Tag: Entrepreneurship



WashU Olin had the world’s highest percentage of female startup founders among its alumni, and their firms drew the highest average funding among any business school globally, according to an analysis done for business banking app Tide.

A review of the backgrounds of nearly 80,000 entrepreneurs found that 26.1% of startup founders from WashU Olin were women. In second place, 16.8% of startup founders with a Harvard Business School credential were women.

Women-led startups with an Olin credential have secured an average of $71.2 million in funding—more than any other school in the world—followed by female grads from Canada’s York University, who attracted an average of $54.5 million for their firms.

The analysis for the UK-based banking application provider was part of a “Pioneering Women” marketing campaign distributed this month. The analysis used the backgrounds of 72,200 men and 6,940 women in the Crunchbase directory of public and private company data, finding that female-founded companies received 17% or $8 billion of all venture dollars in the first quarter of 2019.

“While that might seem low, there’s a different record of success when it comes to the making of female founders,” the firm said on its Pioneering Women website. The analysis looked at firms that received more than $1 million in funding using Crunchbase data that was current as of July 3, 2019.

WashU officials noted that Olin and the university have a variety of programs that encourage and reward entrepreneurship. They credit the persistence of female students and the existence of a strong culture of entrepreneurship education and preparation for pitch competitions for drawing motivated students—both male and female.

“New entrepreneurs are inspired daily at WashU Olin and we are inspired as well from them,” said Doug Villhard, director of Olin’s entrepreneurship platform. “I can tell you many, many more are on the way.”

Percent of female startup founders

Source: Analysis of Crunchbase data for business banking app Tide.

Through the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Education and Entrepreneurship, WashU hosts a number of pitch competitions and women-focused entrepreneurship events such as the Helping Entrepreneurs Rise (HER) Summit in November 2018. The second year of that summit will be on campus October 2019 and is part of the Skandalaris Center’s Simon Initiative for Women Entrepreneurs. Skandalaris also recently hosted Ascend 2020 IdeaBounce, a pitch competition targeting women and minority innovators.

“While we don’t have separate prizes for women founders, we provide guidance to our judging pool to ensure unconscious bias is set aside during our competitions,” said II Luscri, WashU assistant vice provost for innovation and entrepreneurship and managing director of Skandalaris. “Diversity exists across the board and across all efforts, in not only the entrepreneurs, but also our speakers, judges, mentors and more.”

The report confirms an earlier analysis from several years ago showing WashU women had founded more than 40% of successful companies started through the university’s business entrepreneurship courses.

The analysis included female founders receiving 5,670 degrees from 1,447 higher education institutions. In raw numbers, Harvard led the pack: 160 female startup founders had an HBS degree. Harvard also led in terms of raw dollars invested into women-owned startups: a total of $4.6 billion was invested in startups led by women from Harvard.

Average investment among women-led startup firms

Source: Analysis of Crunchbase data for business banking app Tide.

But WashU Olin was the leader in terms of the proportion of women entrepreneurs and the average dollar amount invested in women-led firms. The research was designed to quantify the role of women in founding startups, but also to “discover their paths to success.”

A few other noteworthy numbers from the analysis of Crunchbase data:

  • Vietnam had the highest percentage of female founders (17.1%), but women-led US firms drew the most investment internationally, totaling $85.5 billion.
  • China had the highest average investment globally among women-led firms at $127.2 million.
  • In the United States, Hawaii had the highest percentage of female founders (19.4%).
  • California startups led by women drew the most investment ($38.6 billion) while Georgia saw an average of $82.2 million poured into women-led firms.



Doug Villhard kept two sets of notebooks while he worked toward the WashU Olin MBA he earned in 2014—after he’d already established himself as a serial entrepreneur.

In one notebook, Villhard kept track of the course content so he’d be ready to apply the lessons to his businesses. In the other, he tracked his professors’ best teaching practices because one day, he hoped, he’d get to apply those lessons in his own classroom.

The day has arrived.

