Tag: Entrepreneurship

Headshot of Daniel Schindler, CEO of Buoy.

Buoy, a consumer products brand that makes and markets hydration drops and was born in WashU Olin’s Hatchery business plan course, has closed a $2.5 million seed round that includes 50 angel investors—including Chris Paul, star point guard for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns.

“This wasn’t easy. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” said Daniel Schindler, CEO of Buoy, who began the business while he was an Olin student when it was called BetterTomorrow. Schindler announced the closing of the funding round in an email on May 2.

“We wouldn’t have gotten here without the help and support of so many people,” he said. Schindler, MBA 2019, thanked his older brother, Jordan Schindler, for guiding the company as a mentor in fundraising and networking. He also credited Craig Frischling and Kit McQuiston, the startup’s lead contacts at the New York Angel’s group, who Schindler said spent three months doing due diligence and connected his team with other investors on their behalf.

Buoy has developed a line of flavorless liquid supplements that can be added to any drink to foster hydration and overall health by helping people retain water.

In a 2022 company recap Schindler distributed in January, he said Buoy Energy Drops were available at all 936 CVS HealthHUB locations in new and improved retail packaging, and that the brand was available in about 3,500 CVS stores. Meanwhile, in 3,400 Walgreens stores, the company’s hydration drops and immunity drops became available in new retail packaging nationwide and on Walgreens.com.

For the calendar year, Buoy said it had $640,840 in revenue, with $251,000 from retail locations, $239,000 through Amazon, $81,000 in direct-to-consumer sales through its website and another $69,000 in business-to-business sales.

“Thank you to all our investors for your belief and support,” Schindler said in an email announcing the funding round. “What a journey it’s been, and we’ve only just begun.”

Clay Canfield knows a thing or two about making lemonade out of lemons. He had just completed his sophomore year at Washington University in St Louis when he decided to take a leave of absence to address what he described as “progressive mental health issues.” That two-year break could have become a permanent one for many students, but not Canfield. What he did next, ultimately, changed the course of his life.

Inspired to reciprocate some of the support that he received along the way, Canfield moved to California, where he worked in a sober living home—a halfway point between in-patient rehab centers and home—for 11 months. He also discovered a passion for entrepreneurship. Over a short time, he launched a series of startups, most of which failed but taught him practical business skills, he said.  

Today, Canfield is an accomplished business founder, with a five-year plan to make his app, Sobriety Hub, the “de facto choice” for sober living home operations. In May, he plans to add another achievement to his resume when he graduates with dual degrees in finance and entrepreneurship from Olin Business School.

Below, Canfield discusses his startup, his advice for student entrepreneurs and why he now calls St. Louis home.

Canfield with his mom, Mary Beth, after running the St. Louis half marathon.

Tell us about your startup, Sobriety Hub.

Sobriety Hub is operations software that helps sober living operators organize their businesses, save time and improve resident care.
What I found while working in a sober living home is that owners and managers have a lot to worry about, like rent collections, vacancies, drug test results, medications, referrals, resident relapses, employees, etc. They utilize a hodgepodge of paper forms, Google sheets and group texts to keep track of everything. Sobriety Hub streamlines operations and helps operators track recovery outcomes, which they can leverage to receive increased grant funding, benchmark against competition and improve quality of care.

You’re from Chicago but have chosen to stay in St. Louis to continue working on your business. Why?

I love St. Louis—it’s the people that make it special. There are so many great local mentors who are willing to get their hands dirty with you as long as you have good questions and are thoughtful. Two local mentors that have helped me tremendously are Doug Villhard (Olin professor of practice in entrepreneurship) and Katie Silversmith (Skandalaris Center in-residence expert). 

What advice do you have for other student entrepreneurs?

Start with something that’s feasible given the resources available and take steps to make it happen. I see so many “pie in the sky” ideas with attractive pitch decks and no traction. In school, we can theorize about big ideas, but everything changes when you start putting ideas into practice. Be a doer and start building whatever you’re passionate about. Your greatest resource at WashU is the other students, not money. My Sobriety Hub co-founder, Joey Lanfersieck, is a genius coder. He’s invested over 1,500 hours into Sobriety Hub simply because he loves the idea as much as I do. 

Photo: Whitney Curtis/Washington University, Illustration: Monica Duwel/Washington University

Pictured at top: The Olin Cup winning teams—Find It, left, and Papertrail, right—wrestle over the prize after tying in the competition on April 18.

Forty-two judges joined WashU Olin’s entrepreneurship team in celebrating student innovation on April 18 as eight finalists made startup pitches resulting in a first-place tie for the Olin Cup—a first in recent memory.

Meanwhile, more than 90 other teams competed for a piece of a $15,000 prize pool in Olin’s BIG IdeaBounce competition with pitches based on business ideas generated in the Hatchery program. The Olin entrepreneurship program attracted 55 judges to participate in that competition.

In the Olin Cup competition, eight finalists pitched and two emerged on top: PaperTrail (a car enthusiast record platform) and Find It (a platform to restore lost items to their owners using decorative QR code stickers).

