Tag: Entrepreneurship



Schindler (center) with his cofounders.

A startup born in WashU Olin’s Hatchery course has continued to grow into a full product line, with a focus on improving hydration and fostering healthier consumers.

Buoy (formerly BetterTomorrow) started based on the concern that Americans tend to be chronically dehydrated. Daniel Schindler, MBA ’19, developed a formula for a flavorless liquid supplement that can be added to any drink to foster hydration and overall health by helping people retain water.

Three years after its incorporation, Schindler’s company has grown into a full line of hydration products. After completing what the team calls “phase zero,” Schindler is proud to report a series of updates on the product.

Sales

Through August 2020, Schindler reports a total of $177,467 in sales for the year—with a projection of $300,000 by the end of the year. “Our sales so far have come from very minimal marketing and ad spend, so once we begin our growth phase we expect sales to increase exponentially,” Schindler said.

Marketing

Schindler is proud of his new website, justaddbuoy.com. On the site, consumers can find three products under the Buoy label: BuoyBuoy + CBD, and Buoy + Immunity, plus “a bunch of cool merch.”

Schindler and his team have also invested in content creation—an essential piece of modern marketing. “We are about to begin unleashing everything through social media and Google to begin growing our brand awareness,” he explained.

Strategic growth

Schindler reports a series of growth updates as he looks toward the future:

  • Forming the structure for a commission-based sales team
  • Launching an ambassador program, “designed to increase brand awareness both across social media and among healthcare professionals.”
  • Creating a discounted subscription program for people living with chronic illness. Schindler reflected, “We’ve gotten a ton of touching feedback from that community. We’ll be the first and only company among our competitors to offer this type of program.”
  • Growing the team with 9 new employees.

Schindler’s product exemplifies the entrepreneurial spirit WashU Olin students embrace, whether they’re starting their own company or working with larger ones—and his mission to promote health for all Americans shows his commitment to being a leader who changes the world, for good.




WashU students in The Hatchery course in the early part of the fall 2020 semester getting coaching from Olin alumni.

This is a repost from the blog for the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Sydney Everett, marketing and communications specialist for the center, wrote this post.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020, was a busy day for WashU entrepreneurship. The day began with the seven Skandalaris Venture Competition Finalists presenting their ideas to a panel of esteemed judges and ended with the WashU Entrepreneurship awards, a recognition of the achievements of the startups in the Skandalaris Venture Competition, Olin’s Big IdeaBounce, and the Hatchery.

Over $40,000 was awarded to nearly 40 teams, including the $22,500 through the Skandalaris Venture Competition. One of the highlights of the night was the presentation of the Skandalaris Venture Competition winners by Skandalaris Center Managing Director and Assistant Vice Provost for Innovation and Entrepreneurship II Luscri, and Assistant Director of Venture Development Cyril Loum.

“It is an honor to partner with NSIN, Holekamp Seed Fund, and Olin’s Entrepreneurship Program to present the WashU Entrepreneurship Awards. We must now more than ever celebrate the innovative achievements of our entrepreneurial students and alumni,” shared II Luscri. “I continue to admire how these ventures are addressing the world’s problems.”

The Skandalaris Venture Competition is made possible by the generous support from Skandalaris National Council member Kishore Kanakamedala. From the finalist’s written summaries and presentations, three winners were chosen.

First place and the $10,000 cash prize was awarded to Cedars Health, Inc., an implantable device that provides immediate and permanent relief of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) symptoms without complications.

The team of Raphael Chung (BS’19, MS ’20), Kevin Park (BS ’20), and Dr. Arett (Associate Professor of Surgery, School of Medicine). “SVC was a great opportunity for us to refine our pitch and present our startup. We strove to make our presentation clear and impactful so that we could get our message across in a short period of time. We are thankful that the judges understood and believed in our vision,” Raphael Chung. “We will be using the award to make our prototypes and acquire materials for experiments.”

