Tag: Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship professor Doug Villhard (top center), works with students in the CEL

Right now, Ally Gerard should be on the west coast working in the corporate partnerships department for the Los Angeles Clippers NBA team. A student in Olin’s business of sports program, Ally landed the internship after a very competitive recruiting process.

Coronavirus had other plans, however, and the internship was scrapped—a situation a great many of WashU Olin’s undergraduate and graduate students now face. Still, Ally’s chance to flex her Olin muscles, apply her skills and gain experience has not been lost.

That’s thanks to a new seven-week course Ally, BSBA ’22, and more than 300 of her fellow students are taking right now—a course Olin’s faculty and staff conceived and launched in a matter of weeks as the pandemic gutted internship opportunities for our students.

“Applied Problem Solving for Organizations” began as an idea in late April. By the time the course began June 1, more than 30 faculty members had volunteered to serve as project advisors. Dozens of companies—many with Olin alumni in leadership—had proposed projects offering real-world experience to our students.

Ultimately, the team at Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning had settled on 50 projects for teams of four or five students, many of which include both graduate and undergraduate students.

Preserving experiences for summer

“I wanted to help out the students who were confronted with internship challenges,” said John Horn, professor of practice in economics and advisor to Ally’s team. “It’s not a perfect substitute, but it’s really pretty good. I’ve heard from students who kept their internships that their virtual experiences were challenging. Their employer is also trying to figure out the program in real time.”

Another faculty advisor, Durai Sundaramoorthi, senior lecturer in management, expanded on Horn’s last point.

“This is an interesting alternative to a traditional internship,” he said.  “This project gives a broad perspective about the entire business of entrepreneurship. It is a great learning experience for students.”

Built with care—and haste

Enough cannot be said about the urgency with which the Olin community tackled this challenge—from the CEL, which organized the curriculum, to the staff that promoted the program and recruited students, to the Weston Career Center, which guided students toward the opportunity and worked with potential clients, to the alumni who recognized the need and offered project opportunities.

It’s worth noting that the opportunity worked in both directions.

“Honestly, we had to scrap existing plans to bring on summer interns due to the pandemic,” said Jay Li, BSBA ’16, and director of marketing for Regatta Craft Mixers. “When I received the email from Dean Taylor about the program, we rushed to pitch a strategic project we’ve been struggling with.”

Now, an Olin team is working with the New York-based beverage maker to gain insight from its consumer research to inform a grocery-store selling strategy.

Solving real-world problems

Ally’s team is working with St. Louis-based Insituform Technologies—a pipeline rehabilitation firm—to research industry best practices and conduct a competitive intelligence analysis to understand the regional differences in the firm’s operations. She’s leading the team, which includes graduate students.

“This is my first experience in ‘leading up’ to students much further along in their higher education journey,” she said. “The CEL has fostered a working environment that pushes us to grow as consulting professionals but also as empathetic leaders and teammates.”

In many ways, of course, this turn of events was disappointing. We have exceptional students who have worked hard. We have built a world-class career center, which has been knocking it out of the park with student placements and internships—then, a global crisis.

We can’t get the internships back, but we can make sure our students have a meaningful experience. We can make sure our students have a story to tell about the work they did this summer. We can—and we have.

Pictured above: Entrepreneurship professor Doug Villhard (top center), works with students in the CEL’s summer program.

Jeff Gibson, MBA

Jeff Gibson saw 200,000 service members transitioning from the military to the civilian workforce each year—and he saw an opportunity. Leveraging his own 10 years as a Navy SEAL, 15 years as a government recruiting contractor—and a hefty dose of artificial intelligence technology—the WashU Olin alumnus is streamlining the way veterans match their skills with employers.

Gibson—who received his WashU MBA in 2002 and cofounded the Olin Veterans Association—is one of the entrepreneurs behind Oplign, an online recruiting site that helps vets find prospective opportunities with a few mouse clicks based on regimented data associated with their military training and work assignments.