Camille Devaney, BSBA 2025; Ethan Weilheimer, BS/EN 2025; Justin Moreno, BSBA 2023; and Maggie Croghan, BSBA 2023, were the team behind Find It. Meanwhile, the other Olin Cup-winning team included Kuo Wang, BS/EN/Master of engineering; Christian Robinson, BSBA 2026; Drew Kassman, business minor 2025; Andrew Padousis, BSBA 2025; and Jimmy Lancaster, BSBA/EN 2025, the team behind PaperTrail.

The two teams shared custody of the large Olin Cup trophy.

Winners were also named for undergraduate and graduate school teams in Olin’s BIG IdeaBounce competition. These teams competed for a share of the $15,000 prize pool.

The undergraduate team winner was ACHORD, a platform matching students to music
teachers based on connection factors. The grad team winner was Say, Hi!, an online platform
that connects people experiencing mental distress to licensed social workers, psychologists and
counselors around the world. Both teams won $3,000.

Second-prize entries won $1,250, third-prize entries received $750 and 10 runners-up got $500.

Pictured at top: The Olin Cup winning teams—Find It, left, and PaperTrail, right—wrestle over the prize after tying in the competition on April 18.

Society informs us that we should be able to become a business owner by ourselves, by studying YouTube videos and learning from the “school of life.” But while there are more learning resources available to us than ever before thanks to digital media, a program of study can still provide an exceptional launchpad for pursuing business and career goals.

So what can entrepreneurs actually gain from earning an MBA degree? How can an MBA help an entrepreneur build the best business they can?

How MBA programs aid aspiring and experienced entrepreneurs

Is an MBA worth it for entrepreneurs? This is a question we often face at Olin Business School. People who are creating businesses from scratch will wonder if they’re better off learning on the job or whether an MBA could offer their business a kick start.

First of all, an MBA degree can give aspiring leaders a mindset for business. Growing a company is more than an occupation, and Olin lives and breathes entrepreneurial spirit. The MBA isn’t just about learning how to solve a problem; it’s about examining the problem inside out, learning to love it and finding fulfillment in the solving of it.

Working on a startup idea while earning an MBA is an amazing combination. It gives you access to a willing alumni network to help, troubleshoot and crowdsource. It takes a village to raise a business, and you have a much better chance of finding a cofounder when you are surrounded by others with similar interests and who are in the same stage of their careers.

Does an MBA help you start a business? Absolutely. It all starts with developing a mindset. After that, the resources and tools we can give you as you build your entrepreneurial life are second to none.

What specific features of the Olin MBA can help entrepreneurs?

Olin’s MBA program is tuned into entrepreneurship and many of our features are purpose-built to help students form startups, not just learn about them. Here are a few noteworthy characteristics:

Famous for Hatchery

Olin has an entrepreneurship platform built purposefully to give students experiences of pitching venture capital, founding a company and getting ideas out onto the international stage. Students in Hatchery can work with experienced entrepreneurs to evolve a business plan, form a startup, and present their ventures to investors and venture capital experts. Since the Hatchery course was founded, the companies launched inside its incubator walls have raised a combined $87 million.

An eye for innovation

Olin itself is an environment that rewards and seeks innovation. Entrepreneurs will find that there are multiple courses in which you can workshop your own ideas. Take ideas further and you can enter pre-seed venture capital funds and competitions focused on student ideas. Olin’s BIG IdeaBounce® is one such opportunity—an elevator-pitch contest open to all WashU students. The Arch Grants is another competition that students regularly participate in, this time for a business plan. The winners receive $75,000 in startup grants to get their ideas off the ground.

A global edge

While the regional environment gives students plenty to get involved in, other opportunities draw them further afield to gain international business experience. Olin’s Venture Consulting in Israel and Berlin elective, for example, brings students the experience of startup consulting through a global lens. Through the CEL Entrepreneurial Consulting Team course, students can spend a semester working with early-stage startups in St. Louis, New York, San Francisco, and various international locations.

Local power

The entrepreneurial spirit of Olin is immersive. St. Louis is a highly entrepreneurial environment, and students of the MBA program can benefit from Olin’s connections beyond the classroom. Local entrepreneurs and executives are involved in many of our courses. Our Center for Experiential Learning is designed with this kind of on-the-ground mentorship in mind. Students can study consulting courses that take you inside an entrepreneurial venture and connect to innovation communities such as Cortex and T-REX, which are dedicated to powering local startups.

Our courses at Olin—from Venture Capital Methods to Acquisition Entrepreneurship to Managing the Innovation Process—show how invested and excited we are by the entrepreneurial world. You may think that as an entrepreneur, you need to “go it alone.” You do not. In a supported program full of opportunities to gain real-world experience, you could find a solid foothold for the next step of your career.

The team working on business recommendations for Laughing Bear Bakery through the Small Business Initiative at the Center for Experiential Learning.

