Tag: Entrepreneurship

Dr. Mohamed A. Zayed, EMBA 2023, with an image of the check he and his team received at the Rice Business Plan Competition in Houston.

A WashU-based life sciences startup that patented a groundbreaking bloodstream marker that flags potential cardiovascular disease recently won a $250,000 investment prize in a major national pitch competition.

Dr. Mohamed A. Zayed, EMBA 2023, is cofounder of AirSeal, founded after he and his colleagues accidentally discovered an enzyme that attaches to the “bad cholesterol” in the bloodstream. AirSeal later created a simple blood test for the enzyme that can flag patients who might be at risk for cardiovascular disease.

Zayed pitched the company and its groundbreaking, patented discovery in mid-May at the Rice Business Plan Competition in Houston. The competition doled out $3.4 million in prizes to 42 startups.

“It was an extraordinary experience, which was full of excitement, thrill and a lot of hard work,” Zayed said. “It was also wonderful to be surrounded by such an accomplished field of innovators with transformative ideas that have the potential to change the world.”

AirSeal won the Texas Medical Center Innovation Healthcare Investment Prize of $250,000. The company also won a $500 prize for best pitch in the life sciences category. More than 1,000 companies initially sent pitches in hopes of an invitation to the competition May 11-13.

“This investment is an important milestone in our young company’s life,” said Zayed, who is also an associate professor at the WashU School of Medicine and director of its CardioVascular Research Innovation in Surgery and Engineering Center. “It was our honor and privilege to represent WashU and the Olin Business School at the event.”

The founding team was recently a finalist in the 2023 Global Impact Award, hosted by WashU’s Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The next milestone

He said the substantial prize would be a significant catalyst toward AirSeal’s next key milestone: developing a product the FCA can evaluate. “It provides us with access to additional experts and partners as we continue to execute our key deliverables,” Zayed said.

The enzyme, known as circulating Fatty Acid Synthase, or cFAS, is essential for making saturated fatty acids that can lead to atherosclerosis—a plaque buildup that hardens the arteries. The research team conducted clinical studies in hundreds of patients to develop a blood test for cFAS, publishing the results in multiple journals. Zayed credited Olin’s Ron King, emeritus professor of accounting, and Doug Villhard, director of the entrepreneurship program, for helping the AirSeal team take the discovery to the next level.

“We leveraged their guidance and expertise,” he said. “They provided critical feedback and advice that helped us develop a competitive business plan and pitch.”

Pictured at top: Dr. Mohamed A. Zayed, EMBA 2023, with an image of the check he and his team received at the Rice Business Plan Competition in Houston.

Headshot of Daniel Schindler, CEO of Buoy.

Buoy, a consumer products brand that makes and markets hydration drops and was born in WashU Olin’s Hatchery business plan course, has closed a $2.5 million seed round that includes 50 angel investors—including Chris Paul, star point guard for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns.

“This wasn’t easy. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” said Daniel Schindler, CEO of Buoy, who began the business while he was an Olin student when it was called BetterTomorrow. Schindler announced the closing of the funding round in an email on May 2.

“We wouldn’t have gotten here without the help and support of so many people,” he said. Schindler, MBA 2019, thanked his older brother, Jordan Schindler, for guiding the company as a mentor in fundraising and networking. He also credited Craig Frischling and Kit McQuiston, the startup’s lead contacts at the New York Angel’s group, who Schindler said spent three months doing due diligence and connected his team with other investors on their behalf.

Buoy has developed a line of flavorless liquid supplements that can be added to any drink to foster hydration and overall health by helping people retain water.

In a 2022 company recap Schindler distributed in January, he said Buoy Energy Drops were available at all 936 CVS HealthHUB locations in new and improved retail packaging, and that the brand was available in about 3,500 CVS stores. Meanwhile, in 3,400 Walgreens stores, the company’s hydration drops and immunity drops became available in new retail packaging nationwide and on Walgreens.com.

For the calendar year, Buoy said it had $640,840 in revenue, with $251,000 from retail locations, $239,000 through Amazon, $81,000 in direct-to-consumer sales through its website and another $69,000 in business-to-business sales.

