Tag: Entrepreneurship

When Sky Zone CEO Jeff Platt, BSBA’06, pitched his idea for an indoor trampoline park during his Intro to Entrepreneurship class at Olin, he couldn’t imagine the growth and success he would experience in the decade ahead.

Free Style Jump at Sky Zone (from website)

Sky Zone has grown from its original locations in St. Louis and Las Vegas to 176 franchised parks in six countries. “Twenty-five million people will visit this year, generating more than $300 million in sales. Last year, Sky Zone’s corporate revenues were $50 million, with a 20% profit margin,” according to an article on the Forbes website.

Alumni in the newsPlatt tells Forbes that he doesn’t plan to sell his fitness/entertainment venture any time soon, “We created a billion-dollar industry from scratch,” he says. “There’s a lot left to accomplish.”

Link to article on Forbes.

Link to related blog post: Platt shares business tips with CNBC.

Photo: Jeff Platt, CEO of Sky Zone, jumps at a company outlet in Gardena, CA. (Photo by Robert Gallagher for Forbes)


CATEGORY: Career, News

We can’t believe the founders of the Bear-y Sweet Shoppe have all graduated and sold their startup to the next generation of entrepreneurs! We remember when they were launching their kickstarter campaign back in 2014. Time flies when you’re having fun, selling candy to sleep-deprived undergrads with a sweet tooth jones for peanut butter cups and gummy bears to fuel a long night of studying. The Sweet Shoppe was a brilliant startup idea and it has been a success…let’s hope it’s here to stay and will become a campus landmark and role-model for future student-run businesses at WashU.

Founders of the Bear-y Sweet Shoppe

Poets & Quants featured the Sweet Shoppe on its site following the selection of co-founder Jessica Landzberg as one of the Best & Brightest Class of 2017 Undergrads. Be sure to read the P&Q story here.

Landzberg told P&Q that the idea for the candy story was inspired by her visits to her older sisters when they were students at the University of Rochester where there was a campus candy store.

“The hardest part was making it legitimate,” she says. “We had to file as an LLC, and we had to get many, many licenses, because we’re selling food. We had to make sure we were doing everything by the book – getting our licenses and filing taxes as a business.”

Check out the Sweet Shoppe’s website for news about the second generation of owners and their plans for next year.

For more info on the Student Entrepreneurship Program (StEP), click here.

The winning team, named Project Starfish, is creating a device that uses short-wavelength ultraviolet light (UVC), which kills bacteria, molds, viruses and other pathogens, to continuously and effectively kill bacteria in urinary catheters. About 75 percent of urinary tract infections acquired in the hospital are associated with the use of a catheter, and up to 25 percent of hospitalized patients in the hospital receive a urinary catheter, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

Elizabeth Bowman

Project Starfish has received a provisional patent for its device and has confirmed with FDA consultants that the device will follow a relatively inexpensive regulatory pathway, said Elizabeth Bowman. Bowman received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering with a minor in commercial entrepreneurship May 19.

“We’re really glad that we won this competition because we needed to the money to move us forward to the next step,” said Bowman, who plans to continue working on the project in addition to working as a health-care consultant in Silicon Valley.

The team’s initial funding to build a 3-D prototype and a small circuit board came from  Sling Health (formerly IDEA Labs).

Other team members are:

  • John Bisognono, sophomore, majoring in computer science with a minor in bioinformatics
  • Elliot Jaffe, BS/MS student in electrical engineering with a second major in physics
  • Caleb Ji, first-year student majoring in math
  • Daniel Lane, doctoral student in biomedical engineering
  • Jessica Miller, founder and an MD/PhD student at the School of Medicine and in biomedical engineering
  • Vineet Chauhan and John Henschen, MBA students in the Olin Business School
  • Jay Vasileva, a graduating biomedical engineering student from Saint Louis University

Project Starfish plans to incorporate this summer.

The School of Engineering & Applied Science’s Discovery Competition promotes innovative discoveries that solve a particular challenge or need.  The competition provides undergrad engineering students a forum to explore their entrepreneurial interests with support from mentors, to use their creativity to develop solutions for real-world problems, and to compete for financial resources that could help turn their ideas into businesses. The annual competition is funded by Engineering alumni.

Link to more about the 2017 Discovery Competition.

By: Beth Miller, School of Engineering & Applied Science


Daniel Webster-Clark, BSBA’11 & MSF’11, is currently getting his MBA at Kellogg. He and three classmates got to talking about men’s fashion one night and the conversation turned to rompers for guys. Yes, ROMPERS.

Daniel and his friends (soon-to-be-co-founders) got serious and passionate about their romper idea. They saw a void in the fashion universe and believed it could be filled with a romper for men that would allow “guys to be more stylish and fun without also sacrificing comfort, fit, and versatility.” GQ, Vogue, and Buzzfeed have already hailed the RompHim as a welcome innovation. The Chicago Times calls RompHim the Kickstarter campaign that “broke the Internet.”

Daniel took time out of his busy schedule to tell us more about his journey from finance to fashion and the birth of the RompHim.

What did you do between Olin and going back to school for your MBA?

After spending the summer between junior and senior year interning with Bain & Co., I began working there full time in fall 2011. While at Bain, I continued my role as an enlisted member of the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve. I also took six months away from Bain & Co. to work with the San Francisco 49ers in their Business Operations group as they prepared to open their new stadium.

From finance to fashion is quite a pivot. How did that happen?

My time at Bain & Co. has been instrumental in helping prepare me to tackle a wide range of problems; while I never worked in fashion specifically, I had experience in projects covering everything from supply chain to marketing. In addition, Kellogg’s general entrepreneurial support system encouraged me to explore passion projects. ACED Design and creating the Original RompHim™ began as one of those passion projects.