On July 1, Villhard began as Olin’s newest professor of practice in entrepreneurship and academic director for entrepreneurship for the business school. He replaces Clifford Holekamp, who originated the role 11 and a half years ago and retired last month.

“This wasn’t just happenstance for me,” Villhard said. “I’ve always loved teaching and working with students. This has always been my lifelong dream even before the success I’ve had in business.”

Success, indeed. Villhard is co-founder and president of Second Street, a St. Louis-based audience engagement platform that provides services to thousands of mostly media-related companies, including Gannett, CBS, Gatehouse Media and Sinclair Broadcast Group.

At the same time, he’s 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. All that after being involved in two other startups and serving as managing director for a technology consulting firm.

This fall, Villhard will start by teaching the CELect course with the Center for Experiential Learning—a hands-on course in which students consult with startups in the community. Though it’s not Villhard’s first foray into the classroom—he’s taught at Truman State and the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship—he’s looking forward to working with Olin professors he learned from as a student.

‘Keep doing the good’

Mahendra Gupta taught cost accounting and he would ask students for feedback, and the next class session he would reveal whatever they said, unedited. Mahendra said, ‘I am going to keep doing the good and stop doing the bad and improve on the rest,'” Villhard recalled. “That’s also the way I run my businesses. It’s part of the process—to get iteratively better.”

He fondly recalls picking up tips from all the Olin faculty members including Todd Milbourn, Barton Hamilton, Ron King and Sam Chun. And he’s delighted Holekamp has agreed to continue as a mentor as well. “Even though Cliff wasn’t a professor of mine,” Villhard said, “he is so closely identified with the local entrepreneurship community and I’ve always admired his work championing entrepreneurship in St. Louis.”

Villhard sees his arrival on Olin’s faculty as an extension of what he absorbed while a student: learn, earn and then return. He’s been a WashU donor and an employer of students, and now he’s proud to have the opportunity to influence the incoming generations of startup gurus and entrepreneurs.

“I’ve employed the graduates of this school for more than a decade, and they’re brilliant and motivated and exceptional,” he said. “To me, entrepreneurship is simply about solving problems. Thus, I love being around the kind of thinkers that are attracted to WashU.”




At a farewell reception in his honor, Cliff Holekamp greets Mahendra Gupta, the former Olin dean who hired him as the first full-time entrepreneurship professor for the business school.

Since starting work on his MBA at WashU Olin in 1999, Cliff Holekamp’s career has been deeply entwined with the campus.

Now, after he launched a startup as a student, earned that MBA in 2001, joined the faculty in 2008, taught entrepreneurship for nearly 12 years, started 14 courses in the discipline and helped more than 200 students launch their own startups, Holekamp says it’s time to disentangle himself from Olin.

Holekamp is retiring from his teaching post effective June 30 to work full-time at Cultivation Capital, the St. Louis-based venture capital firm he cofounded. Work there, he says, has become too consuming to fully focus on both that and his teaching responsibilities.

“I didn’t want to be the guy who is here in body, but not in spirit,” Holekamp said from his office in Simon Hall. “I wanted to leave knowing that I put everything into my job here every day.”

The news sparked an outpouring of reaction from former students, who praised Holekamp’s passion for their ideas and the way he urged them to test themselves.

“In him, I have found a champion—someone who believes in me and challenges me to surpass my own expectations,” said Nisa Qais, AB ’12, founder of Arya Mental Health, a San Francisco-based nonprofit. “He has been a defining highlight of my WashU experience, and I am beyond grateful for his continued presence in my life.”

Chisom Uche, AB ’10, who minored in entrepreneurship, added that “Cliff’s classes were unlike any I had taken. They tested not only creativity, but also the ability to execute within a team. Ultimately, Cliff’s classes prepared leaders for the real world.”

Getting real

Holekamp dove into “the real world” in the midst of his own MBA education when he founded a startup called Foot Healers, a one-stop shop for podiatric care. He later sold the business, though he remains connected as an adviser.

