Tag: Entrepreneurship

When nearly 100 WashU Olin full-time MBA students spanned the globe this year to launch their studies, they started with a strong dose of the entrepreneurial spirit—and they carried it with them through the 38-day journey.

As students recount in the attached video, a portion of their global studies included an examination of entrepreneurship and whether a startup dining concept in St. Louis would translate overseas in the competitive market of Shanghai.

Tyler Edwards, MBA ’21, was one of the students on the global immersion. He’s eager to work in a field where he can help entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses. Here are a few of his reflections since returning to the United States and diving into his core classes this semester.

In retrospect, weeks past your return from China, can you describe how the global immersion has influenced your approach to class?

The global immersion was a great way to ease students into the class format at WashU Olin. This experience has given me momentum and familiarity when approaching my courses. From our time abroad, I now look at cases from the point of view of a student, a client and as a consultant.

Rather than seeking the answers to case issues, I’m thinking about alternative routes of strategy and decision making on the business side, and applying what I know outside of class into the dialogue to better shape my experience.

I don’t think I’d be in the same position if I were only two months into school rather than having experienced the global immersion.

What did you gain from the experience that you’ve been able to apply already—particularly as it might related to your interest in entrepreneurship?

I’ve been able to gain perspective on client expectations in short-term projects and executables. The global immersion was a crash course in executing very short-term projects for clients in fields that we know very little about.

Taking these experiences out of the classroom, I have enhanced my abilities to synthesize company goals and founder visions quickly, and produce solutions that align with those visions and goals. This enhanced ability to dive into projects and get hands-on quickly has been a great addition to my experience.

Have you been able to use this experience yet in any preparation for your career next step?

I have been able to point to these experiences in my interviews and conversations with employers. It’s great to have the experience of helping an entrepreneur explore a completely different country and market in the manner that the global immersion program exposed us.

Employers are blown away when I can tell them about client empathy and customer research when I tell them about figuring out whether customers in Shanghai would eat sugary donuts. These experiences are great for applicability in problem solving, and provide for a great story to break the ice.

See a playlist of other short videos capturing the experience and outcomes for students on the 2019 full-time MBA global immersion.




WashU Olin Business School placed first globally for its MBA entrepreneurship program, according to a first-ever ranking of such programs from leading business magazine, Inc., released on Monday, October 28.

The magazine’s ranking, powered by Poets & Quants, evaluated a long list of statistics and program details—including metrics such as the percentage of recent graduates in startups or venture capital jobs, the number of entrepreneurship-oriented courses and funding raised at startups founded by recent MBA graduates.

After WashU Olin, Stanford, Babson College, the University of Michigan and ESADE rounded out the top five entrepreneurship programs in the Inc./P&Q ranking. Twenty-seven schools were included in this inaugural ranking, all but three US-based.

“It may come as little surprise that atop the list is the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis,” the ranking’s authors wrote. “From 2016 to 2018, some 20.7% of Olin MBAs launched companies within three months of graduation — more than any other ranked school.”

Dean Mark P. Taylor lauded the results as good news for Olin students, prospective students and the alumni community.

“This ranking affirms the focus and priority we place on entrepreneurship at Olin,” Taylor said. “As always, our challenge is to maintain our momentum. Making entrepreneurship a key pillar of our strategic plan means we’re well-positioned to do so.”

Experiential focus

Olin’s 2018 strategic plan articulated four “pillars of excellence” defining the program we want to offer: entrepreneurial, values-based and data-driven, global and experiential.

“In eight months at Olin, I went from a loose idea to attracting paying customers and have now been running a profitable venture-backed company since graduation,” said Megan Berry, MArch ’15, MBA ’15, founder of By REVEAL, which creates customized pop-up boutiques for retailers looking to reach customers where they are.

The Inc./P&Q ranking comes on the heels of another analysis that offered good news for Olin: an independent review of Crunchbase business directory data showed WashU Olin had the world’s highest percentage of female startup founders among its alumni. Those Olin women secured the world’s highest average funding amounts for their startups.

“The entrepreneurial spirit runs deep here at Olin,” said Doug Villhard, professor of practice and academic director of the entrepreneurship platform. “All day long, we’re teaching people how to fall in love with problems—and how to do something about them. We have a unique ecosystem to support their work both on campus and in St. Louis.

Berry added: “I am tremendously grateful to Olin and cannot thank the faculty enough their passion in developing the next generation of leaders and generosity in time and connections that are instrumental to budding entrepreneurs.”

Affirming our work

The ranking was particularly gratifying for Villhard’s predecessor, Cliff Holekamp, who launched the entrepreneurship platform at Olin 12 years ago and retired in June to focus on his venture capital company.