The company also helps clients such as Verizon—which Gibson says gets 500 applications each day from veterans—sift through the prospects to find candidates who truly match the qualifications for their various openings.

“They have no way of sorting through those in a reasonable manner,” Gibson said. He said their director of military hiring works with 20 recruiters, but they can’t see everybody. “It’s a way for them to improve their applicant experience. They can say why candidates are not qualified— or what they are qualified for.”

Gibson credits his time at Olin for opening the path for where he is today. “Olin led me to one step, which led me to another, which led me to another,
charting his path from the military to a Fortune 500 employer and then back to applying his skills as an entrepreneur focused on hiring vets.

Supply and demand for hiring

On the applicant side, Oplign (“opportunities align”) simplifies the process by inviting job seekers to walk through a few simple screens to enter their service information. For example, with a handful of clicks, a vet can indicate they served eight years in the Marines, achieving the rank of E5, with a “military occupation code” indicating logistics experience.

A few more clicks can highlight a service member’s security clearance, special training opportunities and other pertinent experience. Behind the scenes, Oplign uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to translate that vet’s military experience into the language of civilian employers—highlighting the skills and experience relevant to recruiters. In 60 seconds, the applicant is done. Job openings matching the vet’s skills appear on the screen.

“There are really only about 30 things the labor market thinks are important for accounting,” Gibson said. Meanwhile, Oplign’s algorithm identifies about 15 skills and experiences employers value when looking at HVAC technicians.

On the recruiting side, Oplign scrapes websites for job opportunities—and directly links to client sites such as Verizon, American Electric Power in the Ohio River Basin, Pike Electric, aviation companies such as MAG Aerospace and a small number of government contractors. That’s where Oplign generates its revenue.

“Companies can see instantly whether candidates are qualified,” he said.

Ready to break out in the industry?

Gibson said military hiring represents a $1 billion market—one Oplign is only beginning to tap. In its third year of operation, Gibson and his cofounders have bootstrapped the company, which has $1 million in annual revenue. “The first year, we were proving the tech. The second year, we started getting customers. The third year, we feel we’re about ready to break out,” Gibson said. “We just picked up some pretty big customers who like what we’re doing.”

The focus on military hiring derives from the experience of Gibson and his cofounders, all veterans. After serving as in Navy, he worked three years at 3M and felt the call to return to more direct work with the military after 9/11. He worked for a recruiting firm, fulfilling federal government hiring contracts by filling roles for agencies such as the Department of Defense, State Department, Drug Enforcement Agency and the CIA.

“The military hiring market is a good place for us to prove our system,” he said. “A military resume is even more confusing than a regular resume with all the acronyms.”

And while the resume is the currency job seekers barter for opportunities, Gibson sees it as a barrier his firm’s technology can sweep away.

“We’re trying to get rid of the resume. You spend so much time trying to put the right information there, tailoring it to each job—and leaving out so many other skills,” he said. “We pull information from the individual. We help them build their own online resume—one that’s important to the labor market, not one that they think is important.”

Pictured above: Jeff Gibson, MBA ’02, with his wife, Karen.

One day, early in the coronavirus crisis, one of Camryn Okere’s favorite off-campus restaurants closed forever. And that’s when she realized she had to do something.

After Bobo Noodle House shuttered, and as other small businesses were suffering, the soon-to-graduate WashU BSBA student knew she could help. Two weeks later, she’d recruited WashU classmates and business students from a dozen other schools to join her. Rem and Company was born.

“Seeing a local business I love permanently close was heartbreaking,” Okere said. “When I see problems in my everyday life, my community and my environments, I am inspired to work to implement change.” 

In just a few weeks, Okere’s initiative — “a social impact initiative focusing on keeping doors open and dreams alive” — has helped small businesses stay up to date on industry trends, learn new approaches from peers, build networks and adapt as the world changes. In many ways, Rem and Company has begun solving problems on two fronts.

On one front, as small businesses and nonprofits fight for their lives through the global pandemic, students and recent graduates are banding together to offer free consulting support to help proprietors engage with customers, reimagine business models and diversify product offerings.