At the time, Olin Professor Bart Hamilton was teaching entrepreneurship part-time when the school offered only two courses—an introductory class and the Hatchery, designed as a launchpad for student startups. Hamilton brought on Holekamp as an adjunct to take on the intro course. He took on the Hatchery course when the instructor took ill.

Soon, former Dean Mahendra Gupta asked Holekamp to join the faculty full-time as Olin’s first dedicated entrepreneurship professor. He never looked back.

He codeveloped the entrepreneurship minor at WashU, pioneered off-campus courses with St. Louis’s Cortex and T-Rex incubators, advised senior campus leaders on entrepreneurship education, participated in searches for the Skandalaris Center’s director and the Olin dean (leading to Mark Taylor’s appointment) and a long list of other accomplishments.

“Cliff has made significant contributions to Olin,” Dean Taylor said in a tribute at Holekamp’s retirement reception. “Cultivation Capital’s gain is our great loss.”

“The school has been amazing in giving me the autonomy to build the entrepreneurship program and the freedom to collaborate with the other WashU schools and the community,” Holekamp said. “They saw the value of entrepreneurship for our students and for the strategy of the school.”

What’s endured, what’s changed

Reflecting on changes at the business school since he started, Holekamp still appreciates the intimate class sizes and personal relationship faculty members cultivate with students. At the same time, he’s thrilled at the expansion of courses, the early efforts to integrate entrepreneurship in the curriculum and the immersion of global experiences in courses and practicum projects. That’s an innovation he credits to the model pioneered in the weeklong venture consulting in Budapest course he launched.

“Getting entrepreneurship adopted as one of the four strategic pillars of the school is the capstone of my work at Olin,” Holekamp said. “We have worked to add the courses and programs needed to raise our entrepreneurship program from unranked to seventh in the country. The next phase will be to integrate entrepreneurship and innovation perspectives throughout the entire curriculum.”

Student reactions

“Cliff is a champion for his students and an ambassador for the road less traveled. While many of my classmates were pursuing more traditional post-MBA jobs, through Cliff’s guidance I was able to learn about career paths in the startup community.” Elise Hoffman, AB 2011, MBA 2016, principal at Cultivation Capital.

“He has always been direct, unambiguous and insightful when providing guidance or critique. I’ve worked with him for about five years at Cultivation Capital and Wash U (as a student and then employee) and his thoughts and opinions are always interesting to hear as they are very well formulated and succinct.” Matt Plummer, MBA ’18, principal, The Yield Lab.

“Cliff is like the ultimate matchmaker to connect people and talent in the WashU and STL startup space. As I was trying to grow a nonprofit, he helped me access resources I didn’t even realize existed.” Elise Hastings, MBA ’19, former managing director of Givable, transitioning after a move to Denver.

“Professor Clifford Holekamp is by far one of the most positive and powerful influence in my development as a young entrepreneur. No other professor has ever devoted such critical attention to my academic development, working with me to fine-tune my projects and offering feedback in ways that allowed me to mature.” Hannah Perl, BSBA ’17, account manager at Invisibly, a startup with Jim McKelvey.

Pictured above: At a farewell reception in his honor, Cliff Holekamp greets Mahendra Gupta, the former Olin dean who hired him as the first full-time entrepreneurship professor for the business school.




Three WashU students and a departing professor were honored at this month’s second Skandy Awards presentation by the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The awards featured remarks from Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton and recognition of honorees by II Luscri, Skandalaris Center Managing Director and Assistant Vice Provost for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Jessica Stanko, the Skandalaris Center Assistant Director of Programs.

Cliff Holekamp at the second Skandy Awards, where he was honored for excellence in service.

