Tag: startups

When Sky Zone CEO Jeff Platt, BSBA’06, pitched his idea for an indoor trampoline park during his Intro to Entrepreneurship class at Olin, he couldn’t imagine the growth and success he would experience in the decade ahead.

Free Style Jump at Sky Zone (from website)

Sky Zone has grown from its original locations in St. Louis and Las Vegas to 176 franchised parks in six countries. “Twenty-five million people will visit this year, generating more than $300 million in sales. Last year, Sky Zone’s corporate revenues were $50 million, with a 20% profit margin,” according to an article on the Forbes website.

Alumni in the newsPlatt tells Forbes that he doesn’t plan to sell his fitness/entertainment venture any time soon, “We created a billion-dollar industry from scratch,” he says. “There’s a lot left to accomplish.”

Link to article on Forbes.

Link to related blog post: Platt shares business tips with CNBC.

Photo: Jeff Platt, CEO of Sky Zone, jumps at a company outlet in Gardena, CA. (Photo by Robert Gallagher for Forbes)


CATEGORY: Career, News

We were intrigued when a recent story in the St. Louis Business Journal reported that one of Prof. Cliff Holekamp’s students had recommended an Austin, Texas startup as a good investment prospect. Holekamp is also a managing partner of Cultivation Capital, and as the Business Journal reported, the venture capital firm’s new Life Sciences II fund is participating in a multi-million dollar Series A financing round for the company recommended by the student.

Who is this mysterious student? Do VCs always listen when he whispers the name of promising startup? With help from Prof. Holekamp, we tracked down Spencer Romo, BSBA ’15. Here’s what we found out:

What was your major/minor?

Economics and Strategy, Entrepreneurship double major, and lots of coursework in Computer Science.

Are you an entrepreneur?

I joined a startup called Cerebri AI in the fall of 2015 as the 2nd Employee. Cerebri has gone through many of the stages of startup, and I’ve had a front-row seat to the action. My plan is to continue working in AI and Big Data related startups until I’m ready to start my own!

What is your current job, title, and responsibilities?

I’m a data engineer: Some days that means that means I’m working in the capacity of a Quantitative Analyst, except with big data tools and machine learning favored over typical statistical methods. Some days that means that I’m a back-end developer working on building big-data or compute infrastructure. Some days that means I’m designing experiments to prove concepts or to discover new techniques for applying machine learning to common business use cases. I’m actually transitioning into a new company in the last week of May where I’ll be the lead developer for a newly founded venture based on utilizing geospatial data and applying machine learning techniques to extract new value from that data.

Why did you recommend Narrative Dx to Cultivation Capital?

I had the honor of playing ping-pong with many of their employees on an almost daily basis in the office building we share. Through that proximity, I learned about their progress and technical capability. They were having a really hot streak of getting good client traction, and their team had a great understanding of the pain they were trying to solve, and a viable (and lucrative) method for doing so. In short,  I realized that they met many of the criteria that I learned in Olin about how to spot successful ventures, and all they needed were partners to help them take their proven vision to the next step of realization. I knew of Cultivation Capital through my experiences in the Entrepreneurship program at Olin, and it only made sense to introduce Narrative DX’s CEO to the Cultivation team.

Were you surprised that Cultivation Capital participated in its Series A round?

Well, I knew they deserved it, but I can’t say I was expecting an email chain to turn into a major funding event and the introduction of a new capital player to the Austin startup scene! I’m glad for both parties; I believe that this is going to be a great deal for the NDX team and the Cultivation team, and I’m glad to help out!

How does the Austin startup ecosystem compare to St. Louis?

Here’s a list of a few differences I’ve observed.

  • Austin has a reputation for being a tech hotspot, and St. Louis is definitely more life-sciences oriented.
  • Austin seems to have way more startups with way less capital to go around. It’s kind of brutal to be honest, and it seems there’s not a huge appetite for B-C type investments.
  • St. Louis feels like it has much more assistance from universities and from corporate sponsors to fund innovation. The CIC is a great example of how big companies can help drive innovation by providing investment and support for innovation initiatives.  Austin definitely has less of that in my opinion.
  • Given my experience in the St. Louis startup community (I tried and failed to launch my Hatchery project in St. Louis!), I could see myself starting a venture there one day!

Any advice for Class of 2017?

Go work in a startup!
If your worst fears come true and everything falls apart in 8 months, you’ll still have your parent’s couch and a WashU education! Plus you’ll have the valuable experience of failing, which will be a rare asset that many of your peers won’t get until later in life when it’s not as easy to recover from. Taking a risk later will always be more difficult.

You might actually find out that your degree and your desired career path don’t map neatly. I sure did, and I’m glad that it took me 2 months instead of 2 years to figure it out.

Olin in particular does a great job preparing you to think critically, articulate your thoughts, and act on those ideas. It turns out those skills are at a premium in any field, and you can always learn new skills if they align with what you like to do. Plus, if you’re good, you get to do what you’re good at, and as the company grows, so does your specialization in the things you really like to do. What better way to figure out exactly what it is you like and grow into it?

