Tag: Entrepreneurship

Alexis Taub, BSBA

Next in a series of Olin Blog features on recent alumni.

Alexis Taub, BSBA ’15, worked in finance until the pandemic hit, and she pivoted into entrepreneurship, launching her own jewelry company and marketing her products to retail stores, designers and social influencers. Without that nudge, she might not have ever tested her entrepreneurial spirit.

What are you doing for work now, and how did your Olin education impact your career?

Last year, I joined my mom’s jewelry manufacturing business, Madison 501, and started my own jewelry company, Alexis Jae Jewelry. At Madison 501, we manufacture fine jewelry for some of the nation’s largest retail stores, designers and social influencers.

Through Alexis Jae Jewelry, customers can purchase fine jewelry at up to 50% off traditional retail prices. My education at Olin exposed me to all aspects of a business. I learned everything from supply chain to marketing. Having a broad understanding of everything business is valuable every day. Whether speaking to our accountants or marketers, I can understand the concepts they are discussing because of the courses I took at Olin.

What Olin course, “defining moment” or faculty influenced your life most, and why?

The most influential course I took was Business in Israel. Over spring break, we visited many companies in Israel, from small start-ups to large intuitions. After that trip, I knew I would eventually start my own business.

How do you stay engaged with Olin or classmates and friends?

I made some of my closest friends in Olin, whom I speak to almost daily.

Why is business education important?

My favorite classes that I took were all in Olin. My Olin classes gave me the skills I needed for my first and subsequent jobs. I learned practical skills that I apply to everyday life.

What advice would you give current Olin students?

Use your time at Olin to figure out what excites you most. There are so many different types of classes and areas to explore. Go in with an open mind in terms of your career to figure out what you’re most passionate about.

Did the pandemic influence your thinking about global business or your career?

Up until the pandemic, I was working in finance. Since recreational activities were limited during the pandemic, I spent my free time working on Alexis Jae Jewelry. I grew Alexis Jae to the point that it was sustainable to do it full time. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, I’m not sure I would have ever taken the time to start a side business while at my job, but I am so happy I did.

Iconic image representing startup funding: coins stacked in ascending heights from left to right with a plant sprouting from the highest stack.

Staggeringly disproportionate startup funding available to founders who are women or underrepresented minorities has inspired the next project by the Olin Brookings Commission.

Doug Villhard

Scholars from WashU Olin Business School and the Brookings Institution have recruited a new seven-member commission—comprised of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and public policy experts—to develop policy-based solutions for the historically lopsided funding support available to underrepresented minorities and women.

Consider these numbers:

  • Women represent 50.5% of the US population, yet recent reports suggest only 2% of venture capital money went to female founders in 2021.
  • Individuals identifying as Black or African American represent 13.6% of the US population, but Black founders received only about 1% of venture financing in 2020 and 1.4% in 2021
  • Individuals identifying as Hispanic or Latinx represent 18.9% of the US population, yet data from Crunchbase, a database of startup funding, suggests Hispanic or Latinx founders receive only about 2% of venture funding.

“This short-changes not only underrepresented founders but also the vitality of the entire innovation community,” said Doug Villhard, faculty commission chair and director of WashU Olin’s entrepreneurship program. “Rather than simply talk about the past, this commission intends to identify meaningful public policy solutions to drive more equitable funding, unlock more potential and further spur our economy.”

Continuation of key partnership

Dedric Carter
Dedric Carter

The project is the second backed by a $750,000 grant to WashU Olin from The Bellwether Foundation. The grant called for three separate annual commissions—formed jointly with Brookings—tackling “megatrend” issues affecting the quality of life in the region and across the country.

The first Olin Brookings Commission project concluded in April. Participants developed an artificial intelligence-driven tool to flag suspicious shipments of prescription opioids and developed policy recommendations designed to empower the tool’s use among federal agencies, law enforcement and industry.

Gisele Marcus
Gisele Marcus

Among the initiatives the 2022-23 commission will undertake will be a national conference of researchers presenting work focused on unearthing the root causes for disproportionate funding and informing any potential public and private policy solutions to address the yawning gap.

That conference is planned for November at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. The conference organizing committee is chaired by Olin’s Daniel Elfenbein, professor of organization and strategy.