At the April 10 event, honorees included:

Arnav Kannan speaking with Chancellor Wrighton at the 2019 Skandy Awards.
  • Arnav Kannan, BSBA ’22, for creating video content that captures the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship at WashU, awarded a Skandy for creativity.
  • Ony Mgbeahurike, MBA ’19, founder of the Good Soul Company, and Danielle Wilsey, MBA ’20, founder of The Confluence, awarded Skandys for entrepreneurship.
  • And in special recognition, the Skandalaris Center recognized Olin Professor Clifford Holekamp, outgoing director of Olin’s entrepreneurship program and instructor for the Hatchery course. He was recognized with an “excellence in service” award for his work, noting that during his time at WashU, 50% of the businesses in the Hatchery have launched and 75% are still operating.

Read more about the event and other Skandy winners on the Skandalaris Center website.

Pictured above: Ony Mgbeahurike, Danielle Wilsey and II Luscri, Skandalaris Center Managing Director.




Zandy Schorsch, MBA ’19, contributed this blog post on behalf of Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning.

Oscar Wilde once said that rugby is a good occasion for keeping 30 bullies far from the center of a city. This semester, students from the undergraduate and graduate levels of Washington University Olin Business School have been working with the Center for Experiential Learning to perform the opposite—assess the viability of bringing a professional rugby team to the city of St. Louis.

Rugby is one of the fastest growing sports in the United States, and Major League Rugby was founded last year to provide fans with professional-level rugby competition here in the states. The league kicked off its inaugural season with seven original teams. With nationally televised games on CBS and sold out tickets in many of the cities, there is a growing sense of optimism as MLR prepares for its second season.

The league has aggressive plans for expansion, with teams in New York and Toronto joining for the 2019 season and Atlanta, D.C., and Boston joining in 2020. St. Louis has emerged as one of the potential cities for an MLR expansion team, and the CEL was hired by a local entrepreneur to determine whether such a venture is feasible.

The CEL’s client, a husband and wife duo with a lifelong passion for rugby, believe the loss of the city’s football franchise has created an opening for rugby. Through dozens of interviews with rugby players, coaches, executives, and MLR league officials, the CEL team developed a strong understanding of how a rugby team in St. Louis would operate and the number of fans it would be able to attract.

Although St. Louis has always been a baseball town, there are hundreds of registered rugby players in the local area across all levels of the sport, as well as several nationally recognized rugby programs.

While the CEL team was able to develop a demand forecast for rugby in St. Louis, only so much can be learned about stadium financing and team operations from phone interviews and emails. As a result, the client decided to bring the CEL team to Glendale, Colorado, to meet with the Raptors, the MLR regular season champions, to learn more about the business side of rugby operations.

Learning about rugby operations from the Raptors.

During a full-day of meetings with the Raptors, the CEL team learned about stadium financing, team and stadium operating costs, revenue drivers, marketing and sales strategies, and unexpected expenses associated with managing a professional sports team.

The CEL team also got to learn the fundamentals of rugby from some of the professional players, such as tackling techniques and field goal mechanics.

While the CEL team requires more practice if they hope to play professionally, the data the team was able to collect from the Raptors proved invaluable for their analysis. The client capped off the trip with dinner at a local pub, a great opportunity for the student team to connect with their client informally.

Upon returning to St. Louis, the CEL team took the lessons learned from the Raptors to develop a financial model the client could use to make an informed decision about bringing professional rugby to St. Louis. The team developed an intuitive financial model that accounted for attendance numbers, concession sales, merchandise sales, stadium costs, advertising, and a host of other variables posed several challenges.

Effectively communicating the outputs from the financial model, as well as highlighting the key assumptions and inputs that produce those outputs, was also critically important.

By building a strong relationship with the client throughout the semester, and leveraging the abundant resources of the CEL and Washington University, the CEL team was able to provide a final deliverable that gave the client a holistic view of everything that goes into managing a professional sports team and stadium.

The financial analysis demonstrated that a team in St. Louis is feasible, so be on the lookout for a local MLR team in near future.

Overall, the CEL is a unique opportunity for students to work on real-world projects that have a direct impact on their community. Bringing a professional sports team to St. Louis is the type of project that major consulting firms and investment banks would be envious of, and for the clients who hire the CEL, they get to receive professional-level services from the very students who, upon graduation, will be joining those types of companies.