Tag: Entrepreneurship

Doug Villhard is a serial entrepreneur, investor, Olin’s academic director for entrepreneurship, a philanthropist—and now an author.

Company of Women, his first book, published November 15 and is live on Amazon. The 364-page historical novel is based on the real-life E.G. Lewis. At the time of the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Lewis was an early advocate for a woman’s right to vote and owned the largest women’s magazine in the world—until he ran afoul of a government conspiracy reaching up to President Teddy Roosevelt.

“As an entrepreneurship professor and as an entrepreneur, I fell in love with this story,” Villhard said in an interview.


Like Villhard, Lewis is an entrepreneur whose mind is always spinning with ideas. His Woman’s Magazine employed a multitude of women and reached nearly every household in the country. It was based in an octagonal, domed building Lewis had built that is now University City’s City Hall.

Lewis came to St. Louis in the late 1890s selling dubious products to kill insects. As his wealth and influence grew, temptations challenged his family, coworkers and his marriage. Luckily, he had strong, smart women in his circle.

“I think he had one of the most entrepreneurial minds and creative minds that I that I’ve ever encountered,” said Villhard, who last year sold a company he cofounded. “The more I researched him, the more I couldn’t believe no one had ever written a book about him. I felt like this was a story that needed to be told. It also lets me weave in the major themes that I teach in class, too.”

“Feedback is a gift” is one theme, and Villhard takes it to heart. At his request, 20 people read his manuscript. He asked them to tell them everything they liked and everything they didn’t like. “And that led to a wonderful revision,” he said.

Fall in love with the customers’ problems

Another theme is to fall in love with the customers’ problems.

“We teach at Olin if you try to chase money, you’ll never get it,” Villhard said. “You have to fall in love with the customers’ problems. You also have to fall in love with your own team and make sure you create an awesome environment in which they want to work. And then the rest works itself out. And Lewis was a guy who was obsessed with his customers.”

In the early 1900’s, nearly two-thirds of Americans lived on farms. The postal system had just been expanded, allowing Woman’s Magazine to connect with those rural households.

“Women on these farms had money, by the way. They wanted to participate in the economy. And Lewis saw this as an opportunity,” Villhard said. Based on Lewis’ earlier experience selling door-to-door, he realized that they wanted goods and services for themselves, their kids and their households just as much as city folks did. “He wanted to bridge that gap.”

Ninety percent of startups fail because “they literally make something that nobody wants because they don’t go out and talk to customers,” Villhard said. “And Lewis’ whole philosophy, and my whole philosophy and really the modern way of teaching entrepreneurship, is no other opinion matters than the customer’s.

“E.G. Lewis was somebody who figured that out early.”

Washington University in St. Louis is among the most entrepreneurial institutions, once again ranking in the top 10 for undergraduate programs (#8) and now rising into the top 10 for graduate programs (#6).

“At WashU, entrepreneurship and innovation is at the heart of so many students’ academic pursuits. Our students intentionally connect with the St. Louis community and beyond in Interdisciplinary ways that enhance startup success”, said II Luscri, assistant vice provost for Innovation & Entrepreneurship and managing director of the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “At WashU, entrepreneurship is for everyone—students, faculty, staff, alumni and beyond.”

Hundreds of alumni have launched companies

In the last five years, 174 alumni of WashU undergraduate programs and 286 alumni of WashU graduate programs have launched companies. While at WashU, undergraduates can take advantage of 62 different courses that include entrepreneurship while graduate students can enroll in 54 different offerings. New initiatives like the WashU Venture Network and ongoing improvements to the Skandalaris Center’s “Venture Development” process resulted in a record number of startup ideas (74) entering the signature Skandalaris Venture Competition. New courses in the Olin Business School, including the League of Extraordinary Entrepreneurs, taught by Doug Villhard, provided an additional platform to grow and scale companies this past year.

“Our recent rankings success top 10 now—in  Poets & Quants, Bloomberg Newsweek, and now Princeton Review and Entrepreneurship Magazine—have the most to do with the entrepreneurial achievements of our students,” said Villhard, Olin’s academic director for entrepreneurship and professor of practice in entrepreneurship.

“Entrepreneurial MBA students are attracted to Olin, and once they get here they team up with other students to create even more amazing ideas and innovations,” Villhard said.  “It’s a joy to guide them and to make available Olin’s vast network of successful alumni, investors and friends.”