At the same time, as the crisis wreaks havoc on corporate hiring, those same students are confronting a summer without jobs and internships by putting their education into practice.

“So many students are sitting at home right now and they don’t feel valued,” said Okere, who named the initiative after the stage of sleep in which people tend to dream vividly—because the coronavirus pandemic is something of a nightmare. “Our mission and core values provide many individuals—especially students uncertain about their next career steps—with a sense of value and purpose.”

From zero to helping in weeks

From conceiving Rem and Company to launch took about two weeks. Today, more than 80 students and recent graduates have banded together, representing schools including Wharton, Harvard, Duke, Northwestern, Columbia, Vanderbilt, and, of course, WashU Olin.

The fledgling cooperative, which stays connected through Slack and Google Drive, is also drawing on experienced mentors from organizations such as Google, McKinsey & Co., Morgan Stanley and The Wall Street Journal.

“The real idea is to empower the students,” said Janine Toro, user experience designer and researcher for The Wall Street Journal, who managed Okere when she was a summer intern last year. “She’s picking the projects and assigning the right people to them. I’m more of the resource provider for now.”

Toro isn’t surprised that Okere so quickly got her inspiration up and running. “I was referring to her as the person who I will work for in five years,” she said. “When I first met her, I could tell she was very driven.”

At least six small businesses as close to WashU as St. Louis and as far as India have signed on for consulting support. Okere spends a lot of time outlining initial client needs and coordinating team assignments, evaluating which volunteers have the complementary expertise to support which projects. Their consulting teams provide small businesses with the opportunity to identify and prioritize business issues, propose innovative strategies and execute.

Engaging with customers

“I’m very super excited to have some support,” said Ann Lederman, executive director for The Buddy Fund, a St. Louis-based nonprofit that provides athletic equipment to organizations serving at-risk youth. As the sole employee of the 58-year-old organization, “My position has been taxed in the areas of branding, board engagement and being present online.”

She’s seeking help from Rem and Company to maintain donor relationships and prepare for the possibility that the organization’s largest annual fundraiser—a golf tournament—might not be able to happen in September as planned.

Rem and Company helped a Philadelphia-area rock-climbing company develop an innovative engagement strategy around virtual experiences. Student teams have also worked with small businesses or nonprofits in New York, Connecticut, DC, and other US cities, as well as international locations such as India and Finland.

The cooperative is focusing for now on organizations within the fashion, nonprofit, dining and fitness industries. Once she and her colleagues weather the pandemic, Okere said her next steps might be to develop a long-term business plan and eventually see how Rem and Company can get funding.

“It’s been amazing to see this all mobilize in such a short amount of time and the outpouring of support from the WashU community,” Okere said. “I’m not someone who is going to just sit around.”

To learn more about the ways Washington University students, faculty, staff and alumni are caring for one another and our communities, visit #WashUtogether.

The first-of-its-kind event honored the best of 100 video elevator pitches submitted by 243 students across programs.

Olin’s first BIG IdeaBounce pitch competition held a virtual celebration on Wednesday, April 22, to announce 64 prizes.

The competition split a $20,000 prize pool sponsored by the National Security and Innovation Network between graduate and undergraduate first and second place winners, plus 50 runners up.

The 100 teams, including 243 students across programs, each submitted a two-minute elevator pitch-style video describing their innovative product idea. Pitches were then reviewed by a panel of 87 judges, including alumni and St. Louis entrepreneurs and funders like Carl Casale, Maxine Clark and Valerie Toothman.

Submissions came from Olin and non-Olin students in every grade and program, including students in the first-year Management 150 course who pitched a product as part of their final projects.

Dean Mark Taylor speaks before the BIG IdeaBound awardees are announced.

“Entrepreneurship is one of our core pillars at Olin—and we’re proud of the entrepreneurial ecosystem St. Louis has achieved,” Dean Mark P. Taylor said during program to reveal the winners. “Being part of that is so important to the school—and this contest has in its first year proven to be a great way to bring us together and celebrate the creation of new business ideas.”

