Tag: Entrepreneurship

Judges hand the oversized $50,000 check to team members from PedalCell just before the balloon-drop at the 2022 BIG IdeaBounce powered by Poets & Quants.

From 158 entries to 12 to three to one. The winner of WashU Olin’s BIG IdeaBounce powered by Poets & Quants is settled: PedalCell, a bike-connected power generator for portable devices—with its origins at the University of Michigan and Northwestern University—secured the $50,000 grand prize.

“I think the pitch went really well. The judges asked really good questions,” said Vishaal Mali, cofounder from Northwestern University. “They were really curious about the market opportunity and I felt like we did a good job of answering that.”

The PedalCell team presents to the judges at the 2022 BIG IdeaBounce.
The PedalCell team presents to the judges at the 2022 BIG IdeaBounce.

The PedalCell team competed before three judges at Olin Business School against presenters from OnDeck Fisheries AI from the University of British Columbia and MiDoc from WashU Olin. Judges originally intended to award second- and third-place prizes of $5,000 and $2,000, but they decided the other two teams had tied for second place. Both received $5,000.

Dr. Linda Wu, PMBA 48, greets judges after her BIG IdeaBounce presentation.
Dr. Linda Wu, PMBA 48, greets judges after her BIG IdeaBounce presentation. Judges, from left: Byrne, Clark and Shannon.

The original 158 entries were winnowed down from written and video pitches provided during the course of the competition.

Representatives from the three finalists presented in-person to the judges: Akeem Shannon, CEO and founder of Flipstik; John Byrne, founder and editor-in-chief of Poets & Quants; and Maxine Clark, founder and former chief executive bear at Build-A-Bear Workshop.

OnDeck is a monitoring tool that uses AI to automatically quantify commercial fishing catches to aid with marine conservation while cutting costs. MiDoc, founded by Dr. Linda Wu, PMBA 48, has created an at-home “electronic stethoscope” that allows physicians to remotely conduct medical-grade lung and heart exams for patients during telehealth visits.

The team from OnDeck Fisheries AI presents at the 2022 BIG IdeaBounce.
The team from OnDeck Fisheries AI presents at the 2022 BIG IdeaBounce.

The months-long process began in November as the Olin and P&Q teamed up to launch the global pitch competition with $50,000 on the line. Semi-finalists were announced in February. And on Tuesday, the deciding video debuted from the in-person pitches by the three finalists—an in-person pitch event recorded March 3.

Conceived in the wake of Olin’s third consecutive year at #1 in Poets & Quants‘ ranking of MBA entrepreneurship programs, the pitch competition attracted entries from 158 student teams from 13 countries and 55 schools.

See the full pitch event

Doug Villhard, academic director for Olin’s entrepreneurship program, served as master of ceremonies for the event—greeting and introducing judges, transitioning between each pitch and doing quick backstage interviews with presenters to get their state of mind.

“I’m really glad that Poets & Quants gave us the chance to be there,” Wu said to Villhard in her post-presentation interview. “I think my favorite part was the ability to tell the audience about my product—and how beneficial this product could be to people.”

John Byrne interviews Team PedalCell

AT TOP: Judges hand the oversized $50,000 check to team members from PedalCell just before the balloon-drop at the 2022 BIG IdeaBounce powered by Poets & Quants. All photos by Jerry Naunheim.

David Karandish in 2018.

Capacity, the St. Louis-based artificial intelligence software startup led by Olin alum and former Answers CEO David Karandish, plans to grow its team and expand its technology after closing its Series C financing.

The company announced an additional $27 million in Series C financing on January 19, closing out the round at more than $38 million.

To date, Capacity has raised more than $62 million, according to a press release from the company. The latest round, which comes on the heels of recognition from the EdTech Breakthrough AwardsFinTech Awards 2021 and KMWorld’s AI50, was led by existing investors.

Support automation

“The future of work is here,” said Karandish, a serial entrepreneur who received his BSCS from WashU in 2005 with a second major in entrepreneurship at Olin. “Companies are demanding better technology to keep their workforce connected.”

He said support automation “is the next big thing in helping businesses do their best work.”

"Taking a Punch" podcast featuring David Karandish

The helpdesk automation market is projected to exceed more than $17 billion by 2024.

“Capacity is well-positioned to empower teams to work productively and cohesively regardless of location,” according to the release. Capacity is an AI-powered support automation platform that connects a business’ entire tech stack to answer questions, automate repetitive support tasks and build solutions to business challenges.