Access to entrepreneurial opportunities is among the things that set WashU apart from other programs. Luscri explains: “WashU students can engage in entrepreneurship from day one. Whether that is through our ‘Endgame of Entrepreneurship: Leveraging Capitalism for Good’ class for undergraduates or the MBA Entrepreneurial Platform or attending and pitching startup concepts through our iconic IdeaBounce® platform.”

The rankings news comes at an exciting time on the WashU campus and in St. Louis: November 14 to 18 is Global Entrepreneurship Week and St. Louis Startup Week. WashU startups, students, faculty and alumni will be featured prominently at these programs as the entrepreneurial community continues to grow.

The Princeton Review selected the schools and tallied its rankings based on its summer 2022 survey of administrators at nearly 300 undergraduate and graduate schools offering entrepreneurship studies. The survey asked administrators more than 60 questions about their school’s commitment to entrepreneurship studies inside and outside the classroom. The Princeton Review analyzed more than 40 survey data points to determine the school lists and rankings. Information about the company’s methodology for the rankings is posted on the company website.

Diane Keaggy, Campus Life senior news director in University Marketing & Communications, originally wrote this for The Source.

Washington University in St. Louis sophomore Aisha Adedayo could not afford an unpaid internship this summer. And Cam Loyet, a 2021 graduate of Olin Business School and founder of Honeymoon Chocolates, could not afford to add payroll to his burgeoning startup.

Still, they had so much to offer each other. Adedayo had energy and an entrepreneurial spirit, while Loyet had experience launching a successful brand.

Enter the St. Louis Entrepreneurial Fellowship, one of 11 Washington University programs that pays students to intern at St. Louis nonprofits, startups and businesses. An initiative of the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the yearlong fellowship provides fellows a $3,000 stipend and free university housing so they can live and learn in St. Louis.  

Gabriela Pedreros

“St. Louis has such a vibrant startup scene, and I got to experience it firsthand,” said Adedayo, who, along with sophomore Gabriela Pedreros, worked at Honeymoon Chocolates’ retail store and commercial kitchen in Clayton. Adedayo, a member of the Beyond Boundaries program, is a student in Olin Business School, as is Pedreros. “I helped increase conversion through conducting email marketing, organizing events, shooting product photographs and redesigning the packaging—basically whatever was needed in the moment.” 

This summer, Washington University programs distributed stipends totaling some $625,000 to about 165 students who had unpaid or underpaid internships in the St. Louis region. The students worked in nearly every field, administering medicine to sick animals at the Wildlife Rescue Center, studying drug-delivery systems for med-tech startup UN & UP, directing young actors at the Center of Creative Arts, investigating pollution complaints for the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, and more. 

In addition, the university paid more than 4,000 students approximately $27 million in wages for summer internships, fellowships, research positions and other campus jobs. Summer associates in the Office of Sustainability helped plan the university’s transition to EV fleet vehicles; interns in University Marketing & Communications wrote articles for the Record; and summer researchers at the Institute for Public Health conducted pediatric research. 

And the Office of Undergraduate Research provided 106 students with $400,000 in grants to conduct independent, faculty-mentored research in St. Louis.

These real-world experiences on and off campus prepare students for future careers, strengthen the St. Louis region and fuel the local economy, said II Luscri, managing director of the Skandalaris Center. He said students who intern in St. Louis are more likely to start their careers here.

“Part of our job at WashU is to help prepare our students to succeed whether that be in their own business, a private company, a nonprofit organization, a government agency or a graduate program,” Luscri said. “We are lucky to be in a region that gives our students so many opportunities to be creative problem solvers. But we also have an obligation to St. Louis. The ‘in St. Louis’ of Washington University in St. Louis matters.”  

Read the full story here.

Top photo: Aisha Adedayo learned about marketing, supply chain management and manufacturing during her summer internship at startup Honeymoon Chocolates in Clayton. Here, Adedayo consults with founder Cam Loyet, who earned a master’s degree in business administration from Olin Business School in 2021. (Photos by Paul Nordmann/Washington University)

Alexis Taub, BSBA

Next in a series of Olin Blog features on recent alumni.

Alexis Taub, BSBA ’15, worked in finance until the pandemic hit, and she pivoted into entrepreneurship, launching her own jewelry company and marketing her products to retail stores, designers and social influencers. Without that nudge, she might not have ever tested her entrepreneurial spirit.

What are you doing for work now, and how did your Olin education impact your career?

Last year, I joined my mom’s jewelry manufacturing business, Madison 501, and started my own jewelry company, Alexis Jae Jewelry. At Madison 501, we manufacture fine jewelry for some of the nation’s largest retail stores, designers and social influencers.