Informed by veteran innovators

Dan Elfeinbein
Dan Elfeinbein

In addition to Villhard and Elfenbein, the project will be led by WashU faculty members Dedric Carter, Olin’s professor of practice in entrepreneurship and WashU’s vice chancellor for innovation and chief commercialization officer; and Gisele Marcus, professor of practice, diversity, equity and inclusion.

A key component of the Bellwether funding calls for student involvement. Ming zhu Wang, a fifth-year Olin PhD student in strategy, will organize related research, along with five MBA entrepreneurship fellows who will assist with planning, research and feedback.

A nine-member commission has been named to oversee and guide the project while providing input and insight from the perspective of innovation practitioners. Members include:

In the next 10 months, commission members will collect and distill data and industry input over several meetings—including the November conference—with plans to release a comprehensive report of its findings and recommendations by April 2023.

A startup firm promoting clean bodily hydration, launched on campus by Daniel Schindler, has thrown its support and resources behind those with chronic illnesses with discounts and a new short video on the topic that premiered recently in Los Angeles.

Daniel Schindler

The video called “To Be Seen” features four social media influencers—Renee Welch, Ash Levi, Dom Snyder and Paula Sojo. Produced by the startup hydration firm Buoy, the four creators play the role of students in a quirky and playful narrative showing how their characters cope with the isolation caused by their illnesses. The illnesses portrayed include inflammatory bowel disease, POTS, ulcerative colitis and type 1 diabetes.

“After talking to so many people living with chronic illnesses, we realized a huge problem: They feel invisible,” said Schindler, MBA ’19, CEO/co-founder of Buoy. “We wanted to do our part to support this community by making this video to spread awareness and show others what it’s truly like to live with a chronic illness.”

Schindler said the Buoy founding team was inspired to take on the project by customers who reached out with stories about their chronic illnesses—and how much Buoy had helped them.

“Because they make up such a big part of our customer base, we decided to devote all of our philanthropy and our first marketing campaign to these groups of people,” he said.

The company premiered the video on July 30, 2022, with a party at the Melrose Rooftop Theatre in Los Angeles. Producers filmed the nearly seven-minute film on 16 mm motion picture stock while highlighting the four TikTok creators spotlighting what it’s like to navigate life and high school with a chronic illness.

Buoy spotlights the issue on its website and offers those dealing with chronic illnesses a 35% lifetime discount on its products. For every bottle of Buoy’s products sold on its website, the company gives one back to someone who is living with a chronic illness.

“We’ve received an incredible response from everyone in the chronic illness community,” Schindler said.

Buoy launched originally under the brand “Better Tomorrow” in March 2017. The firm makes and markets fluid supplements to promote better hydration.

The nearly seven-minute video by Buoy called “To Be Seen.”

Ten years ago, Jacob Goodman, BSBA ’15, and his fraternity brother Josh Arbit, BSBA ’13, were students at WashU.

And, at the time, Fresh Prints was a failing clothing company that sold fraternity, sorority and college-branded merchandise.

Using Arbit’s bar mitzvah money, the friends bought the company for $16,000.

Today, Fresh Prints has 290 full-time employees and annual revenue of $40 million. Jolijt Tamanaha, a WashU BA ’15 who minored in writing and marketing, came on as the third co-owner in 2015.

An article in the July issue of Entrepreneur explains, in five steps, how they did it. Check it out.

Photo: Fresh Prints owners (from left) Josh Arbit, Jolijt Tamanaha and Jacob Goodman. (Courtesy of Fresh Prints)

Seventeen WashU Olin student-led startup firms each received a $1,000 grant from the Holekamp Seed Fund over the past academic year. The grant program, initiated in 2018, has granted a total of $44,000 to 40 companies since then.

The program is the brainchild of Cliff Holekamp, MBA ’01, Olin’s former professor of practice and academic director for entrepreneurship. The program is built to provide up to 20 grants each year thanks to a $500,000 gift from Holekamp and his father Bill Holekamp.

“It’s exciting to see not just student interest in the Holekamp Seed Fund doubling but also the continued excitement and energy around entrepreneurship at Olin and WashU,” Cliff Holekamp said of the 2022 grantees. “WashU students have exceptional and big ideas to change the world. We’re proud to be the first money in to support them.”

The number of applications doubled from 11 to 22 year-over-year, with grantees rising from 10 to 17.