A group of WashU Olin undergraduates cooked up a sweet selection of recommendations for a St. Louis-area bakery that provides a second chance for individuals who have been released from prison.

Laughing Bear Founder Kalen McAllister, left, inside the bakery with friends.

In their Small Business Initiative consulting project—through Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning—the students consulted with Laughing Bear Bakery, a mostly wholesale business located in St. Louis’ Tower Grove South neighborhood. The students—Grace Shen, BSBA 2025; Gavri Steiger, AB 2025; Jake Wolf, BSBA 2025; AJ Sann, BSBA 2024; and Oliver Every, BSBA 2025—were charged with working with the bakery’s founders to suggest ways to make the nonprofit more sustainable.

“From our first meeting, it was apparent that at the heart of the business was a social cause” Steiger said during a recent in-person presentation to the founders at Olin. “We thought there were things on the business end that could match the passion of their social commitment.”

Laughing Bear in St. Louis’ Tower Grove South neighborhood (courtesy of Laughing Bear board member Eric Satterfield)

The students visited Laughing Bear—which was featured in an NBC-TV Today Show video in November 2022—to meet with founder and former prison chaplain Kalen McAllister, along with other employees and board members. The students dug deep into the bakery’s pricing model, its sales and expenses, its product lineup and its marketing. A good deal of the work was aimed at putting order to a business model—critical to the nonprofit’s ability to apply for grant funding.

“It was super fun to work with an actual business. I really love talking to the founders of businesses. I was lucky and happy to do it,” Shen said. “People our age often don’t get the chance to contribute in such a meaningful way.” Through their analysis, the students developed “price sensitivity models” to adjust the bakery’s work to seasonal needs and a five-year growth plan.

At work in the bakery

They also proposed a “donation cookie”—a product customers could buy, and enjoy, while effectively donating to Laughing Bear’s cause.

“A lot of people miss the fact that not all business are the same,” said Mike Whipkey, a member of Laughing Bear’s board of directors, who watched the students’ presentation. “A lot of the time, people get good advice, but it’s delivered really badly, and these guys understood that.”

Members of the student team stressed how thrilled they were to make a real-world contribution to a cause-oriented business they could get behind.

“Being able to give insights to people who may not have a business background, but can benefit from something I learned in class — that was really exciting for us,” Sann said.

Pictured above, from left: Mike Whipkey, Jake Wolf, AJ Sann, Oliver Every, Gavri Steiger and Grace Shen.

Doug Villhard is a serial entrepreneur, investor, Olin’s academic director for entrepreneurship, a philanthropist—and now an author.

Company of Women, his first book, published November 15 and is live on Amazon. The 364-page historical novel is based on the real-life E.G. Lewis. At the time of the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Lewis was an early advocate for a woman’s right to vote and owned the largest women’s magazine in the world—until he ran afoul of a government conspiracy reaching up to President Teddy Roosevelt.

“As an entrepreneurship professor and as an entrepreneur, I fell in love with this story,” Villhard said in an interview.


Like Villhard, Lewis is an entrepreneur whose mind is always spinning with ideas. His Woman’s Magazine employed a multitude of women and reached nearly every household in the country. It was based in an octagonal, domed building Lewis had built that is now University City’s City Hall.

Lewis came to St. Louis in the late 1890s selling dubious products to kill insects. As his wealth and influence grew, temptations challenged his family, coworkers and his marriage. Luckily, he had strong, smart women in his circle.

“I think he had one of the most entrepreneurial minds and creative minds that I that I’ve ever encountered,” said Villhard, who last year sold a company he cofounded. “The more I researched him, the more I couldn’t believe no one had ever written a book about him. I felt like this was a story that needed to be told. It also lets me weave in the major themes that I teach in class, too.”

“Feedback is a gift” is one theme, and Villhard takes it to heart. At his request, 20 people read his manuscript. He asked them to tell them everything they liked and everything they didn’t like. “And that led to a wonderful revision,” he said.

Fall in love with the customers’ problems

Another theme is to fall in love with the customers’ problems.

“We teach at Olin if you try to chase money, you’ll never get it,” Villhard said. “You have to fall in love with the customers’ problems. You also have to fall in love with your own team and make sure you create an awesome environment in which they want to work. And then the rest works itself out. And Lewis was a guy who was obsessed with his customers.”

In the early 1900’s, nearly two-thirds of Americans lived on farms. The postal system had just been expanded, allowing Woman’s Magazine to connect with those rural households.

“Women on these farms had money, by the way. They wanted to participate in the economy. And Lewis saw this as an opportunity,” Villhard said. Based on Lewis’ earlier experience selling door-to-door, he realized that they wanted goods and services for themselves, their kids and their households just as much as city folks did. “He wanted to bridge that gap.”

Ninety percent of startups fail because “they literally make something that nobody wants because they don’t go out and talk to customers,” Villhard said. “And Lewis’ whole philosophy, and my whole philosophy and really the modern way of teaching entrepreneurship, is no other opinion matters than the customer’s.

“E.G. Lewis was somebody who figured that out early.”