ETA Club promotes entrepreneurship through acquisition

  • January 22, 2024
  • By Suzanne Koziatek
  • 3 minute read

For many business students, entrepreneurship dreams don’t necessarily include a startup. Instead, they’re driven by the goal of buying existing businesses and helping them grow.

That path, called entrepreneurship through acquisition (ETA), is increasingly popular among MBA students, and a group of aspiring owners at Olin is banding together to promote it.


"A lot of folks are still learning about ETA and how to fit it into their plans,” said Chris Pitts, MBA 2025, cofounder of the club. “It’s still pretty new for the most part.”

The ETA Club, a program funded by the Koch Center for Family Enterprise, aims to connect students with those who can make their ETA aspirations a reality: Potential business sellers, business brokers to act as go-betweens and investors to fund their searches.

After spending the fall semester holding introductory and networking meetings, the ETA club will host a spring panel discussion of various ETA funding approaches, Pitts said.

He has encouraged members to enroll in two courses at Olin whose material relates to the ETA process: Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition (taught by adjunct professor Brian Wolfe) and Ownership Insights (taught by Spencer Burke, adjunct lecturer and Eugene F. Williams, Jr. Executive in Residence, and Peter Boumgarden, Koch Family Professor of Practice in Family Enterprise, both of the Koch Family Center for Family Enterprise).

Our mission is to prepare every member to understand how to buy a great company and run a great company.  

Chris Pitts, ETA Club cofounder

A faster track to growth

Pitts said ETA provides advantages for business ownership over the typical startup path. “With a startup, you have to come up with a product, ensure there’s a market fit, gain customers and then you can focus on growing the business,” he said. “ETA allows us to skip those first three steps. You already have a product, customers and work processes. You can come in and make improvements to grow.”

At a fall meeting of the ETA club, he described the three main ETA funding paths:

  • A traditional search fund, with investors who fund the process in exchange for the ability to buy into the eventual target.
  • A sponsored search, in which an aspiring owner joins a private equity fund to seek out a company.
  • A self-funded search, in which the aspiring owner gains more autonomy by forgoing an income stream throughout the search.

Pitts said he’s leaning toward a traditional search fund when he graduates. “But I'm considering a self-funded search as well. My time in Brian Wolfe's ETA course will help me clarify my path.”

He said the ETA club will serve as a resource for the wide variety of Olin students pursuing ETAs. “We want to improve the success factor for ETA for everyone, regardless of race, gender and age, so they all feel included in the growth of this club.”

‘A sense of purpose’

Meanwhile, cofounder Max Kleeman, MBA 2023, who graduated in December, is well into his quest to find a business. Kleeman said he’s begun a variation of a self-funded route, backed by Funded Ventures, a private investment firm owned by ETA professor Wolfe.

Kleeman’s goal is to acquire a St. Louis-area company, potentially in the home services or healthcare services field. He’s in a networking phase, talking to brokers, lenders, wealth advisors and others who can put connect him with business owners interested in selling.

In addition to the autonomy the ETA path provides, Kleeman said he’s drawn by the desire to preserve a business that already serves its community. “It satisfies my craving for having a sense of purpose,” Kleeman said. “I want to help build something bigger and more important than myself.”

As he pursues this goal, Kleeman has connected with Olin graduates who are slightly ahead of him on the ETA timeline. He believes the school’s sharpened focus on the ETA experience will give current and future students even stronger support going forward. “It will help promote more knowledge and understanding and will push more students to do this.”

To learn more about the Olin ETA Club, contact Chris Pitts.

About the Author

Suzanne Koziatek

Suzanne Koziatek

As communications and content writer for WashU Olin Business School, my job is to seek out the people and programs making an impact on the Olin community and the world. Before coming to Olin, I worked in corporate communications, healthcare education and as a journalist at newspapers in Georgia, South Carolina and Michigan.

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