Through Alexis Jae Jewelry, customers can purchase fine jewelry at up to 50% off traditional retail prices. My education at Olin exposed me to all aspects of a business. I learned everything from supply chain to marketing. Having a broad understanding of everything business is valuable every day. Whether speaking to our accountants or marketers, I can understand the concepts they are discussing because of the courses I took at Olin.

What Olin course, “defining moment” or faculty influenced your life most, and why?

The most influential course I took was Business in Israel. Over spring break, we visited many companies in Israel, from small start-ups to large intuitions. After that trip, I knew I would eventually start my own business.

How do you stay engaged with Olin or classmates and friends?

I made some of my closest friends in Olin, whom I speak to almost daily.

Why is business education important?

My favorite classes that I took were all in Olin. My Olin classes gave me the skills I needed for my first and subsequent jobs. I learned practical skills that I apply to everyday life.

What advice would you give current Olin students?

Use your time at Olin to figure out what excites you most. There are so many different types of classes and areas to explore. Go in with an open mind in terms of your career to figure out what you’re most passionate about.

Did the pandemic influence your thinking about global business or your career?

Up until the pandemic, I was working in finance. Since recreational activities were limited during the pandemic, I spent my free time working on Alexis Jae Jewelry. I grew Alexis Jae to the point that it was sustainable to do it full time. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, I’m not sure I would have ever taken the time to start a side business while at my job, but I am so happy I did.

Iconic image representing startup funding: coins stacked in ascending heights from left to right with a plant sprouting from the highest stack.

Staggeringly disproportionate startup funding available to founders who are women or underrepresented minorities has inspired the next project by the Olin Brookings Commission.

Doug Villhard

Scholars from WashU Olin Business School and the Brookings Institution have recruited a new eight-member commission—comprised of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and public policy experts—to develop policy-based solutions for the historically lopsided funding support available to underrepresented minorities and women.

Consider these numbers:

  • Women represent 50.5% of the US population, yet recent reports suggest only 2% of venture capital money went to female founders in 2021.
  • Individuals identifying as Black or African American represent 13.6% of the US population, but Black founders received only about 1% of venture financing in 2020 and 1.4% in 2021
  • Individuals identifying as Hispanic or Latinx represent 18.9% of the US population, yet data from Crunchbase, a database of startup funding, suggests Hispanic or Latinx founders receive only about 2% of venture funding.

“This short-changes not only underrepresented founders but also the vitality of the entire innovation community,” said Doug Villhard, faculty commission chair and director of WashU Olin’s entrepreneurship program. “Rather than simply talk about the past, this commission intends to identify meaningful public policy solutions to drive more equitable funding, unlock more potential and further spur our economy.”

Continuation of key partnership

Dedric Carter
Dedric Carter

The project is the second backed by a $750,000 grant to WashU Olin from The Bellwether Foundation. The grant called for three separate annual commissions—formed jointly with Brookings—tackling “megatrend” issues affecting the quality of life in the region and across the country.

The first Olin Brookings Commission project concluded in April. Participants developed an artificial intelligence-driven tool to flag suspicious shipments of prescription opioids and developed policy recommendations designed to empower the tool’s use among federal agencies, law enforcement and industry.

Gisele Marcus
Gisele Marcus

Among the initiatives the 2022-23 commission will undertake will be a national conference of researchers presenting work focused on unearthing the root causes for disproportionate funding and informing any potential public and private policy solutions to address the yawning gap.

That conference is planned for November at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. The conference organizing committee is chaired by Olin’s Daniel Elfenbein, professor of organization and strategy.

Informed by veteran innovators

Dan Elfeinbein
Dan Elfeinbein

In addition to Villhard and Elfenbein, the project will be led by WashU faculty members Dedric Carter, Olin’s professor of practice in entrepreneurship and WashU’s vice chancellor for innovation and chief commercialization officer; and Gisele Marcus, professor of practice, diversity, equity and inclusion.

A key component of the Bellwether funding calls for student involvement. Ming Zhu Wang, a fifth-year Olin PhD student in strategy, will organize related research, along with five MBA entrepreneurship fellows who will assist with planning, research and feedback.

A nine-member commission has been named to oversee and guide the project while providing input and insight from the perspective of innovation practitioners. Members include:

In the next 10 months, commission members will collect and distill data and industry input over several meetings—including the November conference—with plans to release a comprehensive report of its findings and recommendations by April 2023.