“With Dean Taylor’s arrival and the new strategic plan we developed, we made the conscious decision to move entrepreneurship from a subspecialty to a key part of the program,” Holekamp said. “The key to maintaining our ranking is recognizing that entrepreneurship and innovation is an educational foundation for all Olin students, not only the entrepreneurship majors.”

Villhard added: “We also like to practice what we teach in thinking innovatively and entrepreneurially, and many of the key strategic initiatives at Olin—such as our new global immersion MBA program—may be viewed as entrepreneurial in spirit.”

Inc. used an analysis of data gathered by Poets & Quants for the new ranking, which was based on surveys of educators at eligible schools. The 33-question survey gauged metrics such as seed funding available for student-launched startups, the percentage of students who take at least one entrepreneurship course and the percentage of student-run clubs. The magazine also looked at the amount of related faculty research and a survey of entrepreneurship directors ranking their top programs.

“To measure the best, we first consulted with entrepreneurship directors at some of the world’s top B-schools to come up with an authoritative approach,” the ranking authors wrote. “Those consultations resulted in a ranking that takes into account 10 metrics.”

Additional insights from the ranking

Where Olin ranked in specific categories:




WashU Olin had the world’s highest percentage of female startup founders among its alumni, and their firms drew the highest average funding among any business school globally, according to an analysis done for business banking app Tide.

A review of the backgrounds of nearly 80,000 entrepreneurs found that 26.1% of startup founders from WashU Olin were women. In second place, 16.8% of startup founders with a Harvard Business School credential were women.

Women-led startups with an Olin credential have secured an average of $71.2 million in funding—more than any other school in the world—followed by female grads from Canada’s York University, who attracted an average of $54.5 million for their firms.

The analysis for the UK-based banking application provider was part of a “Pioneering Women” marketing campaign distributed this month. The analysis used the backgrounds of 72,200 men and 6,940 women in the Crunchbase directory of public and private company data, finding that female-founded companies received 17% or $8 billion of all venture dollars in the first quarter of 2019.

“While that might seem low, there’s a different record of success when it comes to the making of female founders,” the firm said on its Pioneering Women website. The analysis looked at firms that received more than $1 million in funding using Crunchbase data that was current as of July 3, 2019.

WashU officials noted that Olin and the university have a variety of programs that encourage and reward entrepreneurship. They credit the persistence of female students and the existence of a strong culture of entrepreneurship education and preparation for pitch competitions for drawing motivated students—both male and female.

“New entrepreneurs are inspired daily at WashU Olin and we are inspired as well from them,” said Doug Villhard, director of Olin’s entrepreneurship platform. “I can tell you many, many more are on the way.”

Percent of female startup founders

Source: Analysis of Crunchbase data for business banking app Tide.

Through the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Education and Entrepreneurship, WashU hosts a number of pitch competitions and women-focused entrepreneurship events such as the Helping Entrepreneurs Rise (HER) Summit in November 2018. The second year of that summit will be on campus October 2019 and is part of the Skandalaris Center’s Simon Initiative for Women Entrepreneurs. Skandalaris also recently hosted Ascend 2020 IdeaBounce, a pitch competition targeting women and minority innovators.

“While we don’t have separate prizes for women founders, we provide guidance to our judging pool to ensure unconscious bias is set aside during our competitions,” said II Luscri, WashU assistant vice provost for innovation and entrepreneurship and managing director of Skandalaris. “Diversity exists across the board and across all efforts, in not only the entrepreneurs, but also our speakers, judges, mentors and more.”

The report confirms an earlier analysis from several years ago showing WashU women had founded more than 40% of successful companies started through the university’s business entrepreneurship courses.

The analysis included female founders receiving 5,670 degrees from 1,447 higher education institutions. In raw numbers, Harvard led the pack: 160 female startup founders had an HBS degree. Harvard also led in terms of raw dollars invested into women-owned startups: a total of $4.6 billion was invested in startups led by women from Harvard.

Average investment among women-led startup firms

Source: Analysis of Crunchbase data for business banking app Tide.

But WashU Olin was the leader in terms of the proportion of women entrepreneurs and the average dollar amount invested in women-led firms. The research was designed to quantify the role of women in founding startups, but also to “discover their paths to success.”

A few other noteworthy numbers from the analysis of Crunchbase data:

  • Vietnam had the highest percentage of female founders (17.1%), but women-led US firms drew the most investment internationally, totaling $85.5 billion.
  • China had the highest average investment globally among women-led firms at $127.2 million.
  • In the United States, Hawaii had the highest percentage of female founders (19.4%).
  • California startups led by women drew the most investment ($38.6 billion) while Georgia saw an average of $82.2 million poured into women-led firms.



