Tag: Entrepreneurship



A student team from the CEL meets to discuss a project (photographed before the pandemic).

In one project, WashU Olin students developed a new and untested go-to-market strategy for a St. Louis-area startup—plus, they identified additional opportunities within the company’s existing strategy.

In another, students worked with a different startup to organize and segment thousands of contacts in the company’s database, helping to target the contacts most likely to be converted to customers.

The two cases are examples drawn from one of WashU Olin’s newest courses, the Marketing Clinic for Startups, launched in spring 2020 and taught by Michael Wall, professor of practice in marketing and entrepreneurship.

“The class creates an opportunity for students to work on a half-semester practicum focused on helping real-life St. Louis startups tackle their sales and marketing challenges,” Wall said. “The inaugural class went incredibly well.”

The course aligns both with Olin’s focus on its strategic pillars of excellence—particularly those around values-based, data-driven decision-making and entrepreneurship—and on WashU’s broader focus on serving the greater St. Louis community.

The course is something of a counterpart to an existing class offered through Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning, the Metrics Clinic in Finance. Both task teams of students to work with startup companies to tackle real-world problems.

“We received great insights in the new market as well as validation on our current strategies,” said Fady Hawatmeh, founder and CEO of Clockwork, which uses artificial intelligence to create a customizable tool for businesses to create financial projections, cash flow forecasts, metrics and scenarios all in one place, in real-time.

Hawatmeh was among the startups that participated with student teams in the debut of the Marketing Clinic for Startups. His team worked on go-to-market recommendations. “We’ve made some adjustments based on the team’s findings to our marketing material and our content strategy.”

Fridaouss Nabine was also a client. She’s a mentoring expert and founder of Fyrst Gen, an online platform built to help first-generation college students and business professionals promote their businesses, build their personal brands and connect with other “first gens.”

“The recommendations were extremely helpful in determining our ideal customer profile and segmenting accordingly,” Nabine said. “While we didn’t build the contact-rating system they suggested, we cleaned the list to prioritize those who were most likely to convert to customers.”

Both entrepreneurs connected with Wall and the CEL through the St. Louis region’s startup network—Hawatmeh, through the Arch Grants startup competition, which provides funding for locally based startups, and Nabine through the CEL’s relationship with the T-Rex business incubator, where she is based. Wall is continuing to look for new project opportunities within the St. Louis startup ecosystem.

Wall also said the course is now open BSBA students, as well as marketing and entrepreneurship students in the MBA programs, “so, it’s a course for all Olin programs which is pretty exciting.”

Pictured above: A student team from the CEL meets to discuss a project (photographed before the pandemic).


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 businesses, nonprofits and startups. We’ll be sharing their stories on the Olin Blog. Today, we’ll hear from Jay Li, BSBA ’16, director of marketing at Regatta Craft Mixers.

Given the pandemic, what compelled your company to get involved with this program?

Honestly, we had to scrap existing plans to bring on summer interns due to the pandemic. When I received the email from Dean Taylor about the program, we rushed to pitch a strategic project we’ve been struggling with. 

What is your project about?

Our students worked on using insights from consumer research to inform a selling strategy for the grocery channel. 

What was it like working with WashU Olin students?

The additional bandwidth and their fresh perspective was great. It was a pleasure working with our team, and they definitely challenged some assumptions we’ve held for a while. We were really impressed with the depth of thought and analysis we’ve seen from them. 

When you’re so focused on fighting daily fires, other things—like figuring out exactly who our consumers are—have to wait. The students have really helped us work on some badly-needed projects. Plus, the students’ fresh perspective has been great—they helped us find ways we were looking at the wrong hypotheses.

What advice would you give students on the cusp of graduating at this time in history?

I would encourage them to try and find silver linings. Although COVID-19 has disrupted our lives, there’s a lot of opportunity for innovation and disruption as our behaviors change. 




On the strength of the many startups launched by recent WashU Olin students, the school once again snagged the No. 1 spot in Poets & Quants 2020 ranking of top MBA entrepreneurship programs.

For the second year in a row—and in the second year of the ranking’s existence—Olin placed ahead of 49 other schools evaluated in the ranking published by P&Q and Inc. magazine today. Olin also scored the No. 1 ranking for global entrepreneurship in 2019.

P&Q hosted an online panel event today highlighting the top contenders, including an interview with Olin Dean Mark P. Taylor and Doug Villhard, academic director of Olin’s entrepreneurship program.

Doug Villhard

Villhard gave credit to his predecessor, Clifford Holekamp, who retired from the role in 2019. “Over the last 10 years Cliff and others laid a solid foundation,” Villhard said. “The ranking validates those efforts and justifies our plans to take the program to even higher levels than it is today. We will be continually innovating. The ranking just adds more fuel to the fire.”