Karandish and Chris Sims founded Capacity in 2017, and it is part of the Equity.com incubator.

More information can be found at Capacity’s website or on Twitter at @CapacityAI.

To learn more about Karandish’s experience as an entrepreneur, listen to this episode of Olin’s podcast, On Principle.

Top photo: David Karandish in 2018.

Olin is offering a new, instantly popular class and business accelerator: “The League (of Extraordinary Entrepreneurs).”

More than 100 students hoped to sign up, but only 50 made the cut. Eight of those students have businesses in development, and they’ll lead teams dedicated to those businesses throughout the semester.

The League “is on its way to becoming a really big deal at WashU,” said Doug Villhard, professor of practice in entrepreneurship and Olin’s academic director for entrepreneurship.  While Olin’s  long-standing and popular Hatchery course is about planning a business, “the League is about actually launching and scaling a startup.”


Villhard, a successful entrepreneur himself, is teaching the class. Last January, he announced the $30 million sale of a startup he co-founded in 2007.

 “There continues to be a tremendous demand for entrepreneurial learning at WashU,” Villhard said. “The total students enrolled in our entrepreneurial classes has doubled in the last three years.”

The League runs for two hours on Monday afternoons and includes several student team meetings throughout the week. Most classes start with a guest lecture by a successful WashU alum who founded and leads a company.

Student teams

These are the student teams:

  • Benchmark: Benchmark Learning is a high-quality, low-cost online tutoring provider for K-12 students currently specializing in math, English, science and coding tutoring. Team lead: Paarvv Goel, MBA ’22
  • Lyfe Health: Lyfe Health is a cloud-based, A.I.-powered, universal-health-record platform where users can keep track of their health by aggregating all their health info into one, easy-to-use central location. Team lead: Tony Sims II, BS ’22
  • Momint: Momint is a play-to-earn fantasy esports game; think NBA Topshot meets Fantasy Football, but for esports players. Team lead: Will Hunter, MBA ’22
  • SecondHome: SecondHome is a service that makes the business of operating a home daycare simpler while also increasing access to quality and affordable childcare. Team lead: Jacob Wise, MBA ’22
  • Speak IT: Speak IT is like Siri for doctors: Our software increases efficiency of clinical workflow by enabling one’s voice to automate clicks in the electronic medical record. Team lead: Kai Skallerud, MBA ’22
  • StockSwap: StockSwap is a social finance and gaming platform that combines the ability to share trades and thoughts about the market with daily fantasy for the stock market. Team lead: Blake Berg, BBA ’23
  • Tylmen Tech: Tylmen, the size-verification platform, is on a mission to help customers shop for clothes online with confidence by utilizing sizing technology to show users exactly what clothes and brands fit them best. Team lead: Lloyd Yates, MBA ’22
  • Utter: Utter is a Twitter trivia guessing game that is bring the viral moments online into the real world. #gamenightjustgotpersonal Team lead: Justin Matthews, MBA ’23

“All of these student companies are capable of launching of scaling within the class timeframe,” Villhard said. “One is already generating over $65,000 in revenue. And another has already raised $200,000 in seed capital. WashU students never cease to amaze me.”

A constraint on the first version of this class is that student ideas need to be in the tech/digital space—as they are generally easier to launch and scale. In the future, Villhard hopes to offer versions of the class focused on healthcare, fashion, consumer goods, services, and other industry-specific constraints besides just tech/digital.

Villhard is also aware in this first version that no women are leading tech/digital teams this semester—however, there is great diversity among the student founders and there are many women in the class.

“We recruited an outstanding female student on campus with a tech/digital idea to lead a team,” he said, “but she is studying abroad instead and will take it next semester. This is a challenge in the real tech/digital industry as well. But we’re going to do better and fix it ASAP in future semesters of this course.”

