Tag: Undergraduate

Justin Reiling and Drake Shafer, both BU

Undergraduate business students Drake Shafer and Justin Reiling, both BU ’23, are passionate about bringing creativity from the local St. Louis area onto the Washington University campus. Shafer and Reiling have spent the past six months working on their new business, which recently opened on the South 40, called Gallery 314.

Gallery 314 is a community-centric retail store, bringing products from small businesses all over St. Louis to Washington University students. The idea for the store stemmed from Shafer and Reiling’s realization that the Washington University campus did not yet have a creative and entrepreneurial setting for community members to showcase their retail products.

So, they created one! Gallery 314 recently joined a host of other student-run businesses that have flourished on the first floor of Gregg House on the South 40, including U Trucking and Bear-y Sweet Shop.

Reiling and Shafer attribute the successful opening of Gallery 314 in part to skills both students learned in their Foundations of Business (MGT 150) course, taught by Olin faculty member Yoon Groves. The class revolved around the process of creating plans and financials for a made-up company, a process that guided Reiling and Shafer’s efforts to create and establish Gallery 314.

Visit Gallery 314 in-person, on the first floor of Gregg House on Washington University’s South 40 or find hours and additional information on their website here.

Pictured at top: Justin Reiling and Drake Shafer, both BU ’23.

Marc Bernstein (left) and Chris Kontes are co-founders of Balto. (photo via Balto)

Balto, a firm founded by Marc Bernstein, BSBA ’15, raised $10 million to fund the use of artificial intelligence software in employee training.

Artificial intelligence is one of the most exciting areas of modern technological innovation. We all know about AI capabilities through the increasing presence of Alexa, Siri and Cortana in our homes. Bernstein wants to carry the efficiency and innovation of artificial intelligence into the world of employee training.

Bernstein’s fledgling firm, Balto, raised the additional funding in October to fund improvements in its software, which uses artificial intelligence in order to assist call-center employees. The Balto software provides call center employees and their bosses with instant feedback, all generated with the power of artificial intelligence. Balto’s AI is able to analyze a conversation in real time and coach employees on what to say, all while a customer is on the line.

Bernstein has plans to use its newfound funds beyond just software improvement. So far, Balto has plans to expand its staff to more than 100 employees by the end of 2021. The firm now has a total of 12 investors and $14.3 million in funding, and faces exciting possibilities for growth and innovation over the next year.

Pictured at top: Marc Bernstein (left) and Chris Kontes are co-founders of Balto. (photo via Balto).

Jordan Finkelstein, BSBA

Students in Steve Malter’s Business of Presidential Elections course were given an exciting window into the real-life application of class material on November 16. They took part in a discussion with Olin alum Jordan Finkelstein, part of the team for one of the most-watched political campaigns of the century.

Students heard Finkelstein, BSBA ’16, discuss his time as the chief of staff on the paid media team on Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign, and were able to ask him questions about subjects ranging from the logic behind the advertising team’s creative decisions, to how Finkelstein’s time at Olin prepared him to work in a creative business environment.

After a brief introduction and recap of his experiences following election night, Finkelstein kicked off his presentation with a bit of encouragement for business students interested in politics. Political campaigns, Finkelstein says, aren’t just interesting to political science majors; they can also be described as “the fastest growing startups in America.”

He compared the fundraising speed of the Biden campaign to various popular startups, such as Squarespace and Twitter. Finkelstein explained how the campaign raised and spent a billion dollars in seven months, whereas conventional startups take at least a year just to raise the money.

Biden’s digital strategy team definitely wasn’t driven by political knowledge alone, says Finkelstein; in fact, it required a business mindset to create and run an $875 million TV, digital, and radio program, a feat accomplished mostly in-house and largely without the help of an advertising agency.

Raising and spending money—fast

The speed with which political campaigns must raise money, create useable concepts, and spend money is shocking, and lead Finkelstein’s team to produce over 800 advertisements for TV alone over the course of the campaign, just 300 of which were actually aired.