Cedars Health, Inc. was also selected as the fifth runner-up in Olin’s BIG IdeaBounce.

The second-place winner, Lifted Pouches, received $7,500 for their “ready to consume” pre-workout supplement for the health-conscious individual on the go. Tuesday was a successful night for the team of Derek Leiter (MBA ’21), Tyler Edwards (MBA ’21), Marguerite Whitelaw (MBA ’21), and Zach Hechtman (BSBA ’21), who also won second place in The Hatchery (Olin Cup) and second place in Olin’s Big IdeaBounce.

Speaking on behalf of the team Derek described the benefits of SVC for Lifted Pouches, “while participating in SVC, I began to understand through multiple judges’ feedback and questions on how to construct a story that has a broader impact on possible investors. Addressing their concerns and questions allowed me to understand how those on the other end of my presentations were perceiving my product.” Lifted Pouches plans to use their winnings to place their first production run orders from their manufacturing partners and to bring the product to market.

Golden Roots Essentials was the third-place winner and recipient of $5,000. Fanta Kaba (MBA ’21), has developed a natural, holistic, and luxurious lifestyle brand focused on personal care, beauty, and style. Golden Roots Essentials utilizes overlooked centuries-old traditional African skincare rituals and ingredients to create innovative healthy skincare products.

Reflecting on her win Fanta shared, “Winning a pitch competition is always refreshing! It gives a sense of validation in the very thing you live and work so hard for. With the SVC Pitch Competition prize money, Golden Roots will be heavily investing in branding efforts. From packaging to social media presence to our website. We feel so excited and grateful for such an opportunity.”

Applications for the Spring 2021 Skandalaris Venture Competition Cycle are open now through February 1, 2021. We encourage any current WashU students and alumni within one year of graduation with an early-stage venture or idea to enter!

Pictured above: WashU students in The Hatchery course in the early part of the fall 2020 semester getting coaching from Olin alumni.




Ryan Richt and Byron Porter

Two alums of WashU Olin’s MBA program nabbed $50,000 awards from Arch Grants, which provides non-equity funding to early stage companies committed to moving to or growing within the St. Louis area.

Byron Porter, MBA ’20, won a grant for his startup, Hum Industrial Technology, featured in the 2019 edition of Olin Business magazine. Porter’s company is described in Arch Grants’ news release for having “developed a wireless sensor system for freight railcars. Hum’s technology combines low power, wireless communications, geospatial tracking, and predictive analytics to make rail shipping transparent and reliable.” (Related story on the Olin Blog here.)

Ryan Richt, MBA ’08/BA ’08, also received a grant for his company, Well Principled, described as “an A.I. management consultant that optimizes marketing and supply chain strategy for major CPG brands and retailers. (Related story on the Olin Blog here.)

Of the 173 companies Arch Grants has funded, about 25% have had founding team members affiliated with Washington University.

The two entrepreneurs were among 19 Arch Grants recipients announced at a virtual gala on October 28—the eighth year the grants have been awarded. Arch Grants’ 2020 cohort includes companies moving to St. Louis from cities around the country, including San Francisco, Minneapolis, Charlotte, and several others.

In addition to the funding, each winner receives pro-bono and heavily discounted professional services from respected local firms. In turn, the startups commit to operating their business from St. Louis for a period of at least one year.

Arch Grants receives hundreds of applicants annually and involves members of the St. Louis community with expertise in industries, business, entrepreneurship and academia judge two rounds of presentations toward the results.

With the expansion of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Arch Grants committed to award at least five grants over the next several years to startups engaged in using geospatial or related technologies.

HUM was one among seven in this year’s Arch Grants cohort that will contribute to the growing Geospatial Sector in St. Louis. See the complete list of Arch Grants recipients here (filter the list by cohort).


