Sparking Entrepreneurship Early

A “social dining” app that turns photos into food bank meals. A healthcare technology company. A customized coffee cup sleeve maker. A learning management platform serving students nationwide that attracted $57 million in venture capital before its 2019 sale. Each is an example of a student-led startup born or developed in WashU Olin’s undergraduate entrepreneurship program.

Yes, Olin’s undergraduate program is renowned for placing students in business classes from their first day on campus. Even more, WashU Olin sparks and nurtures the entrepreneurial spirit among students from the start. “Our students understand that entrepreneurship is not only about startups. It’s a way of thinking,” says Doug Villhard, academic director for Olin’s entrepreneurship program.

Indeed, the entrepreneurial spirit is embedded in Olin’s mission as one of our four strategic pillars of excellence. It’s why The Princeton Review consistently places Olin among its most highly ranked schools for entrepreneurship. It’s why Olin students can major in entrepreneurship, or take electives that spark their spirit. It’s why students from across the Washington University campus come to us, collaborating on innovative solutions to vexing problems.

And it all happens in St. Louis, a community with a booming reputation for fostering innovation and startups, especially in biotech, healthcare and plant science. Washington University and Olin Business School—through targeted coursework, path-breaking research, pitch competitions that award thousands of dollars and experiential learning opportunities—are driving innovation and invention.

Olin’s Entrepreneurship Advantage

WashU Olin’s undergraduate entrepreneurship platform provides boundless opportunity for students seeking an outlet for their creativity and innovation.

Coursework fosters innovative thinking

We’re proud of The Hatchery, perhaps the best-known among WashU Olin’s slate of entrepreneurship courses. The oldest university-affiliated business-plan course in the country, The Hatchery has yielded hundreds of projects, with dozens of companies still operating since the course began in 2008. Student teams, guided by local entrepreneurs and investors, develop a business plan and present their analyses to business startup and venture capital experts.

Still, The Hatchery is just one among many entrepreneurship courses available to undergraduates—courses such as Introduction to Entrepreneurship, Innovating for Healthcare and The Endgame of Entrepreneurship: Leveraging Capitalism for Good. They include courses that partner undergraduates with MBA students and courses that work to solve problems in fields such as Defense, Healthcare and at startups around the world.

Cross-disciplinary thinking

Designers from the Sam Fox School. Engineers from the McKelvey School. Medical students, law students and social workers. WashU Olin’s instructors partner with programs across the university, linking students across academic disciplines to bring fresh perspectives to new business challenges. Much of that happens through the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurial Studies, the heart of the university’s on-campus entrepreneurial activities.

Funding, competitions and internships

In addition to creating cross-disciplinary links, Skandalaris coordinates a 10-week internship program for undergraduates from all university schools. In collaboration with Olin faculty, the center also runs the IdeaBounce events and the Skandalaris Venture Competition—programs that in recent years have awarded more than $22,000 to promising student-led projects.

Undergraduates are also eligible to apply for early-stage funding for their startup ideas through the Holekamp Seed Fund, offering $1,000 grants that provide an initial injection of capital to get their idea off the ground.

Learning side-by-side with founders

Through Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning, Olin undergraduates have the chance to engage in semester-long consulting projects for startups in St. Louis at various stages of their development. The CEL Entrepreneurial Consulting Team course, fondly known as CELect, leverages WashU’s relationships with the St. Louis startup community, providing a one-of-a-kind opportunity for students who want to run existing companies or launch their own firm. And it’s not just for individuals who want to be founders. It’s also for people who want to join the founders and help move an organization forward.

Run a campus business

Through WashU’s Student Entrepreneurial Program, you also can create a campus business or buy an existing one—and run it until you graduate. The university allocates and subsidizes storefront locations for the businesses, but making your company successful is up to you.

Fast Facts

entrepreneurship courses campus-wide through the Skandalaris Center
The Hatchery
First business plan course in the United States