A sizeable portion of these advertising programs, Finkelstein explained, were directed toward voter mobilization and education, including an entire ad campaign centered on teaching voters how to return mail-in ballots in their respective states. These efforts contributed to a voter turnout that is higher than the country has seen in over a century.

After describing how the Biden campaign’s digital strategy team worked, as well as their general advertising strategy, Finkelstein opened the floor to questions from students.

Valuing Olin’s marketing preparation

Students grilled Finkelstein about subjects from the genesis of the campaign’s flyswatter merch following the infamous vice presidential debate to his opinions on the Trump campaign’s marketing strategy, but toward the end of the discussion, the class asked how Finkelstein’s time with Olin prepared him to work in a creative business environment.

He mostly credited his practical education to learning he pursued outside the classroom. Dedicating yourself to working with peers in on-campus programs, Finkelstein says, prepares you for working with other young people on a campaign.

Finkelstein swears by his notes from a market research class he took while at Olin, saying he still looks back at them to this day.

Finkelstein’s experience can be used as a model for any Olin student interested in politics, and is an exciting example of how an Olin education can be leveraged in any field.

Pictured at top: Jordan Finkelstein, BSBA ’16, speaking to students in Steve Malter’s Business of Presidential Elections course in November 2020.

During his time at WashU, Rick Liu has become fascinated by the process of building a successful business. Rick, who is pursuing a joint degree in business and computer science, has spent the last six months growing this longtime interest into a successful podcast called The Seed—The Startup Journey.

As Rick, BS ’22, explains in the introductory video on his YouTube channel, he realized the best way to learn entrepreneurship—short of actually starting a business—is to hear other people talk about their startups. This curiosity prompted him to find a way to bring the stories of successful entrepreneurs into the life of everyday people interested in exploring the process of starting and running a business.

So far, Rick has interviewed 21 entrepreneurs who have shared the tale of how they got where they are now. He has interviewed businesspeople from all over the world—from here in St. Louis, to Canada, to Taiwan—on his podcast.

I asked Rick about his top three takeaways since starting The Seed, and he told me that, while he’s learned a lot more than just three things, the most important lessons he’s learned revolve around three key ideas: passion, connections and persistence.

Rick told me that most entrepreneurs he’s spoken to have told him that passion is essential. As an entrepreneur, “if the problem is personal to you, you’ll be motivated to wake up even when you don’t feel like it,” Rick says.

Many founders have also told The Seed about the importance of making friends in the business world. Rick cites the particular example of Kaldi’s Coffee co-founder Suzanne Langlois, who told him that it was a connection with someone who’d been hired to bulldoze a building full of furniture who got her first Kaldi’s location its set of tables and chairs.

Finally, Rick has learned that starting small and sticking by your ideas is crucial for success in entrepreneurship and, coincidentally, the podcasting world as well.

Rick’s podcast encourages his listeners to learn with him from those who are successful in the industry, and makes the intricacies of building a business digestible and fun to learn. Anyone interested in startups and entrepreneurship can check out Liu’s podcast, The Seed—The Startup Journey, on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, YouTube, or Spotify. The Seed is also present on Instagram and has an independent website.

Michael Spiro, BSBA ’21, recently spoke with St. Louis native Sam Altman (CEO of OpenAI; former president of Y Combinator) for his newsletter/podcast, The Takeoff, which he runs with fellow WashU undergrads Lukas Steinbock and Roshan Chandna.

In the interview, Sam and Michael discuss Sam’s experience dropping out of Stanford to pursue a startup, the benefits of participating in YC, the importance of long-term thinking, the benefits of joining and founding a company early in your career, “getting good at sales,” risk-taking and more. Sam also shares his favorite food dish in St. Louis (Hint: it’s on The Loop).