When the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn caused internship cancellations, WashU Olin and the Center for Experiential Learning stepped up to provide summer learning opportunities for students while supporting St. Louis-based businesses. We’ll be sharing their stories on the Olin Blog. Today, we’ll hear from Phyllis Ellison, executive director of InvestMidwest Venture Capital Forum and  vice president of partnerships and program development, CORTEX Innovation Community

Given the pandemic, what compelled your company to get involved with this program?

 The CEL summer project program was offered at the perfect time. A practicum student that was scheduled to work in Fall 2020 with InvestMidwest cancelled. We had no idea if we were going to be able to find a student for summer, and how we would manage an internship. Cortex submitted two project ideas to the CEL, and one was selected. I’ve worked with three CEL teams in the past, and knew that having a team of WashU Olin Business School students working on our project would help us get the information and results we need to move any of our projects forward.

What is your project about?

InvestMidwest is an annual investor forum that connects venture capital investors to Midwest startups in the life science, tech, ag/food and energy sectors. The 20-year-old event recently transitioned to Cortex’s management. This project was to research the outcomes of the 700+ companies that have participated in InvestMidwest. That data will support marketing efforts and guide selection criteria in the future. 

What was it like working with WashU Olin students?

Olin students are great workers. Some are working on their organization and leadership skills; others are gaining an understanding of project management and the progression of a research project. They are all fine tuning their professional skills, and it was great to support that process.

What advice would you give students on the cusp of graduating at this time in history?

I really feel for students graduating during an economic downturn. I experienced it myself, as well as watching students go through the 2008-2010 recession. I would encourage them to be diligent in trying to find a job in their field. Don’t give up! Volunteer at a not-for-profit to gain experience and meet people. Attend events, when we’re able to do that again. Talk to people you know, asking about opportunities. Even if it’s below your preferred salary level, you’ll have the opportunity to grow your field. It will be difficult to return to your field of interest a couple years down the road if you don’t have any experience when a fresh class of graduates is entering the work force too. 

What are you going to take with you from this experience?

This experience has been such a great reminder. I’ve worked with CEL teams in the past, and this reminded me how valuable these teams are. The research and analysis the students did was incredible—and it’s a good reminder to remember WashU Olin as a resource we can tap into.




Leaving her full-time, stable job to take a leap into entrepreneurship the day before a national shutdown isn’t what Jessica Landzberg (right), BSBA ’17, imagined for herself. But she and Olivia Bordson (left), BSBA ’15, are redefining the women’s clothing industry—and they couldn’t be happier with how it’s going.

After their respective graduations from WashU, Landzberg and Bordson each spent years working for traditional retail brands. But, Landzberg explained, “we started to feel disenchanted by this industry that we thought we’d be working in for the long run.”

Landzberg and Bordson found themselves in an endless cycle of “more”—more product, more new ideas, more frequent brand launches. It was uninspiring, frustrating and—perhaps worst of all—wasteful.

Enter Pareto: a new venture from the Olin grads that seeks to make the best versions of the clothes women wear. Named for the Pareto Principle, an economic phenomenon remarking on the incongruence of causes and effects, the shop operates on the assertion that women tend to wear 20% of their closet 80% of the time.

This realization, confirmed by speaking with friends and other women in their lives, “pushed us to take the leap and start our own company.”

A deliberate, thoughtful launch

Bordson and Landzberg are doing things intentionally, taking their time and releasing pieces that are built to last, comfortable and made with an all-American, short supply chain. They started on August 20, 2020 with a traditional T-shirt dress that can be dressed up or down. On November 20, they launched addition No. 2: a comfortable, durable crew neck sweater.

Pareto’s first and second wardrobe additions, the T-Shirt Dress and the Crew Neck Sweater

“If you have a really great T-shirt dress and a really great crew neck sweater, that already solves a ton of your wardrobe needs,” Bordson explained.

The COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t part of the plan—and it had the potential to change everything. But, in fact, the pair see the pandemic as simply accelerating what they already predicted.

“Long before today, we started to see this scary but inevitable reevaluation of what ‘normal’ looked like in consumerism,” Landzberg explained. “There’s this juxtaposition between industry actors who force brands to rely on endless product development, and consumers who are starting to question whether they really need to endlessly buy more.”

