Tag: Entrepreneurship



Under any other circumstances, the classroom guest in Doug Villhard’s Introduction to Entrepreneurship class would have been impressive—but not noteworthy. Maxine Clark, founder of St. Louis-based Build-A-Bear Workshop, is a WashU Olin booster, a friend of the university and a frequent guest speaker in Olin classrooms.

But on Thursday, March 26, she joined a mosaic of students in a Zoom video classroom—another example of students, instructors and special guests making the Olin experience work in the midst of a global pandemic.

On the fourth day of online instruction after the campus closed to contain the coronavirus pandemic, Clark shared the story of how she created her Build-A-Bear concept. Nearly 30 MBA students aimed their webcams at the St. Louis entrepreneur and dropped questions into a chat window.

The focus of the class was social entrepreneurship—an area where Clark has been active since retiring as Build-A-Bear’s CEO in 2013. But first, there were questions about her big retail hit.

“I wanted to ask if the original idea of Build-A-Bear was the idea that was launched,” wrote Derek Leiter, MBA ’21. “Or did the idea change (like most of ours in class have) after researching the market?”

Maxine Clark (center, right column) shares a slide from her presentation about the day she appeared on Oprah’s television show as she was ramping up new Build-A-Bear Workshop stores.

Clark said the more people who got involved, the more the concept evolved. For example, store patrons who build their own teddy bears carry out a step that wasn’t part of the original idea: including a small red heart with the bear’s stuffing.

“Someone else came up with the idea of the heart,” Clark said. “We had no idea people would grab onto the idea like they did. People started putting three and four hearts in a bear. They’d put a wish on the heart. We got so many ideas from our customers.”

Dean Mark P. Taylor also stopped by the class for a few minutes to bid Clark and the students a hello. He thanked Clark for visiting the class under today’s unusual circumstances and thanked everyone for how they’ve adapted. “Today’s a great example where we have a great class and a great entrepreneur who can share her experience,” Taylor said. Later, in the classroom’s chat, he said, “So proud of you guys.”

Clark also spoke to the class about Delmar Divine, a project to rehabilitate the former home of the St. Louis region’s St. Luke’s Hospital—north of Delmar Boulevard and east of DeBaliviere. Her vision is to convert the building into “Cortex for nonprofits,” referring to a St. Louis-area business incubator. Delmar Divine would include retail, housing and office space and is planned to open in the summer of 2021.




Ryan Richt, MBA

WashU Olin alumni have continued to benefit from their membership in the community many years after leaving campus. This is part of an occasional series of vignettes about the alumni experience. Today, we hear from Ryan Richt, , AB ’08/MBA ’08, founder and CEO, Well Principled

When we meet Ryan Richt, he’s wearing a button-down dress shirt that belies his serious love for data: It’s a design featuring subtly rendered QR codes, which, when scanned, launch the garment maker’s website. Since leaving Olin just over a decade ago, he’s applied that love of data and his business savvy to start two companies—thanks, in part, to an ongoing relationship with WashU Olin faculty mentor Anne Marie Knott.

“We’ve probably had dinner once a month for 10 years since I graduated,” he said. “I used her book to start my first company.”

That relationship continues today. Knott, the Robert and Barbara Frick Professor of Business in Olin Business School, is an investor and chairs the science advisory board for Well Principled, Richt’s year-old startup. His firm leverages artificial intelligence to apply state-of-the-art business research to real-world problems.

In Richt’s model, his company creates “virtual business consultants” that meld a firm’s data—perhaps marketing information or pricing data—with the accumulated knowledge of 30 years of operations research. The consultants automate decision-making based on the firm’s goals.

“It is real work to go through the threads of research and read the back-and-forth between researchers,” Richt said. “Anne Marie and the scientific advisory board help us with that.”

Stay in touch.

Center for Experiential Learning

Business Development

  • Dorothy Kittner, MBA ’94, associate dean and director of business development and corporate relations 314-935-6365 | kittner@wustl.edu

Alumni & Development

Weston Career Center

Executive Education

  • Kelly Bean, senior associate dean and professor of practice in leadership 202-797-6000 | beank@wustl.edu



Nine tiny lines of type near the back of Olin Business magazine’s 2017 edition announced Nate Maslak’s new venture, HealthWiz, “which helps lower healthcare costs for employers and payers by helping consumers navigate their healthcare costs and access high-quality, cost-efficient care.”

Three years and one brand change later, Maslak, BSBA ’11, and the company he runs—Ribbon Health—landed a $10.25 million round of Series A funding led by well-known venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. The infusion marks the first investment from Andreessen’s new $750 million healthcare fund.