Michael’s favorite quotes from the conversation:

  • On learning about startups: “Honestly, the best way to learn about a startup is just doing one. The first one may not work out, though sometimes it really does phenomenally well, but I think just getting going is super valuable.”
  • On OpenAI: “I certainly believe I will have much more of an effect with OpenAI than anything else I’ve ever done or will do in my career…make, develop, and deploy into the world super powerful general AI. We all think that this will be the most important technological development in a very long time, possibly in human history… but I will say I think in four years we’ll have systems that are world-changing.”
  • On playing a long-term game: “Learning how to avoid the distraction of short term games, particularly games that even if you win, you still lose, is a very valuable skill.”
  • On getting good at sales: “But, the fun kind of sales is convincing someone of something that you deeply believe in. And when you think about it that way, at least when I think about it that way, that sounds cool and definitely something that is important to me to get good at.”
  • On knowing when something is working: “Most things don’t work, but when something is truly legitimately working, it is unmistakable.”

You can find the full interview here: Sam Altman X The Takeoff

Sam Altman is the CEO of OpenAI, an AI research and deployment company working to ensure that artificial general intelligence benefits all of humanity. Prior to joining OpenAI, Sam was President of Y Combinator, the world’s leading startup accelerator. Sam’s blog can be found, here and his Twitter here.”

The Fit and Food Connection is a nonprofit organization that provides food and resources to low-income families. Through this organization, families learn how to make healthier decisions, from food selection to implementing exercise in their daily routines. The Fit and Food Connection is there to support and advocate for the wellness of those in the community.

They’re working with our Taylor Community Consulting Program this year as a client. We wanted to highlight The Fit and Food Connection’s previous experience working with students engaged in our TCCP Program.

Here’s what they had to say.

 What unique perspective do students bring? How did they drive impact in your specific project?

Students bring a youthful perspective, and they also bring their business smarts based on their field of study. They are also very tech savvy and can use that knowledge throughout the project with The Fit and Food Connection. They drove impact within our project because they set out to help us create some help for our volunteer onboarding within the organization, and they provided some great groundwork for our volunteer program.

Was there anything that surprised you about the engagement with the CEL team?  If so, what – and why?

We know what an incredible institution Washington University is, but these students were so smart and the level of their engagement made the project so very special. Often we see teams of students where a few people do most of the work, but within the CEL team everyone was very engaged and participated at a high level.

With any collaboration, sometimes things can become rocky! What was the most challenging aspect of working with the CEL/student consultants?

The time frame to work with is always challenging. By the time we get some of the ground work done, there is only a few months to really dig in and we don’t often get to complete everything that we need.

How do you see CEL’s work fitting into the greater vision and mission of your company?

We see the CEL working together with Fit and Food for a long time to come. The work of the students is invaluable and our needs as a growing organization are great. We love their energy and enthusiasm and all of the knowledge that they bring to create some significant changes and forward movement within our organization.

What was the biggest takeaway you learned from this experience – and was your hope that the students take this away, too? 

The students helped us with some significant changes in our volunteer onboarding system, and gave us a great structure to use as we onboard volunteers. Our hope is that the students learned about The Fit and Food Connection, and that they see the intense benefits of giving back in their community. We also want them to see how a community can work together to create positive change, and that their work can really make an impact. The biggest takeaway was seeing how much work can be done in a short period of time, and that when you work hard at something and have a goal, great things can be achieved.

Gabrielle, Co-Director of The Fit and Food Connection, ended  with a few final remarks:

“We know that all of the students that we worked with are going to go on and do great things in their lives. They have helped our organization so much, and if they have learned something positive about their strengths or creating positive change within our communities, that would make us happy. We are so blessed to have this wonderful program in our city, and we are excited for future partnerships together.”

Through the CEL’s Taylor Community Consulting Program, students can engage with the St. Louis Community and make life-changing impacts.  Students in TCCP are valued and respected by clients. We also value our clients–especially those like The Fit and Food Connection, whose mission is to empower the community.

You can read more about The Fit and Food Connection here.