At Olin, she has made strong connections with her peers and students in the class ahead of her, she said.

“They’re really cheering me on and really spreading the word” about her breads “and buying them, and tasting and giving me constructive feedback, as well.”

Also, Doug Villhard, academic director of Olin’s entrepreneurship program, “has been truly amazing,” she said. He is cheering her on, as well. Feinberg recently entered the Skandalaris Venture Competition, which provides mentorship to new ventures and startups to ready them for commercializing their idea, launching and pitching to investors.

“I’m learning how to do the executive summary and going for the seed money so I can really grow this business,” Feinberg said.

At one point, Byrne asked a question from the audience: “Since business school costs quite a hefty sum for most students, how did you reconcile that with your desire to become an entrepreneur?”

Said Feinberg: “There’s always that lingering thing in the back of your mind about money, money, money. And there’s no doubt that this program is intense as far as financials.” But the school is “really there” for students, she said, plus financial aid and scholarships are available.

“It’s about your passion. If you’re really passionate for your business, you go for it.”