“Thank you to all our investors for your belief and support,” Schindler said in an email announcing the funding round. “What a journey it’s been, and we’ve only just begun.”

Clay Canfield knows a thing or two about making lemonade out of lemons. He had just completed his sophomore year at Washington University in St Louis when he decided to take a leave of absence to address what he described as “progressive mental health issues.” That two-year break could have become a permanent one for many students, but not Canfield. What he did next, ultimately, changed the course of his life.

Inspired to reciprocate some of the support that he received along the way, Canfield moved to California, where he worked in a sober living home—a halfway point between in-patient rehab centers and home—for 11 months. He also discovered a passion for entrepreneurship. Over a short time, he launched a series of startups, most of which failed but taught him practical business skills, he said.  

Today, Canfield is an accomplished business founder, with a five-year plan to make his app, Sobriety Hub, the “de facto choice” for sober living home operations. In May, he plans to add another achievement to his resume when he graduates with dual degrees in finance and entrepreneurship from Olin Business School.

Below, Canfield discusses his startup, his advice for student entrepreneurs and why he now calls St. Louis home.

Canfield with his mom, Mary Beth, after running the St. Louis half marathon.

Tell us about your startup, Sobriety Hub.

Sobriety Hub is operations software that helps sober living operators organize their businesses, save time and improve resident care.
What I found while working in a sober living home is that owners and managers have a lot to worry about, like rent collections, vacancies, drug test results, medications, referrals, resident relapses, employees, etc. They utilize a hodgepodge of paper forms, Google sheets and group texts to keep track of everything. Sobriety Hub streamlines operations and helps operators track recovery outcomes, which they can leverage to receive increased grant funding, benchmark against competition and improve quality of care.

You’re from Chicago but have chosen to stay in St. Louis to continue working on your business. Why?

I love St. Louis—it’s the people that make it special. There are so many great local mentors who are willing to get their hands dirty with you as long as you have good questions and are thoughtful. Two local mentors that have helped me tremendously are Doug Villhard (Olin professor of practice in entrepreneurship) and Katie Silversmith (Skandalaris Center in-residence expert). 

What advice do you have for other student entrepreneurs?

Start with something that’s feasible given the resources available and take steps to make it happen. I see so many “pie in the sky” ideas with attractive pitch decks and no traction. In school, we can theorize about big ideas, but everything changes when you start putting ideas into practice. Be a doer and start building whatever you’re passionate about. Your greatest resource at WashU is the other students, not money. My Sobriety Hub co-founder, Joey Lanfersieck, is a genius coder. He’s invested over 1,500 hours into Sobriety Hub simply because he loves the idea as much as I do. 

Photo: Whitney Curtis/Washington University, Illustration: Monica Duwel/Washington University

Pictured at top: The Olin Cup winning teams—Find It, left, and Papertrail, right—wrestle over the prize after tying in the competition on April 18.

Forty-two judges joined WashU Olin’s entrepreneurship team in celebrating student innovation on April 18 as eight finalists made startup pitches resulting in a first-place tie for the Olin Cup—a first in recent memory.

Meanwhile, more than 90 other teams competed for a piece of a $15,000 prize pool in Olin’s BIG IdeaBounce competition with pitches based on business ideas generated in the Hatchery program. The Olin entrepreneurship program attracted 55 judges to participate in that competition.

In the Olin Cup competition, eight finalists pitched and two emerged on top: PaperTrail (a car enthusiast record platform) and Find It (a platform to restore lost items to their owners using decorative QR code stickers).

Camille Devaney, BSBA 2025; Ethan Weilheimer, BS/EN 2025; Justin Moreno, BSBA 2023; and Maggie Croghan, BSBA 2023, were the team behind Find It. Meanwhile, the other Olin Cup-winning team included Kuo Wang, BS/EN/Master of engineering; Christian Robinson, BSBA 2026; Drew Kassman, business minor 2025; Andrew Padousis, BSBA 2025; and Jimmy Lancaster, BSBA/EN 2025, the team behind PaperTrail.

The two teams shared custody of the large Olin Cup trophy.

