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Fostering Innovation, Sparking Entrepreneurship

videoAt WashU Olin, the entrepreneurial spirit runs deep. In the WashU MBA, students learn how to fall in love with customers’ problems—and how to solve them. Olin gives students the tools to innovate and create—whether they’re destined to launch a startup, offer next-level problem-solving to a young business or drive innovation inside a global enterprise.

Here at WashU Olin, the entrepreneurial spirit shines in the face of students like Lloyd Yates, who came to Olin Business School with an established startup and the will to take it to the next level. That spirit inspires students like Byron Porter, who thought his MBA would take him in one direction—until his classes and professors helped him identify, hone, launch and fund a fresh startup of his own. That spirit also drives alumni like Danielle Wilsey, who manages a portfolio of business innovation initiatives for a $6 billion publicly traded utility.

For the third year in a row, WashU Olin has been recognized for its culture of innovation and entrepreneurship by Poets & Quants, which named us the #1 MBA entrepreneurship program in 2020, 2021 and 2022. Olin also ranks #1 for the percentage of female startup founders and has the highest average funding among any business school globally, according to analysis by business banking app Tide. And Princeton Review ranks WashU Olin the #15 Top School for Entrepreneurship Studies (graduate programs, November, 2021).

EntrepreneurshipCreative, forward-thinking students. Collaborative, content-rich, hands-on learning. Opportunities to pitch ideas and even win funding. St. Louis’s lively entrepreneurial ecosystem. These are the elements driving our focus on the entrepreneurial spirit. It’s a focus so fundamental to WashU Olin, we’ve named it one of our pillars of excellence.

Doug Villhard

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Contact Doug Villhard, entrepreneurship program platform director, at

Learning innovation at Olin: coursework and experiences to chart your entrepreneurial path

WashU has more than two dozen classes dedicated to innovation and entrepreneurship—including our acclaimed Hatchery course, which has launched companies that have raised a combined $87 million since 2008. And yes, Olin’s faculty includes serial entrepreneurs who have guided and launched their own businesses several times over.

Innovation and entrepreneurship courses include:

  • Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship
  • Social Innovation
  • Introduction to Entrepreneurship
  • Innovating for Healthcare
  • The Basics of Bio-Entrepreneurship
  • Venture Advising
  • Managing the Innovation Process
  • Acquisition Entrepreneurship
  • Business Planning for New Enterprises (The Hatchery)
  • Business Fundamentals for Nonbusiness Students
  • Sustainable Development and Conservation through Entrepreneurial Collaboration: Madagascar
  • Venture Capital Methods

Courses are part of the collaborative, content-rich, hands-on learning at Olin—but they don’t tell the whole story. At WashU Olin, anyone with the ambition to launch a startup can step through a carefully charted program of coursework, seminars, workshops and competitions. That same rigorous programming, built into Olin's entrepreneurship platform, also empowers students interested in venture capital, social impact, corporate innovation and, yes, founding a company.

Plus, you'll collaborate with students within Olin and across the WashU campus. Inspiration grows when individuals from various disciplines gather to solve problems. That's what happens through our rich coursework and our collaboration with WashU's Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship — which "has set the tone for entrepreneurship education at Washington University," according to Poets & Quants' feature story on our program.

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Competition and capital for budding entrepreneurs

videoSince WashU Olin launched its entrepreneurship program, student- and alumni-founded startups have received $735 million through various funding sources. That support begins at the earliest stages of innovation with the Holekamp Seed Fund, which offers $1,000 grants to students, giving them the first injection of capital to get their idea off the ground.

Olin's BIG IdeaBounce is an elevator pitch contest with $30,000 in cash prizes each school year. Any WashU student with an idea and a passion to get it started is eligible to apply.

The Skandalaris Venture Competition awards up to $40,000 to startups for commercializing their ideas, launching and pitching to investors.

But that's not all. The WashU Venture Network—in conjunction with Olin and the Skandalaris Center—was founded to attract angel investment to startups connected to WashU. Plus, our new League of Extraordinary Student Entrepreneurs will help our "best of the best" students better connect with Olin's entrepreneurial ecosystem on campus and around the world.

A lively ecosystem for innovation

Over more than a decade, Olin's students and its entrepreneurship program have cultivated a reputation for excellence in the region. That means that outside the classroom, you will work with senior executives and entrepreneurs in case competitions and consulting engagements. Olin's Center for Experiential Learning offers two consulting courses to give you an up-close experience with an entrepreneurial venture.

They include the CEL Entrepreneurial Consulting Team (CELect) course, in which you engage in a consulting project for early-stage startups located in St. Louis, New York City, San Francisco, and internationally. During the semester-long course, you’ll work closely with the founder as you gain information to better understand the venture’s challenges and advise on strategies to drive the business forward.

Meanwhile, we offer two flavors of the CEL Metrics Clinic—finance and marketing. These courses connect you with a St. Louis startup looking for data-driven consulting on a business challenge in one of those two disciplines. These six- to eight-week consulting projects are student led and faculty supervised.

Our vast alumni network engages with students regularly as coaches and competition judges—building your network of potential clients and funders. New initiatives also include new courses focused on leveraging innovation for good in partnership with WashU’s Brown Public Policy School and “innovating for defense,” in collaboration with WashU’s McKelvey School of Engineering and the U.S. Department of Defense.

Tony Zhu, BSBA 2017

The entrepreneurial ecosystem around St. Louis is considerable.

It provides access and opportunity to WashU students. Olin’s classroom extends beyond campus to St. Louis’s thriving innovation district, which includes Cortex Innovation Community, a vibrant, 200-acre hub of business, innovation and technology, and downtown’s T-REX, a nonprofit technology startup incubator. Student teams consult for startups, working one-on-one with founders for an up-close learning experience.