Anticipating a consumer trend?

The pandemic and resulting economic scares accelerated this reevaluation; in-store shopping came to a halt, and brands started to face harsh financial realities as consumers rethought their buying habits. The pair imagined that a brand focused on simple, sustainable and basic pieces meant to last could be the solution.

And that solution is rooted in a rethinking of growth, defined through values-based, data-driven habits. “We’re telling our community a story about every hand that has touched each one of our pieces,” Bordson explained.

That’s not an easy way to do business—and plenty have said so along the way. Bordson and Landzberg know their focus on sustainability, creating fewer, more purposeful pieces and making each of those pieces perfect is more expensive and time consuming. But with a capital-efficient model and a focus on what the consumer wants, they’re confident in their success.

So far, that’s been working for them: the company sold through 75% of their inventory in the first month post-launch. Bordson sees this as just the beginning: “We have an amazing, diverse set of customers from 20+ states. Many who initially bought the T-Shirt Dress in black already came back and bought it in gray because they found themselves wearing it day after day. That’s the best measure of success for us!”

“Growth doesn’t have to come from more product, more often,” Landzberg explained. “We’re going to be deliberate in the way we grow while staying true to our core mission. We’re excited to rewrite the playbook on what growth means.”




A student team from the CEL meets to discuss a project (photographed before the pandemic).

In one project, WashU Olin students developed a new and untested go-to-market strategy for a St. Louis-area startup—plus, they identified additional opportunities within the company’s existing strategy.

In another, students worked with a different startup to organize and segment thousands of contacts in the company’s database, helping to target the contacts most likely to be converted to customers.

The two cases are examples drawn from one of WashU Olin’s newest courses, the Marketing Clinic for Startups, launched in spring 2020 and taught by Michael Wall, professor of practice in marketing and entrepreneurship.

“The class creates an opportunity for students to work on a half-semester practicum focused on helping real-life St. Louis startups tackle their sales and marketing challenges,” Wall said. “The inaugural class went incredibly well.”

The course aligns both with Olin’s focus on its strategic pillars of excellence—particularly those around values-based, data-driven decision-making and entrepreneurship—and on WashU’s broader focus on serving the greater St. Louis community.

The course is something of a counterpart to an existing class offered through Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning, the Metrics Clinic in Finance. Both task teams of students to work with startup companies to tackle real-world problems.

“We received great insights in the new market as well as validation on our current strategies,” said Fady Hawatmeh, founder and CEO of Clockwork, which uses artificial intelligence to create a customizable tool for businesses to create financial projections, cash flow forecasts, metrics and scenarios all in one place, in real-time.

Hawatmeh was among the startups that participated with student teams in the debut of the Marketing Clinic for Startups. His team worked on go-to-market recommendations. “We’ve made some adjustments based on the team’s findings to our marketing material and our content strategy.”

Fridaouss Nabine was also a client. She’s a mentoring expert and founder of Fyrst Gen, an online platform built to help first-generation college students and business professionals promote their businesses, build their personal brands and connect with other “first gens.”

“The recommendations were extremely helpful in determining our ideal customer profile and segmenting accordingly,” Nabine said. “While we didn’t build the contact-rating system they suggested, we cleaned the list to prioritize those who were most likely to convert to customers.”

Both entrepreneurs connected with Wall and the CEL through the St. Louis region’s startup network—Hawatmeh, through the Arch Grants startup competition, which provides funding for locally based startups, and Nabine through the CEL’s relationship with the T-Rex business incubator, where she is based. Wall is continuing to look for new project opportunities within the St. Louis startup ecosystem.

Wall also said the course is now open BSBA students, as well as marketing and entrepreneurship students in the MBA programs, “so, it’s a course for all Olin programs which is pretty exciting.”

Pictured above: A student team from the CEL meets to discuss a project (photographed before the pandemic).