The winners

Doug Villhard, director of entrepreneurship for WashU Olin, announced the award of four top prizes, including first- and second-place awards for both graduate and undergraduate students.

Graduate awards

First place: Pareto

The pitch: An innovative solution to the multi-billion dollar problem of infusion drug wasting every year. Pitched by Mitchell Lynn, Rachel Heymach and Kelley Coalier

Second place: Lifted Pouches

The pitch: A pre-workout supplement in pouch form. Pitched by Derek Leiter, Tyler Edwards and Irina Grekova

Undergraduate awards

First place: 3Dux Design

The pitch: An architectural modeling system consisting of cardboard connectors and curriculum that supports STEM education globally. Pitched by Ayana Klein

Second place: Alms Banking

The pitch: A credit union that generates revenue and donates it to charities. Pitched by Chase Kallhoff

Runners up

Villhard announced 50 runners up, a mix of undergraduate and graduate student projects who each received a small grant.

Runners up listed in order from first to 50th.

Sanitek | A health club yoga mat sanitation solution.

Z Education | Education consulting focusing on helping Chinese students find universities in the United States.

Empower Through Health | Empowering marginalized societies to achieve self-sufficiency.

Sirona | A digital health platform where medical data can be accessed at any time, anywhere.

Localize | Simply connecting users to volunteer opportunities.

SpanAbility | Virtual reality games for stroke rehabilitation.

Halo | A durable, yet fashionable bracelet that tests for drink-spiking drugs.

True You | Concierge name-change service for individuals to claim or reclaim their identity after a major life event.

Me’ver Crisis Volunteers | Fast-reacting flexible crisis aid.

SexyQ | A sex tech platform focused on communications and self-exploration.

democracy | A fashion design incubator for designers and creators who need a catalyzing push to start their career.

Presence | Bonding activity subscription boxes backed by teachers, psychologists and child psychiatrists.

Create Space | An easily accessible studio space for artists and creatives.

Welldrinks | A bar ordering and experience app.

Man Up | An easy-to-use makeup kit designed for men.

NAAPCO | National Association of American Peer Counseling Organizations.

Caralyst | Optimally matching patients and physicians based on identity, personal characteristics and communication styles.

St. Louis Online Farmstore | An online farm store with local delivery.

Talking Teddy | A teddy bear that uses smart technology to speak to children and teach them new languages.

Smart Hanger | Multi-directional adjustable clothing hanger.

Umma | An umbrella sharing system on college campuses.

Happy Chinese Gray | A tech-based social entrepreneur to support Chinese-American family caregivers of older adults.

Peak | Online dating platform for non-neurotypical people.

MEZ Eatery | Traditional Mexican restaurant dedicated to producing a variety of wholesome plant-based meals.

CRESTE | Increasing accessibility to commercial real estate investing.

Dgit | Disruptive Green Innovative Technology; provides the primary communication channel between property managers and tenants.

The Villow | A vibrating alarm clock pillow.

Lure Consultant | An app that recommends lures for fishing conditions.

Recipher | A pen that records what you write and reads it back to you.

Golden Roots | A curation of natural skincare products made with essential African ingredients.

Kenzora Consulting | In-store retail consulting.

Airborn | Emergency response drone medical delivery system.

Elefante | An intentional co-working and community space for all identities.

Indian Clothing Rentals | Online Indian clothing rental company.

Tap-In | Magnetic strip that can attach to students’ phones and serve as a key.

THEMPS Cannabis Temp Staffing | Temp staffing for the cannabis industry with a focus on social equity.

Toao Design House | Casual, personal and sustainable fashion dedicated to giving clients stylistic agency to form their identity.

Flow (Drink) | A juice-based, healthy energy drink.

Lil Kings & Queens | Children and teens clothing line for African American kids.

Honeymoon Chocolates | Bean-to-bar chocolate sweetened with raw honey.

RELocator | Website that helps with home buying by providing digital tours of urban neighborhoods for people who are relocating to new cities.