Guest lecturers

The guest lecturers will visit the class in this order:

  • Andrew Rubin, BSBA ’98, CEO of Illumio, will talk about leadership.
  • David Eckstein, BSBA ’09, chief financial officer of Menlo Security Inc., will discuss the art of pitching.
  • JD Ross, BSBA ’12, cofounder of Opendoor and president of royal.io, will discuss product development.
  • Lori Coulter, MBA ’99, CEO of Summersalt, will talk about strategies for outsized growth.
  • Jesse Pujji, founder and CEO, Gateway X, on using digital marketing to amp up a business.
  • Jim McKelvey, BASc ’87, founder of Square and Invisibility (and many other companies), will talk about ideas from his book “The Innovation Stack: Building an Unbeatable Business One Crazy Idea at a Time”
  • Marc Bernstein, BSBA ’15, CEO of Balto, will discuss teambuilding.
  • Deborah Barta, BSBA ’99, former senior vice president of innovation at Mastercard and now chief operating officer of BlockFi, will discuss targeting ideas at significant scale.
  • Lee Fixel, BSBA ’02, an extremely successful investor, former partner at Tiger Global Management and now partner at Addition will talk about the mind of the investor.
  • Dedric Carter, vice chancellor for innovation and chief commercialization officer at Washington University in St. Louis, will discuss what St. Louis and WashU have to offer entrepreneurs. 

Pictured at top: Blake Berg, Paarvv Goel, Will Hunter, Justin Matthews, Tony Sims II, Kai Skallerud, Jacob Wise and Lloyd Yates.

Lloyd Yates, MBA

Everything started with a box of vintage neckties Lloyd Yates sold from his dorm room under the name Tylmen Ties. Five years later, Tylmen has pivoted twice, dropped “ties” from its name and embraced artificial intelligence, 3D modeling and virtual sizing technology. Now, Yates has his sights set on confronting one of the biggest challenges for online apparel retailers: the high rate of returned purchases.

It’s a problem he only began to appreciate as he considered expanding Tylmen’s product line from ties and pocket squares into suits. Body scans and virtual reality, he reasoned, would modernize the experience, letting customers virtually try on the clothes.

“As we were workshopping this, we were learning there was a bigger problem,” said Yates, MBA ’22. “We want to tackle this bigger problem of online retailer returns”—a problem partially caused by ill-fitting purchases.

Consumers spent $650 billion buying apparel online in 2020—the biggest online shopping category. But Yates said consumers are three times more likely to return those items. Some industry estimates put the online apparel return rate as high as 30%, costing retailers nearly $200 billion a year.

As a 19-year-old quarterback-turned-receiver for Northwestern University, he wasn’t seeing that far into the future when his father gifted him an old box of vintage neckties that he sold to classmates on campus—60 in his first week. Soon, he was selling ties and men’s fashion accessories online, based on his own designs. He landed Northwestern as a client in 2017. The work was a legacy to his great grandfather, James Andrew Keyes, a Rock Island railroad porter, who instilled in those around him an appreciation for impeccable fashion.

When the coronavirus pandemic erupted, Yates pivoted into producing facemasks that doubled as pocket squares and reaped a heap of publicity in the process. Now the second-year MBA student credits his professors for challenging him to look deeper—beyond selling suits out of an electric sprinter van—as he pivots toward a fashion technology platform.

“We’re developing a marketplace for customers and apparel brands to connect over common sizing using virtual sizing technology. Every time a customer shops with us, they automatically get paired with clothing items that fit them best,” Yates said. “This results in confident online shoppers who receive style recommendations from all sorts of brands that fit them, while retailers acquire new customers and reduce returns. It’s a win-win for everyone.” Think of it as an online mall that saves your sizing information and only recommends apparel in stock, that fits you great.

In early fall, Tylmen was in the development phase of a new app that would let consumers take a recorded video, get their measurements, and begin to generate custom recommendations. The company is planning to launch before the holiday season to assist shoppers and retailers with 50-plus brands on the platform.

“The endgame is to be the No. 1 platform to take shopping into the digital age,” Yates said. “We want to perfect how consumers shop, giving them the utmost confidence that they’ll get clothing that fits you and looks great.”

Startup Stats

  • Established, 2016
  • First sales, 2016
  • Incorporated as LLC, April 28, 2017

Team Members

Lloyd Yates, MBA ’22, founder and sole employee


  • $5,000, Weston Career Center entrepreneurship grant
  • $1,000, Holekamp Seed Fund
  • $250, Big IDEA Bounce, runner-up

More information


The Skandalaris Center presented The Washington University Innovation and Entrepreneurship Awards on November 17.

Chuck Cohn, BSBA ’08, received the Alumni Achievement in Entrepreneurship Award to recognize his entrepreneurial success and the commitment he continues to make to St. Louis and Washington University. 

Cohn started Varsity Tutors (now Nerdy) while studying finance and entrepreneurship at Olin.

Read the full article about the awards celebration.