Tag: Entrepreneurship

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.

Wade Miquelon, MBA

Shares of JOANN Inc. jumped nearly 5% on their first day of trading after the arts and crafts retailer raised $130.8 million in an initial public offering. The fabric and craft retailer is led by CEO Wade Miquelon, MBA ’89.

The company is listed on NASDAQ under the symbol JOAN. It announced its intention to go public in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing on February 16.

Although the company suffered from declining revenues before the pandemic, a rise in at-home crafting and sewing has prompted a 38% growth in sales since May 2020.

Miquelon told Forbes magazine that the pandemic is not the only contributor to the spike in sales. He said the company has been able to play into “solid trends” of “more do-it-yourself, a lot more personalization, and major movements on market exchanges like Etsy and Shopify” that have been building over the past few years.

He also mentioned JOANN’s success in offering curbside pickup, supporting its online purchase options. According to Marketwatch, the company announced IPO terms on March 4, indicating its plan to offer 10.9 million shares at between $15 and $17 a share.

Although JOANN’s recent growth has been impressive, according to Crain’s Cleveland Business, the question for potential investors could be whether Joann can can successfully convert growth to net income, whether the market will keep growing, and whether the company will continue to drive down its debt.

However, JOANN’s transition into public offering is an opportunity for investors to gain a foothold in the craft and sewing market. Hopefully, consumers and investors alike will be able to capitalize on the recent rise in sales for JOANN, and enjoy reconnecting with at-home projects like sewing and crafting during this isolated time.

The company had 855 retail locations as of January 30 and a database of more than 69 million customers.

Pictured above: Wade Miquelon, MBA ’89.

Russ Shaw, BSBA ’85, was one of three people the Queen of England recognized as a commander of the British Empire in 2021. Shaw received the honor for his contributions to technology and business in London. Here, he describes how his Olin education helped him get there.

My Olin education covered four years, receiving a BSBA and majoring in accounting and receiving minors in economics and Spanish. I also participated in a number of extracurricular activities, with a particular highlight being a student representative to the Washington University Board of Trustees.

I certainly used the knowledge gained in my coursework in many aspects of my career. Some of the standout courses for me were macroeconomics, statistics, finance, marketing and a great course in leadership during my senior year.

My days are never the same as founder of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates. I meet with many startups, scale-ups and investors across many tech hubs around the world. I talk to journalists and do media interviews frequently, and I am in contact with various UK government agencies.

Many tech hubs

Through Global Tech Advocates I have travelled to many tech hubs both large and not-so-large, meeting amazing entrepreneurs with great visions and aspirations. I have hosted tech events spanning from San Francisco and New York to Shanghai, Bangalore, Tokyo, Singapore, Paris, Bogotá, Madrid, Shenzhen, Milan, Stockholm and, of course, London.

A key part of my role is to put the spotlight on critical issues that impact tech ecosystems. This includes issues around talent, diversity & inclusion, digital skills, infrastructure and access to funding.

I was honoured to be recognised by the Queen in her New Year’s Honours list as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).  This is one of the highest levels of recognition in the United Kingdom by Her Majesty. The CBE has been awarded for service to business and technology.  I was honoured to meet Queen Elizabeth several years ago when she and Prince Philip hosted a technology reception at Buckingham Palace.

In terms of advice as students embark on their careers, I always say that there are two components that are integral to any career journey: reputation and network of contacts.  Both need to be nurtured and developed throughout a career. I also encourage students to travel and see the world, to keep expanding their horizons and to be open to new ideas and ways of thinking.