After five years and $66K in grants, Holekamp Seed Fund expands

  • November 13, 2023
  • By Kurt Greenbaum
  • 3 minute read

Five years ago, WashU Olin launched a new opportunity for budding student entrepreneurs to earn their first outside investment in a startup idea.

The Holekamp Seed Fund premiered in October 2018, thanks to a gift from Cliff Holekamp, MBA 2001, who served as the first academic director for Olin’s entrepreneurship program.

Since its launch, the program has awarded $66,000 in $1,000 increments to dozens of student startups. The grants are intended to defray the initial costs of founding a business, and recipients are encouraged to pay it forward if their startup idea takes off.

“The Holekamp Seed Fund has offered a great platform for keeping me connected to the Olin entrepreneurship program,” Holekamp said recently.

It has been incredibly rewarding to have had a small part in nudging dozens of WashU student entrepreneurs toward their startup journeys.  

—Cliff Holekamp

Now, the Holekamp Seed Fund is updating its scope. Recipients of initial $1,000 grants will be eligible to apply for an additional $5,000 of follow-on funding. Applications are accepted on the seed fund’s website on a rolling basis until May 1 of each academic year.

“The original $1,000 grants have been wonderful in that they are often the first money into these young ventures to allow them to incorporate and get started,” said Doug Villhard, EMBA 2014, and director of Olin’s entrepreneurship program. “Many of them take off after that and need additional funding.”

While the Holekamp Seed Fund takes pride in offering "the first money in," it is now eager to also be the first follow-on capital. That capacity exists, Villhard said, because of the success and growth of the overall WashU endowment. The growth of the original capital invested into HSF has allowed us to offer more grants to new startups.

To apply, students must pitch one of the fund’s four directors:

  • Holekamp, cofounder, managing director and general partner at Cultivation Capital;
  • Elise Miller Hoffman, AB 2011/MBA 2016, COO at ImageMover and general partner at Cultivation Capital;
  • II Luscri, assistant vice provost for innovation and entrepreneurship and director of WashU’s Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship;
  • Villhard

“It is also a continuous pleasure having the continuing collaboration with Doug Villhard and II Luscri, who have only strengthened the entrepreneurship program since I passed the baton in 2019,” Holekamp said.

Seed fund recipients who have gone on to greater heights include:

  • Tyler Richards, BSEE 2022, founder of uFab, a startup “committed to changing how circuit boards are designed and fabricated.” The company won an Arch Grant in 2022.
  • Kai Skallerud, MD 2024/MBA 2022, founder of Contrast, which is creating technology to streamline the task of charting medical information by healthcare providers. His startup recently received $2 million in outside capital from St. Louis and Silicon Valley investors.
  • Daniel Schindler, MBA 2019, founder of Buoy, a hydration supplement for beverages that has made considerable inroads in retail and direct-to-consumer marketing.

Applicants must be current WashU juniors, seniors or graduate students and must have at least 25% ownership of a startup venture. Student entrepreneurs must produce pitch decks and deliver professional-quality pitches for their companies.

To be eligible for a follow-on grant of up to $5,000, students must have already received an initial $1,000 grant, be within six months of graduation, shown progress in their business since the initial grant and plan to work full-time on their business after graduation.

About the Author

Kurt Greenbaum

Kurt Greenbaum

As communications director for WashU Olin Business School, my job is to find and share great stories about our students, faculty, staff, and alumni. I've worked for the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management as communications director and as a journalist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sun-Sentinel in South Florida and the Chicago Tribune.

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