The ranking measured participating schools across 10 categories, including the number of recently established startups by students and alumni, the number of students involved in venture capital, funding raised by student- or alumni-led startups, dedicated entrepreneurship courses and more.

“We are deeply gratified to once again see WashU Olin’s substantial investment in entrepreneurship and innovation recognized by Poets & Quants in this ranking,” Dean Taylor said. “We long ago tightened our focus on fostering the endless creativity of our students. That’s why entrepreneurship is one of Olin’s four pillars of excellence.”

Villhard also credited the three “legs of the stool” that support the program: a robust suite of courses and experiential learning offerings, the rich entrepreneurial ecosystem of the St. Louis region, and the ambitious, creative students who bring their ideas to the table.

Some components of the Olin approach

Olin’s entrepreneurship program includes 21 courses specifically targeting the discipline. Meanwhile, fully 90% of the school’s MBA courses deal with content related to entrepreneurship.

Additionally, Olin, in partnership with the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship, runs a foundational course called the Hatchery—one of the nation’s oldest startup business planning courses. Since its inception, startups spawned in the Hatchery have raised more than $87 million, created 466 positions in St. Louis and filed for 17 provisional patents to date.

Last year, Olin also introduced the Holekamp Seed Fund, providing $1,000 grants to help students “move to action” with their startup ideas. Students are asked to pay that support forward.

Poets & Quants’ recognition

In its story about the 2020 ranking, Poets & Quants noted that nearly one in five Olin MBAs had launched a business within three years of graduation between 2017 and 2019, the highest percentage among the 50 schools ranked.

“Besides topping the list for the highest percentage of graduates to launch businesses, the school placed among the top 15 in eight out of 10 other categories,” the publication wrote. WashU Olin “dished out $738,000 in startup award cash to MBAs during the 2019-2020 academic year. A third of its student-run MBA clubs are focused on entrepreneurship or innovation. It boasts more than 25,000-square-feet of accelerator space for just 221 enrolled full-time MBAs.”

Poets & Quants also highlighted a key advantage of Olin’s program, the ecosystem in which it operates: “That commitment to entrepreneurial thinking occurs in a metro environment that has encouraged new venture creation.”

Babson College, the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and Harvard Business School rounded out the top five in the ranking of 50 programs.

Villhard said the ranking has made a difference in how students approach WashU Olin. “Before the 2019 ranking, students were discovering entrepreneurship once they got on campus,” he said. “Now, they are coming here for it. They are engaging with us on Day 1.”

The Poets & Quants video event today featured a panel of students and alumni from Olin’s program in a panel discussion about how WashU supported their startup efforts.

Entrepreneurship students and alumni: Tova Feinberg, MBA ’22; Shannon Turner, MBA ’18; and Lloyd Yates, MBA ’22.

“I was particularly drawn to Olin because its curriculum offered options for students to focus their studies on entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship,” Shannon Turner, MBA ’18, said before the event. Turner is the founder of the Maria Lida Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting self-sustaining economic development in Alausi, Ecuador.

Lloyd Yates, MBA ’22, founder of men’s clothing accessory site Tylmen, said he was drawn to Olin and its entrepreneurship program by the strength of its faculty, including Villhard. Tylmen’s direct-to-consumer line of accessories includes face masks that double as pocket squares.

Tying together Olin’s pillars of excellence

“Olin is a very rigorous program that takes a values-based and data-driven approach to strategy and problem-solving,” Yates said. “I’ve benefited from the program thus far through gaining incredible perspective. All my classmates come from different backgrounds and have something unique to bring to every table.”

Villhard said he expects further growth in the program as the school and Washington University explore entrepreneurial partnerships with WashU’s highly ranked engineering and medical schools. Increasingly, Olin is gaining access to capital to fund Olin MBA startup businesses. And additionally, Olin’s brand and alumni base are global, creating opportunities to expand coursework and build partnerships in Silicon Valley, New York City and internationally.

See Taylor and Villhard’s “fireside chat” with John Byrne

“I am being exposed to many CEOs of start-ups within the St. Louis area,” said Tova Feinberg, MBA ’22, cofounder of S.T.L. Loaves, an e-commerce bakery business. “This has allowed me to connect and learn about their personal experience as well as receive advise on my future goals and my current startup.”

Although the entrepreneurship ranking puts a premium on students and alumni who have launched startups, Villhard notes that isn’t the path most MBA students take—though entrepreneurship remains an important component of their business school education.