It’s hard and rewarding work. At the end of the day, you might have more stress than your peers working stable jobs at big companies, but you also take home the satisfaction of realizing an idea from the beginning to wherever you decide to take it!

Thanks, Spencer, for solving “the student” mystery! Great to hear about what you are doing, your views on Austin v. STL startup scene, and your advice. Stay in touch!

WashU’s The Source profiles a few of the entrepreneurs and innovators who also happen to be graduating this month and three Olin students are among those featured. All of these students have launched businesses and developed innovative technologies that are improving human health, addressing global issues and helping investors achieve their goals.

We’ve been following these students since they arrived at Olin and chronicling their success here on the blog and in Olin Business Magazine. We can’t wait to see what they do next! Congratulations to all!!

Mary-Brent Brown

Mary Brent Brown (second from left), cuts the candy ribbon at the Bear-y Sweet Shoppe opening with co-founders: Jessica Landzberg, Kaiyley Dreyfus, and Shea Gouldd.

B.S. Healthcare management, Olin Business School

Co-founder, Bear-y Sweet Shoppe and Kids Wanna Help

Responding to pent-up student demand for gummy worms, Brown co-founded the South 40 candy store  Bear-y Sweet Shoppe with fellow Olin seniors Jessica Landzberg and Shea Gouldd, and Kailey Dreyfus, who graduated in 2016. Brown also is still active in Kids Wanna Help, the nonprofit she started at age 12 to promote fundraising among young people.

Markey Culver

Markey Culver teaches intro to baking bread class in Rwanda.

MBA, Olin Business School

Founder: The Women’s Bakery

Through her social enterprise, The Women’s Bakery, Culver has created economic opportunities for women in Rwanda and Tanzania by training them to build, operate, manage and sustain their own bakeries. Related blog post.


Andrew Glantz

Jacob Mohrman , BSBA’16, (left), and Andrew Glantz of GIftAMeal app were featured in Olin Business Magazine 2016.

B.A., Leadership and Strategic Management, Olin Business School

Founder & CEO: GiftAMeal

Glantz founded mobile app GiftAMeal in 2014 as a way to fight hunger and promote St. Louis restaurants. GiftAMeal has since expanded to Chicago and Detroit and has provided 50,000 meals to those in need. Users simply snap and post of photo of their meal, and GiftAMeal funds a meal through a partner food bank.

Read more Class Acts of 2017 here.

Guest Blogger: Diane Toroian Keaggy, WashU’s The Source

CATEGORY: Career, Student Life

Student startup, GiftAMeal, the mobile app that allows users to donate to local food pantries when they eat at partnering restaurants has expanded to a third city: Detroit.

“Foodies in Detroit can now get in on the GiftAMeal action at one of our six initial locations there,” said Jacob Mohrmann, BSBA’16, Chief Marketing Officer of GiftAMeal.  “Meals will be provided through Forgotten Harvest, an organization in Detroit that rescued, harvested and distributed 48.8 million pounds of food this past year.”

And Jacob shared more good news:

“We are also happy to announce that we have now provided over 50,000 meals (St. Louis, Chicago, and Detroit combined).  This is a huge step, but as Andrew [Glantz, BSBA’17] said in his interview with WGN TV,  ‘in terms of how big we want this to become, we want it to be, not in the thousands, but in the millions of meals donated.’ “

GiftAMeal is also featured on the cover of StreetWise Magazine in Chicago this month.

streetwise cover giftamealAccording to the article, GiftAMeal has partnered with “20 Chicago-area restaurants and Lakeview Pantry to provide meal donations locally.  Now, each time someone in Chicago uses GiftA-Meal, meals are provided to someone in the Chicago area through Lakeview. In less than a year, the app has been downloaded over 3,000 times in Chicago, and these users have been quick to rack up 10,000 meal donations on the app.”



giftameal logo 1

CATEGORY: News, Student Life


Dreaming of a dorm room startup that will make you millions? Well, these Olin students did just that and a recent story on The Huffington Post singles them out among “5 Entrepreneurs Under 25 Who Are Succeeding With Traditional Companies.”

Jeff Copelan, serial entrepreneur, philanthropist and writer highlights companies started by Max Schoenfeld BSBA’15, CEO College Truckers and Jacob Goodman, BSBA’15, Co-founder College Truckers and Fresh Prints:

“[W]hat makes both College Truckers and Fresh Prints unique is their business models in which they build out each campus alongside a team of student entrepreneurs. The students are granted sweat equity, given enormous responsibility over the day-to-day management of the company and spend 3 years of their college career building something real on their campus. Then, once they graduate, they sell their shares to a freshman or sophomores who take the reins and continue building what the founding team started.

In other words not only have Max and Jacob managed to build successful companies, but they are starting a movement in changing the way entrepreneurship is taught and learned on college campuses nationwide.”

Link to HuffPo article.

college truckers logo