“Nate was a rock star entrepreneurship student as an undergrad at Olin,” said former Olin entrepreneurship professor Cliff Holekamp in an email about the investment. “His success is no surprise.”

The company had nailed down two earlier seed funding rounds, according to the Crunchbase startup directory. Details on those early rounds were not available. The Series A round led by Andreessen closed on February 27, 2020.

A story about the funding round on TechCrunch explained that Ribbon Health “is trying to create an accurate database of what doctors and health plans have, which specializations offer their services to which insurance providers, and produce the best outcomes for patients.”

Nine individuals or firms participated in the Series A investment for Ribbon Health, including Y Combinator and New York-based early-stage investment fund BoxGroup, according to Crunch Base.

“This funding will help us bring our healthcare data platform to more payers, providers, and other healthcare stakeholders, allowing them to break through the information barriers in healthcare,” Maslak, CEO and cofounder, wrote in a blog post on the Ribbon Health website.




Byron Porter was intentional about the name of his young startup. “In an industrial operation, a hum is good,” Porter said. “It means everything is working and there are no surprises.”

With HUM Industrial Technology, Porter is taking that hum to the next level. Using “vibration analysis” and machine learning software, Porter has created a monitoring device about the size of a deck of cards to track railcar movements and anticipate when that rolling stock needs maintenance. In an industry where accidents are rarely small, Porter says ditching 40-year-old technology can solve three problems.

First, by monitoring vibrations—the hum—in railcar wheels, bearings and track, Porter’s sensors and machine-learning technology can gauge in real time potential maintenance issues and even estimate how long before a failure. Porter notes that the industry has experienced 125 incidents related to wheel bearing failures since 2015, resulting in $250 million in related expenses. In contrast to Porter’s real-time, smart technology, railroads today rely on “hot box detectors” spaced 20 miles apart that mea-sure when wheel bearings are overheating. “By the time a bearing is hot, it’s already failed,” Porter said.

Second, HUM could improve the predictability of shipments—a chronic problem. “You’re prepared to unload on a given day, you have a crew scheduled,” he said. “But when the train does arrive four days later, you’ve wasted four days paying a crew for each of those days because you thought the train would arrive.”

Finally, Porter says his innovation could improve safety in the compact, busy and notoriously dangerous railyards where manufacturers receive goods. A more sophisticated, real-time system using machine learning could create a clearer digital map for operators to monitor railcar movement.

“I’m an engineer, and engineers like to solve problems,” he said. “You see people get hurt and operational headaches and you think there has to be a better way. Because I can see a better way, I want to make that happen.”

THE FACTS

Startup Stats

  • Established as an LLC on April 12, 2019, and developing as a bootstrap operation at this point.
  • 4 million railcars are in operation globally.
  • 40-year-old technology tracks railcars and monitors for maintenance issues.
  • HUM applies machine learning and “vibration analysis” to anticipate maintenance issues and track rolling stock.

Team

  • Byron Porter, MBA ’20Founder, CEO and lone employee right now

Competition Participation

  • Third-place, receiving $2,500, in the April 17, 2019, Skandalaris Venture Competition
  • Recipient of a $1,000 grant from the Holekamp Seed Fund

More information: humindustrial.com




For the second year running, WashU Olin has been named one of “10 Business Schools To Watch” by Poets & Quants.

In a recent post, Olin received recognition for two of its strategic pillars—entrepreneurship and global experience—that have been successfully implemented into the curriculum.

“Every course at Olin has to be accountable to entrepreneurship and innovation… That took entrepreneurship from being a really strong niche to something every Olin student is going to be exposed to,” said Cliff Holekamp, former professor of entrepreneurship at Olin.

However, Olin “places equal – if not greater emphasis on global business.”

“Deep global immersion in international business issues, cultures, and practices sets an important foundation for business today,” said Dean Mark Taylor discussing the MBA global immersion trip. “The cohort [also] really bonds as everyone gets to know one another and works together—especially as they begin the program by being thrown into the deep end on the global immersion where, at some point, every student must adjust to a foreign culture.”

P&Q also highlighted Olin’s location, accelerated graduation path, and the option for a STEM-designed specialized master’s degree paired with an MBA.

“We’re leaning into the needs of today’s business students, differentiating WashU Olin by leveraging our unique assets, preparing them to be globally-minded and globally-mobile and providing the tools to confront the challenge and create change,” said Taylor.

Other schools listed alongside Olin included the Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, University of Chicago’s Booth, USC’s Marshall, and IMD.

Read more of the P&Q article citing Olin as a top 10 school to watch.