“The majority of students put their entrepreneurial mindset to work in corporate environments, venture capital firms, private equity firms, existing startups, or existing social entrepreneurial entities,” he said. “There is a misconception that entrepreneurship is only about starting new companies. It’s actually about innovation—a highly desired skill for any industry.”


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 Rob Poirier, EMBA ’14, clinical chief, emergency medicine, assistant professor of emergency medicine at WashU School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Given the pandemic, what compelled your company to get involved with this program?

As frontline emergency department clinicians battling the pandemic daily since it began in March, we have recognized immediate needs to operationalize innovative new technology to better serve patients requiring medical care. When I received the notice that there would be a summer class, especially with all the new projects we had, we decided that having a CEL team to help us out with these projects is was perfect timing to address some of the issues we had before us.

Olin students are bright, motivated problem solvers adept with technology who can think outside the box, devising solutions to new challenges. We thought the CEL program and students could quickly help us plan and implement new telehealth solutions improving care for patients in this socially distancing era. COVID has changed how we work in the hospital. The Olin CEL team has helped us successfully develop and implement new technology plans allowing us to meet new challenges posed during this pandemic.  

What is your project about?

Our project focused on telehealth solutions that can be used to extend emergency care expertise outside of the traditional emergency department. Telehealth is a new tool emergency clinicians can use to benefit individuals who may not need to physically visit an emergency department. 

What was it like working with WashU Olin students?

We found working with Olin’s students stimulating and educational. I think we learned as much from the students as they learned from us. Having outside opinions regarding how telehealth could be used was so important. They really helped us think outside the box.

What advice would you give students on the cusp of graduating at this time in history?

Do not be afraid to learn how you personally can help yourself and others get through these tough pandemic times. COVID creates many new societal and industry problems that need solving. We all benefit from the creative ideas and brain power of current and graduating students alike to solve current issues at hand. Working together to find successful solutions is crucial to helping  us all make it through these challenging times.

What will you take with you from this experience?

This summer really reinforced for us how important diversity of opinions is. We can become tunnel-visioned at times, thinking we know what’s best for our patients. Working with the students this summer encouraged us to continue staying in contact with the CEL moving forward on operational projects.




Elise Miller Hoffman, AB

Cultivation Capital’s Elise Miller Hoffman, AB ’11/MBA ’16, has been promoted to general partner after serving as a principal in the firm since receiving her MBA. Hoffman started with Cultivation Capital in 2015 while earning her MBA from WashU Olin. 

While a student, Hoffman took classes from Cultivation cofounder Cliff Holekamp, MBA ’01, who was also an Olin entrepreneurship professor at the time.

Cliff Holekamp
Cliff Holekamp

“Elise was one of the most motivated and accomplished students I had the pleasure to teach at Olin,” said Holekamp. “She came into Olin and embraced and excelled at everything entrepreneurship. Elise founded an entrepreneurial fellowship program, interned at a St. Louis startup, won a venture capital competition, and led just about every student project team—always earning the A.”

Hoffman interned with Cultivation Capital before accepting a full-time offer as a principal focusing on the firm’s life science investments upon graduating in 2016.

“It has been an honor to work alongside innovators and entrepreneurs who are advancing groundbreaking technologies, creating jobs and building our economy,” Hoffman said. “I have learned a great deal from my mentors and colleagues at Cultivation Capital, who—driven by our mission of ‘thriving enterprises, vibrant communities’—are working to infuse capital into our startup ecosystem.”

As a principal, Hoffman ran weekly partner meetings, helped with capital formation and managed relationships with portfolio companies including serving on the board of Healthy Bytes and as a board observer at ImageMover and NarrativeDx.

In her new role, Hoffman will serve as manager of a venture capital fund and as an equity partner in a fund, raising capital, making all the investment decisions and managing the portfolio companies.

“It is highly unusual for someone to make GP at Elise’s age and it is a major accomplishment,” Holekamp said, noting that only 11% of venture capital partners are women.

Hoffman is the second employee in the firm’s history to be elevated to general partner, following Kyle Welborn, who became a general partner in the Yield Lab in 2016.  She is the first female general partner at Cultivation Capital focused on health tech and the life sciences.   

“Elise has done a fantastic job managing her duties with investors, with the portfolio and collaborating with the partners. She has developed all the skills necessary to now succeed as a general partner,” said Bill Schmidt, Cultivation Capital leader for life sciences. 

Outside of work, Elise is active in the entrepreneurship community as well as at WashU, where she serves as a director of the Holekamp Seed Fund as well as an investor in residence with the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“As a general partner, I look forward to investing in promising healthcare companies, particularly those that are solving pressing problems that have been exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hoffman said.