Tag: startups


Arch Grants is practically synonymous with the St. Louis startup community. And Ben Burke, MBA’14, director of entrepreneurship at Arch Grants, is at the center of that synergy. He orchestrates many of the connections that fuel the burgeoning startup community here that is attracting entrepreneurs from around the world.

Burke joined Arch Grants in 2013, a year after it was launched as a nonprofit organization dedicated to “building a new economy by providing $50,000 equity-free grants and pro bono support services to entrepreneurs who locate their early-stage businesses in St. Louis.”

Through its competitive Global Startup Competition, Arch Grants attracts innovative entrepreneurs to the St. Louis region with the goal of keeping their startups here to grow a new economy of  innovative companies.

According to its 2016 Annual Report, Arch Grants has awarded $5.2 million in equity free grants to 96 startup businesses in St. Louis that, in turn, have created more than 1,000 jobs in since 2012, and generated over $51 million in economic output for the St. Louis region in 2016 alone. (source: Arch Grants Annual Report.)

Ben Burke is the guest on the latest episode of STL Community Cast, a podcast that created by Drew Davis who talks with innovative leaders in St. Louis. Give it a listen or check it out on Soundcloud.





Marc Bernstein’s journey from entrepreneurship major at Olin to co-founder of a software startup was short thanks to the close connections between WashU and the St. Louis startup community.

“I’ve known Marc since he was a sophomore in college, he was engaged and passionate about entrepreneurship,” Cliff Holekamp, Olin’s senior lecturer in entrepreneurship told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in an article profiling Bernstein, BSBA’15, and his co-founder of Balto software. 

Holekamp recalled his former student’s enthusiasm for entrepreneurship, “Over his time in college he [Bernstein] got engaged with the startup scene in St. Louis and started getting excited about software.”

Holekamp, who is also a partner in St. Louis-based VC firm Cultivation Capital, helped Bernstein get a job at TopOPPS, a local software firm that specializes in predictive analytics for sales. There, Bernstein met Chris Kontes who was working at the company as a Venture for America fellow. Together, the two college grads hatched a plan for a new kind of software that uses artificial intelligence to to improve the success rate of sales reps working in call centers.

Link to article.

One of the biggest challenges aspiring entrepreneurs face is how to build an effective team to advance an early stage venture idea. The lead entrepreneur is not only responsible for assembling a skilled team, but he or she must also strike a delicate balance as guardian of the original idea for the venture while encouraging team members to adopt a sense of ownership and commitment to the project.

Markus Baer and Andrew Knight

Markus Baer and Andrew Knight, associate professors of organizational behavior at Olin, found a unique way to observe the behavior of leaders in the crucial early stages of a venture that, in turn, predict success or failure for the startup. Using a multi method research approach, the professors observed teams participating in entrepreneurship competitions and teams participating in Washington University’s startup launch course, The Hatchery.

Baer and Knight identify three behaviors of successful lead entrepreneurs in the earliest stages of a venture.

  1. Psychological ownership. A lead entrepreneur must foster a shared sense of ownership among new team members, helping them develop the feeling that the venture idea is “ours.” In the absence of feelings of collective ownership, new team members are unlikely to invest significant time, effort, and energy in the venture—all of which a fledgling business needs to survive and grow.
  2. Idea marking refers to behaviors that communicate and signal to new team members those aspects of the venture idea that the entrepreneur holds dear and is unwilling to change.
  3. Help seeking refers to behaviors that encourage and invite new team members to suggest ways to change and improve the venture idea.

If effectively communicated by the lead entrepreneur, behaviors #2 and #3 will provide the clarity needed for team members to develop shared feelings of ownership over the venture idea. When an entrepreneur communicates which aspects of the venture idea are sacred and which are open to change, it creates an optimal environment for success.

The research finds that these behaviors are not mutually exclusive. In fact, it appears leaders must use both directive (idea marking) and participative (help seeking) leadership behaviors in tandem if they want to succeed. When a lead entrepreneur engages in both behaviors, an early stage venture team is likely to prosper, elicit favorable reactions from potential investors, and breed commitment to the future of the venture among new team members. Marking ideas and help seeking behaviors work in concert, with each behavior mitigating the weaknesses of the other; they are important ingredients for startup success.

KEY TAKEAWAYS for Managers

  • Lead entrepreneurs need to use both directive and participative leadership. Together, these two approaches provide the clarity needed for team members to develop shared feelings of ownership over the venture idea. When leading a fledging venture, an entrepreneur should communicate which aspects of the venture idea are sacred and also which are open to change.
  • When a lead entrepreneur takes a “hands off” approach, conflict erupts, the team performs especially poorly, and people quickly disengage from the venture. When putting together a fledgling venture team, an entrepreneur must take an active role in leading the team.
  • Entrepreneurship programs should teach aspiring entrepreneurs the benefits of using even a short process to resolve ambiguity about team members’ roles and the entrepreneur’s expectations.

This research was presented as part of the Olin Research that Impacts Business Series on June 26. The research paper, “Whose idea is it anyway? How lead entrepreneurs foster collective ownership in provisional founding teams,” is currently under review and is authored by Professors Baer and Knight and their former student Steven Gray, (Olin PhD graduate, May 2017), who is currently an Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior, McCombs School of Business, University of Texas, Austin.

Link to more research from Olin faculty.

Dean mark Taylor introduces Markus Baer and Andrew Knight at the recent Research Impacts Business presentation.

Mark your calendar for these upcoming research presentations:

September 12, 2017 – Doing Well by Making Well: The Impact of Corporate Wellness Programs on Employee Productivity
by Lamar Pierce, Associate Professor of Organization & Strategy

November 7, 2017 – Intermediary Asset Pricing: New Evidence from Many Asset Classes
by Asaf Manela, Associate Professor of Finance

January 11, 2018 – The Performance Effects of Organizational Architecture
Mahendra R. Gupta, Former Dean and Geraldine J. and Robert L. Virgil Professor of  Accounting and Management

All events will be held in Bauer Hall from 7:30 a.m.–9:00 a.m.
Complimentary breakfast included.


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)


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