Winners were also named for undergraduate and graduate school teams in Olin’s BIG IdeaBounce competition. These teams competed for a share of the $15,000 prize pool.

The undergraduate team winner was ACHORD, a platform matching students to music
teachers based on connection factors. The grad team winner was Say, Hi!, an online platform
that connects people experiencing mental distress to licensed social workers, psychologists and
counselors around the world. Both teams won $3,000.

Second-prize entries won $1,250, third-prize entries received $750 and 10 runners-up got $500.

Pictured at top: The Olin Cup winning teams—Find It, left, and PaperTrail, right—wrestle over the prize after tying in the competition on April 18.

Society informs us that we should be able to become a business owner by ourselves, by studying YouTube videos and learning from the “school of life.” But while there are more learning resources available to us than ever before thanks to digital media, a program of study can still provide an exceptional launchpad for pursuing business and career goals.

So what can entrepreneurs actually gain from earning an MBA degree? How can an MBA help an entrepreneur build the best business they can?

How MBA programs aid aspiring and experienced entrepreneurs

Is an MBA worth it for entrepreneurs? This is a question we often face at Olin Business School. People who are creating businesses from scratch will wonder if they’re better off learning on the job or whether an MBA could offer their business a kick start.

First of all, an MBA degree can give aspiring leaders a mindset for business. Growing a company is more than an occupation, and Olin lives and breathes entrepreneurial spirit. The MBA isn’t just about learning how to solve a problem; it’s about examining the problem inside out, learning to love it and finding fulfillment in the solving of it.

Working on a startup idea while earning an MBA is an amazing combination. It gives you access to a willing alumni network to help, troubleshoot and crowdsource. It takes a village to raise a business, and you have a much better chance of finding a cofounder when you are surrounded by others with similar interests and who are in the same stage of their careers.

Does an MBA help you start a business? Absolutely. It all starts with developing a mindset. After that, the resources and tools we can give you as you build your entrepreneurial life are second to none.

What specific features of the Olin MBA can help entrepreneurs?

Olin’s MBA program is tuned into entrepreneurship and many of our features are purpose-built to help students form startups, not just learn about them. Here are a few noteworthy characteristics:

Famous for Hatchery

Olin has an entrepreneurship platform built purposefully to give students experiences of pitching venture capital, founding a company and getting ideas out onto the international stage. Students in Hatchery can work with experienced entrepreneurs to evolve a business plan, form a startup, and present their ventures to investors and venture capital experts. Since the Hatchery course was founded, the companies launched inside its incubator walls have raised a combined $87 million.

An eye for innovation

Olin itself is an environment that rewards and seeks innovation. Entrepreneurs will find that there are multiple courses in which you can workshop your own ideas. Take ideas further and you can enter pre-seed venture capital funds and competitions focused on student ideas. Olin’s BIG IdeaBounce® is one such opportunity—an elevator-pitch contest open to all WashU students. The Arch Grants is another competition that students regularly participate in, this time for a business plan. The winners receive $75,000 in startup grants to get their ideas off the ground.

A global edge

While the regional environment gives students plenty to get involved in, other opportunities draw them further afield to gain international business experience. Olin’s Venture Consulting in Israel and Berlin elective, for example, brings students the experience of startup consulting through a global lens. Through the CEL Entrepreneurial Consulting Team course, students can spend a semester working with early-stage startups in St. Louis, New York, San Francisco, and various international locations.

Local power

The entrepreneurial spirit of Olin is immersive. St. Louis is a highly entrepreneurial environment, and students of the MBA program can benefit from Olin’s connections beyond the classroom. Local entrepreneurs and executives are involved in many of our courses. Our Center for Experiential Learning is designed with this kind of on-the-ground mentorship in mind. Students can study consulting courses that take you inside an entrepreneurial venture and connect to innovation communities such as Cortex and T-REX, which are dedicated to powering local startups.

Our courses at Olin—from Venture Capital Methods to Acquisition Entrepreneurship to Managing the Innovation Process—show how invested and excited we are by the entrepreneurial world. You may think that as an entrepreneur, you need to “go it alone.” You do not. In a supported program full of opportunities to gain real-world experience, you could find a solid foothold for the next step of your career.