Grant applications are evaluated by a panel that includes Holekamp and Doug Villhard, Olin’s professor of practice and academic director for entrepreneurship. The four-member panel also includes II Luscri, assistant vice provost for innovation and entrepreneurship, and director of the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship; and Elise Miller Hoffman, AB ’11/MBA ’16, and a general partner at Cultivation Capital, Holekamp’s venture capital firm.

“We encourage students to courageously move beyond the brainstorming phase, by turning their ideas into action and their concept into a company,” Hoffman said. “It’s my pleasure to review their applications, offer advice and seed the next generation of innovation. Our students are beyond inspiring.”

The 2022 Holekamp Seed fund recipients include:

  • St. Louis Consulting Group, Samuel Holliday, MBA ’23
  • bonhome, Jacob Wise, MD ’23/MBA ’23
  • Ice Cream for Bears, Tim Berg, MBA ’22
  • Closet Switch, Chiara Munzi, AB ’23
  • Vulvopedia, Najjuwah Walden, PhD/MSW ’18
  • NXTUP, Nathan Genstein, MBA ’22
  • SpanAbility, Ritvik Illindala, EN ’23
  • SpeakIT, Kai Skallerud, AB ’17/MBA ’22
  • VertiGreens, Dave Kanoff, BSBA ’12/MBA ’22, and Tova Feinberg, MBA ’22
  • Got Sure, Felipe Cuartas, MBA ’22
  • Utter, Justin Matthews, MBA ’23
  • Lyfe Health, Tony Sims, BSBA ’23
  • The pcBEE, Tyler Richards, BSEE ’22
  • Pool, Rebecca Brosch, PMBA 51, and Sarah Ramrup, PMBA
  • Sobriety Hub, Clayton Canfield, BSBA ’23

“We’re fortunate to have supporters like the Holekamp family and alumni like Elise who are passionate about Olin, WashU and our students,” Villhard said. “What a wonderful example of how a donor can really impact our students and help to encourage their dreams and career trajectory.”

Tim Berg, MBA

You might say this partnership is just the bees’ knees. Two Olin alums have joined forces thanks to a common ingredient between their two products: honey.

Cam Loyet, PMBA ’21, and cofounder of Honeymoon Chocolates, has partnered with Timothy Berg, MBA ’22, founder of Ice Cream for Bears. Both promote the benefits of honey as the sweetening agent in their respective confections.

The two companies are selling out of the same Clayton, Missouri, storefront.

“Honey is having a moment,” Berg said. “Consumers are educated on it and looking for it. Products that are sweetened only with honey are just starting to appear though, so I feel like our companies are hopping into the ring at a perfect time.”

Loyet’s chocolate brand opened its first retail location in January not far from the WashU campus in nearby Clayton at 16 N. Central Ave. As of now, Berg is scooping his ice cream from the same location as the two honey-based companies use their hive minds to stick together and work smart. He said it was “an amazing opportunity to get valuable exposure for our very young product.”

“It’s always fun watching students take their startups from the classroom and apply them in the real world,” said Doug Villhard, the academic director for Olin’s entrepreneurship program, who coached both startup founders. “Especially when two WashU MBA entrepreneurs partner on a honey of an idea.”

Loyet said the partnership emerged because he and Berg have like-minded products with a focus on sourcing sustainable honey. They’ve shared contacts from the location where they source their honey—Jeff Weaver, an apiarist in Bourbon, Missouri. He said both he and Berg found a lot of support in launching and testing new products in St. Louis.

“I personally see this as a long-term collaboration—as long as we can both continue to find honey,” Loyet said. He credits his collaboration with Villhard and the WashU community for helping get Honeymoon Chocolates off the ground. “Honeymoon had very little traction before WashU. I gathered mentors and a team that made traction and sales possible.”

Berg also credits the “unbelievable impact” of the WashU community. “Anytime I need help, there’s someone in the WashU network a phone call away with the experience and knowledge I’m looking for,” he said. “Even the spot where I manufacture is a result of WashU connection.”

Pictured at top: Tim Berg, MBA ’22, and Cam Loyet, PMBA ’21, have partnered their companies in promoting honey-centric products: Loyet’s Honeymoon Chocolates and Berg’s Ice Cream for Bears.