Doug Villhard kept two sets of notebooks while he worked toward the WashU Olin MBA he earned in 2014—after he’d already established himself as a serial entrepreneur.

In one notebook, Villhard kept track of the course content so he’d be ready to apply the lessons to his businesses. In the other, he tracked his professors’ best teaching practices because one day, he hoped, he’d get to apply those lessons in his own classroom.

The day has arrived.

On July 1, Villhard began as Olin’s newest professor of practice in entrepreneurship and academic director for entrepreneurship for the business school. He replaces Clifford Holekamp, who originated the role 11 and a half years ago and retired last month.

“This wasn’t just happenstance for me,” Villhard said. “I’ve always loved teaching and working with students. This has always been my lifelong dream even before the success I’ve had in business.”

Success, indeed. Villhard is co-founder and president of Second Street, a St. Louis-based audience engagement platform that provides services to thousands of mostly media-related companies, including Gannett, CBS, Gatehouse Media and Sinclair Broadcast Group.

At the same time, he’s a partner with his brother in Villhard Growth Partners, a private equity firm that invests in, partners with and grows strong, tech-enabled business and healthcare services companies. All that after being involved in two other startups and serving as managing director for a technology consulting firm.

This fall, Villhard will start by teaching the CELect course with the Center for Experiential Learning—a hands-on course in which students consult with startups in the community. Though it’s not Villhard’s first foray into the classroom—he’s taught at Truman State and the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship—he’s looking forward to working with Olin professors he learned from as a student.

‘Keep doing the good’

Mahendra Gupta taught cost accounting and he would ask students for feedback, and the next class session he would reveal whatever they said, unedited. Mahendra said, ‘I am going to keep doing the good and stop doing the bad and improve on the rest,'” Villhard recalled. “That’s also the way I run my businesses. It’s part of the process—to get iteratively better.”

He fondly recalls picking up tips from all the Olin faculty members including Todd Milbourn, Barton Hamilton, Ron King and Sam Chun. And he’s delighted Holekamp has agreed to continue as a mentor as well. “Even though Cliff wasn’t a professor of mine,” Villhard said, “he is so closely identified with the local entrepreneurship community and I’ve always admired his work championing entrepreneurship in St. Louis.”

Villhard sees his arrival on Olin’s faculty as an extension of what he absorbed while a student: learn, earn and then return. He’s been a WashU donor and an employer of students, and now he’s proud to have the opportunity to influence the incoming generations of startup gurus and entrepreneurs.

“I’ve employed the graduates of this school for more than a decade, and they’re brilliant and motivated and exceptional,” he said. “To me, entrepreneurship is simply about solving problems. Thus, I love being around the kind of thinkers that are attracted to WashU.”




At a farewell reception in his honor, Cliff Holekamp greets Mahendra Gupta, the former Olin dean who hired him as the first full-time entrepreneurship professor for the business school.

Since starting work on his MBA at WashU Olin in 1999, Cliff Holekamp’s career has been deeply entwined with the campus.

Now, after he launched a startup as a student, earned that MBA in 2001, joined the faculty in 2008, taught entrepreneurship for nearly 12 years, started 14 courses in the discipline and helped more than 200 students launch their own startups, Holekamp says it’s time to disentangle himself from Olin.

Holekamp is retiring from his teaching post effective June 30 to work full-time at Cultivation Capital, the St. Louis-based venture capital firm he cofounded. Work there, he says, has become too consuming to fully focus on both that and his teaching responsibilities.

“I didn’t want to be the guy who is here in body, but not in spirit,” Holekamp said from his office in Simon Hall. “I wanted to leave knowing that I put everything into my job here every day.”

The news sparked an outpouring of reaction from former students, who praised Holekamp’s passion for their ideas and the way he urged them to test themselves.

“In him, I have found a champion—someone who believes in me and challenges me to surpass my own expectations,” said Nisa Qais, AB ’12, founder of Arya Mental Health, a San Francisco-based nonprofit. “He has been a defining highlight of my WashU experience, and I am beyond grateful for his continued presence in my life.”

Chisom Uche, AB ’10, who minored in entrepreneurship, added that “Cliff’s classes were unlike any I had taken. They tested not only creativity, but also the ability to execute within a team. Ultimately, Cliff’s classes prepared leaders for the real world.”

Getting real

Holekamp dove into “the real world” in the midst of his own MBA education when he founded a startup called Foot Healers, a one-stop shop for podiatric care. He later sold the business, though he remains connected as an adviser.

