I was just boarding a plane, about to return to reality after an incredible study-abroad experience in Spain, when I received a message that kept my head high above the clouds passing me by. I was offered an interview at Bear Studios, a student-run strategy and development firm. I had expressed interest in the organization at the end of my freshman year.
The message asked me to prepare for a “case interview,” and I wasn’t the least bit sure of what that entailed. I had heard buzzwords tossed around in my freshman management class: consulting, strategic management, and venture, but I could only match a definition to each term. I quickly realized that the real-world applications of these concepts were exponentially more fascinating than learning their definitions in the classroom.
Bear Studios began in 2014 when Washington University students Peter Delaney (BA ’18 Global Health), Avi Felman (BS ’17 Chemical Engineering), and Will Papper (transferred to Stanford, BS ’18 Symbolic Systems), entered the niche market of start-up consulting and development assistance by leveraging student talent. Through strategy, design, technology development and accounting services, the three student entrepreneurs sought to provide start-ups with reasonably priced resources and assistance from Washington University’s talented pool of undergraduates.
Bear Studios now has two branches, located in St. Louis and Baltimore, with the St. Louis branch led by Delaney and Bill Feng (BSBA ’18 Economics & Strategy). Bear Studios is currently working on over a dozen strategy and development projects in and around the St. Louis area, as well as some projects across the nation.
One of Bear Studio’s most valuable partnerships is with the Skandalaris Center. Through this partnership, Bear Studios has formed relationships with some of its business partners and the companies that are attracted to the Center. Additionally, the Skandalaris Center has worked with Bear Studios to ensure the success of the LEAP Challenge—a tri-annual venture funding challenge in which postdoctoral researchers and innovators seek to commercialize novel research and compete for capital from industry judges. The Skandalaris Center offers LEAP competitors the opportunity to work with Bear Studios fellows to develop their venture, prepare a slide deck, and presentation materials for the LEAP Challenge.
I joined Bear Studios during the summer cycle of the LEAP Challenge. I was provided with materials to begin my case interview—tasked with the challenge of creating a slide deck with content I had gathered from research, and an executive summary that was provided.
As a novice case interviewee, I spent hours researching, even more hours compiling content for the presentation, and even more hours designing the aesthetics of the presentation. I anxiously awaited my first check-in with Feng and Delaney to see if the experience had added more to my understanding of a “case interview” than just a buzzword in my vocabulary.
Feng and Delaney were impressed, and asked if I had any questions. While I explained to them that I knew the executive summary may not have been written by a real person and was merely being used for the case interview, I asked if there was anyone I could talk with who could answer the technical questions I had about some of its content. Feng immediately got me in touch with the summary’s writer who, as it turned out, was indisputably real.
Once I hung up the phone with Feng and Delaney, I realized that this “case interview” was more than an interview—it was a project. I began to question myself and my ability to apply what I had learned in class in the “real world.” All I knew to do was apply the same dedication to the call with the client and to the remainder of my work on the project as I had applied to the initial research. And I enjoyed every moment of it.
I created the final content version of the presentation while working side-by-side with my client, asking frequently for his review and input. I began to understand the Bear Studios process and how consulting works. I sent my slide deck to another Bear Studios fellow who worked on the design of the slides. After functioning as a liaison between my client and the designer, we finalized a slide deck that looked and read beautifully. I flipped through the slides feeling proud of what I had helped create and awestruck by how much I had learned in such a short time.
I received an email a little less than two weeks later, informing me that my client had won the LEAP Challenge and had secured funding for his groundbreaking venture! I smiled ear-to-ear.
And to think it was only a case interview…
Lexi Jackson, BSBA’20, is majoring in Economics & Strategy, Political Science