How long from idea to actual consumer product (RompHim™)?

We launched ACED Design in earnest right as 2017 kicked off, and our Kickstarter went live in mid-May. [Kickstarter campaign was completed in one week. Aced Design expects to start shipping RompHim in August.]

What is your role at RompHim™?

As a small team of 4 co-founders, our roles have evolved quite a bit and are always changing. I dipped my toes into everything from managing a design partner to building our business plan; more recently I’ve taken on the role of running our marketing efforts.

Is being an entrepreneur what you thought it would be?

In some ways yes, in some ways no – certainly a lot of sleepless nights since we kicked off in earnest and a lot of personal investment in how our brand and products are received.

Do you plan to continue with RompHim™ post-MBA?

Absolutely – we’re excited that we had so much initial interest, and believe we have a long way to go as we grow the business. Our first priority is ensuring our Kickstarter backers get a very high quality product in their hands as quickly as possible, followed by delivering on pre-orders we’re collecting through our website, www.romphim.com.

Predictions for next big fashion trend?

Beats me, but it’ll be fun to find out! We get excited about finding ways for people to help express themselves, so hopefully as more and more direct to consumer brands emerge and share their new fun ideas.

Any career advice for the Class of 2017?

Find something you enjoy doing that challenges you. Life’s too short to “put in time” somewhere while hoping things turn around and improve.

CATEGORY: Career, News

We were intrigued when a recent story in the St. Louis Business Journal reported that one of Prof. Cliff Holekamp’s students had recommended an Austin, Texas startup as a good investment prospect. Holekamp is also a managing partner of Cultivation Capital, and as the Business Journal reported, the venture capital firm’s new Life Sciences II fund is participating in a multi-million dollar Series A financing round for the company recommended by the student.

Who is this mysterious student? Do VCs always listen when he whispers the name of promising startup? With help from Prof. Holekamp, we tracked down Spencer Romo, BSBA ’15. Here’s what we found out:

What was your major/minor?

Economics and Strategy, Entrepreneurship double major, and lots of coursework in Computer Science.

Are you an entrepreneur?

I joined a startup called Cerebri AI in the fall of 2015 as the 2nd Employee. Cerebri has gone through many of the stages of startup, and I’ve had a front-row seat to the action. My plan is to continue working in AI and Big Data related startups until I’m ready to start my own!

What is your current job, title, and responsibilities?

I’m a data engineer: Some days that means that means I’m working in the capacity of a Quantitative Analyst, except with big data tools and machine learning favored over typical statistical methods. Some days that means that I’m a back-end developer working on building big-data or compute infrastructure. Some days that means I’m designing experiments to prove concepts or to discover new techniques for applying machine learning to common business use cases. I’m actually transitioning into a new company in the last week of May where I’ll be the lead developer for a newly founded venture based on utilizing geospatial data and applying machine learning techniques to extract new value from that data.

Why did you recommend Narrative Dx to Cultivation Capital?

I had the honor of playing ping-pong with many of their employees on an almost daily basis in the office building we share. Through that proximity, I learned about their progress and technical capability. They were having a really hot streak of getting good client traction, and their team had a great understanding of the pain they were trying to solve, and a viable (and lucrative) method for doing so. In short,  I realized that they met many of the criteria that I learned in Olin about how to spot successful ventures, and all they needed were partners to help them take their proven vision to the next step of realization. I knew of Cultivation Capital through my experiences in the Entrepreneurship program at Olin, and it only made sense to introduce Narrative DX’s CEO to the Cultivation team.

Were you surprised that Cultivation Capital participated in its Series A round?

Well, I knew they deserved it, but I can’t say I was expecting an email chain to turn into a major funding event and the introduction of a new capital player to the Austin startup scene! I’m glad for both parties; I believe that this is going to be a great deal for the NDX team and the Cultivation team, and I’m glad to help out!

How does the Austin startup ecosystem compare to St. Louis?

Here’s a list of a few differences I’ve observed.

  • Austin has a reputation for being a tech hotspot, and St. Louis is definitely more life-sciences oriented.
  • Austin seems to have way more startups with way less capital to go around. It’s kind of brutal to be honest, and it seems there’s not a huge appetite for B-C type investments.
  • St. Louis feels like it has much more assistance from universities and from corporate sponsors to fund innovation. The CIC is a great example of how big companies can help drive innovation by providing investment and support for innovation initiatives.  Austin definitely has less of that in my opinion.
  • Given my experience in the St. Louis startup community (I tried and failed to launch my Hatchery project in St. Louis!), I could see myself starting a venture there one day!

Any advice for Class of 2017?

Go work in a startup!
If your worst fears come true and everything falls apart in 8 months, you’ll still have your parent’s couch and a WashU education! Plus you’ll have the valuable experience of failing, which will be a rare asset that many of your peers won’t get until later in life when it’s not as easy to recover from. Taking a risk later will always be more difficult.

You might actually find out that your degree and your desired career path don’t map neatly. I sure did, and I’m glad that it took me 2 months instead of 2 years to figure it out.

Olin in particular does a great job preparing you to think critically, articulate your thoughts, and act on those ideas. It turns out those skills are at a premium in any field, and you can always learn new skills if they align with what you like to do. Plus, if you’re good, you get to do what you’re good at, and as the company grows, so does your specialization in the things you really like to do. What better way to figure out exactly what it is you like and grow into it?

It’s hard and rewarding work. At the end of the day, you might have more stress than your peers working stable jobs at big companies, but you also take home the satisfaction of realizing an idea from the beginning to wherever you decide to take it!

Thanks, Spencer, for solving “the student” mystery! Great to hear about what you are doing, your views on Austin v. STL startup scene, and your advice. Stay in touch!