At the time, Olin Professor Bart Hamilton was teaching entrepreneurship part-time when the school offered only two courses—an introductory class and the Hatchery, designed as a launchpad for student startups. Hamilton brought on Holekamp as an adjunct to take on the intro course. He took on the Hatchery course when the instructor took ill.

Soon, former Dean Mahendra Gupta asked Holekamp to join the faculty full-time as Olin’s first dedicated entrepreneurship professor. He never looked back.

He codeveloped the entrepreneurship minor at WashU, pioneered off-campus courses with St. Louis’s Cortex and T-Rex incubators, advised senior campus leaders on entrepreneurship education, participated in searches for the Skandalaris Center’s director and the Olin dean (leading to Mark Taylor’s appointment) and a long list of other accomplishments.

“Cliff has made significant contributions to Olin,” Dean Taylor said in a tribute at Holekamp’s retirement reception. “Cultivation Capital’s gain is our great loss.”

“The school has been amazing in giving me the autonomy to build the entrepreneurship program and the freedom to collaborate with the other WashU schools and the community,” Holekamp said. “They saw the value of entrepreneurship for our students and for the strategy of the school.”

What’s endured, what’s changed

Reflecting on changes at the business school since he started, Holekamp still appreciates the intimate class sizes and personal relationship faculty members cultivate with students. At the same time, he’s thrilled at the expansion of courses, the early efforts to integrate entrepreneurship in the curriculum and the immersion of global experiences in courses and practicum projects. That’s an innovation he credits to the model pioneered in the weeklong venture consulting in Budapest course he launched.

“Getting entrepreneurship adopted as one of the four strategic pillars of the school is the capstone of my work at Olin,” Holekamp said. “We have worked to add the courses and programs needed to raise our entrepreneurship program from unranked to seventh in the country. The next phase will be to integrate entrepreneurship and innovation perspectives throughout the entire curriculum.”

Student reactions

“Cliff is a champion for his students and an ambassador for the road less traveled. While many of my classmates were pursuing more traditional post-MBA jobs, through Cliff’s guidance I was able to learn about career paths in the startup community.” Elise Hoffman, AB 2011, MBA 2016, principal at Cultivation Capital.

“He has always been direct, unambiguous and insightful when providing guidance or critique. I’ve worked with him for about five years at Cultivation Capital and Wash U (as a student and then employee) and his thoughts and opinions are always interesting to hear as they are very well formulated and succinct.” Matt Plummer, MBA ’18, principal, The Yield Lab.

“Cliff is like the ultimate matchmaker to connect people and talent in the WashU and STL startup space. As I was trying to grow a nonprofit, he helped me access resources I didn’t even realize existed.” Elise Hastings, MBA ’19, former managing director of Givable, transitioning after a move to Denver.

“Professor Clifford Holekamp is by far one of the most positive and powerful influence in my development as a young entrepreneur. No other professor has ever devoted such critical attention to my academic development, working with me to fine-tune my projects and offering feedback in ways that allowed me to mature.” Hannah Perl, BSBA ’17, account manager at Invisibly, a startup with Jim McKelvey.

Pictured above: At a farewell reception in his honor, Cliff Holekamp greets Mahendra Gupta, the former Olin dean who hired him as the first full-time entrepreneurship professor for the business school.




Three WashU students and a departing professor were honored at this month’s second Skandy Awards presentation by the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The awards featured remarks from Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton and recognition of honorees by II Luscri, Skandalaris Center Managing Director and Assistant Vice Provost for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Jessica Stanko, the Skandalaris Center Assistant Director of Programs.

Cliff Holekamp at the second Skandy Awards, where he was honored for excellence in service.

At the April 10 event, honorees included:

Arnav Kannan speaking with Chancellor Wrighton at the 2019 Skandy Awards.
  • Arnav Kannan, BSBA ’22, for creating video content that captures the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship at WashU, awarded a Skandy for creativity.
  • Ony Mgbeahurike, MBA ’19, founder of the Good Soul Company, and Danielle Wilsey, MBA ’20, founder of The Confluence, awarded Skandys for entrepreneurship.
  • And in special recognition, the Skandalaris Center recognized Olin Professor Clifford Holekamp, outgoing director of Olin’s entrepreneurship program and instructor for the Hatchery course. He was recognized with an “excellence in service” award for his work, noting that during his time at WashU, 50% of the businesses in the Hatchery have launched and 75% are still operating.

Read more about the event and other Skandy winners on the Skandalaris Center website.

Pictured above: Ony Mgbeahurike, Danielle Wilsey and II Luscri, Skandalaris Center Managing Director.