Flow (Supply Chain) | The new way to make fashion closed-loop.

ModBars | Customizable snack bars.

TalentShare | A platform where students can exchange their talents and teach each other.

Student Financial Literacy Platform | All-in-one platform for students to learn about and make good financial decisions.

BREEKZI | Beats and music services marketplace.

PeerPoint Helpline | A helpline that provides support and resources to students who are experiencing domestic abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic.

RackAttach | A universal bike rack that fastens to the bike and lets you attach to any car and ride.

Epitrac | The low-cost, high-tech Epi-Pen alternative.

Kantame | Vehicle exportation.

Honorable mentions

Ten projects that didn’t receive a prize, but merited attention.

Listed from first to 10th place within this category.

Shorte | A short-film curated streaming service.

UpDog | A dog boarding facility with airport transportation services.

EHS+ | Remote, real-time control of environmental, health and safety standards in manufacturing facilities via low-cost sensors.

The Sand Fan | A machine to remove sand from your feet using highly pressurized air.

Indigenous Fashion Products | A digital platform selling indigenous products transparently, educating people and giving back to the community.

TrainMates | A platform to connect fitness trainers and trainees.

Food Truck Gameday | A service that inceases the visibility of black and migrant business owners at Major League Soccer games.

Oystar | Giving African students access to educational opportunities in the United States.

WashU Innovators | Leak-proof contact case.

The Helpful Horn | A  multi-sound car horn for different driving situations.

Congratulations to the winners of Olin’s first BIG IdeaBounce competition!

Shivani Jain, MBA ’21, wrote this for the Olin Blog.

The student consultant team: Ashish Vora (MBA ’20), Shivani Jain (MBA ’21), Yaohong Chen (SMP ’21), and Bruno Moreira Yamamura (MBA ’20)

In the fall semester, 2019, we, a group of four MBA and specialized master’s candidates, became a part of the St. Louis Impact Initiative (SLII), an organization known for “Bridging the gap: Empowering Entrepreneurs Together.”

It lies under the philanthropic arm of the BALSA Group, which supports first-time entrepreneurs in the St. Louis area by providing necessary support and resources to grow their enterprise.

We dedicated ourselves as student consultants to Karen Rogier, inventor, and sole proprietor of a unique product—the moving device by the commercial name of MOVEREZE. The name comes from the ease of gliding heavy boxes down the stairs.

Karen, our enthusiastic client, has a story of her own behind this bootstrapping venture of bringing the product to life. She was struck with the idea while helping her son and daughter-in-law move boxes from their apartment to their new home.

Using the MOVEREZE device, they were able to conveniently carry multiple boxes at once, saving time and reducing the effort of going up and down the stairs. Karen wishes to “bring her invention to the masses.” We feel energized every time we talk to her, and she responds with a refreshing attitude to succeed in this endeavor. 

Our team performed extensive market research suggesting that there’s no such product available currently; its simple design and ease of use by any age group or gender struck a chord with the focus group during the product testing we held at Olin Business School last month. This patented product looks similar to a yoga mat, with handles on both the ends to stack heavy boxes and pull them down the stairs single-handedly beating the brow sweat.

It is crafted to provide long term durability and can be effortlessly rolled and stored in any corner of your house or car, not requiring a dedicated space and is hazard-proof. It’s worth a buy for those tough moving or shopping days. It’s even nice and warm picnic days when you want to carry heavy picnic baskets to your car or your child’s car seat or stroller down the stairs with ease even if you’re not a regular gym-goer.

Karen Rogier with members of the consulting team

Moreover, it’s a boon, especially for those of us who live by ourselves or in a building without elevators. We are currently helping Karen market the product and bring the business to life.

This moving device is now available to be purchased on the website and we are working to partner with other retail and online stores to make it widely available. Check her website to buy the device and show her some support by spreading a word about this wonderful product to your friends and family.

Are you an angel investor or professional and want to know more about this enterprise or support Karen in building her business through marketing strategies or social media promotion? Please contact us!