Austin? San Jose? Boston? New York? St. Louis?
Which city doesn’t belong on this list? If you’re thinking entrepreneurship, you might assume it is St. Louis.
In 2018, Gateway City startups drew nearly $550 million dollars in VC funding. And the city’s startup ecosystem has recently produced standouts like Locker Dome and Varsity Tutors. Such successes are the outgrowth of community funding like Arch Grants, accelerators like T-Rex, and deep-pocketed investors like Cultivation Capital.
However, there is another factor in St. Louis’ entrepreneurial renaissance: education. In this area, you won’t find a big contributor than the Olin Business School – P&Q’s Best MBA Program For Entrepreneurship in 2019. Cliff Holekamp, venture capitalist and former academic director for entrepreneurship at Olin, equates the Olin-St. Louis relationship to being like a big fish in a medium-sized pond.
“St. Louis is big enough to matter,” Holekamp explains. “It’s big enough to have resources, to have networks, to have capital, to build entrepreneurship communities. But it’s small enough that you can access it. And in St. Louis, all you need to do to make a connection with anyone in this town is say, I’m a WashU student.”
That matters when 91% of Olin MBAs who started businesses have stayed in St. Louis since 2012. Indeed, the numbers are growing. From 2016-2018, 20.7% of Olin MBA grads launched startups within three months of graduation. In St. Louis, Holekamp tells P&Q, an Olin MBA makes an entrepreneur a “rockstar.” Why not? In a school catering to 200 full-time MBAs, three-quarters are part of the Entrepreneurship Club, with a quarter of the electives honed in on entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is considered so sacred at Olin that it is part of the school’s “four strategic pillars.” Translation? Students can no longer “opt-out” of entrepreneurship, Holekamp says. They have to learn it to graduate.
“Every course at Olin has to be accountable to entrepreneurship and innovation. In every single course evaluation now, there is a question at the bottom that asks to what degree was entrepreneurship and innovation a part of the course. Every single course. That took entrepreneurship from being a really strong niche to something every Olin student is going to be exposed to.”
The school places equal – if not greater emphasis on global business. Last summer, Olin rolled out its inaugural Global Immersion Program. Unlike typical overseas immersions – where students spend a week hitting the sites and sitting down with alumni influencers – this 38-day program kicks off orientation, with the entire cohort spending time on three continents together.
“Our students [spend] a week studying business and policy in Washington, DC, with our exclusive partner, the Brookings Institution,” explains Dean Mark Taylor. “From there, our schedule had nearly 100 students traveling to Barcelona for two weeks, then on to China for 17 days before returning to St. Louis. This is the first WashU Olin cohort to participate in our fully rebooted full-time MBA. This deep global immersion in international business issues, cultures, and practices sets an important foundation for business today…The cohort [also] really bonds as everyone gets to know one another and works together—especially as they begin the program by being thrown into the deep end on the global immersion where, at some point, every student must adjust to a foreign culture.”
The Olin School’s tagline is “Based in St. Louis, but informed by the world.” No doubt, the school has lived up to its promise with the immersion according to Nitish Kumar Yadav, a first-year who comes from energy and engineering. “The [program] appealed to me because of its emphasis on learning by doing, not just in the class or the local community but taking the learning process across continents and cultures. The opportunity to undertake consulting projects for a local winery in Barcelona or preparing the go-to-market strategy for launching donuts in China was not something that other programs could provide.”
The Global Immersion Program isn’t the only innovation that Oline has instilled in recent years. Notably, students can follow an accelerated path that enables them to graduate within 14 months. They also pursue a STEM-designed specialized master’s degree to pair with their MBA. Such offerings give Olin broad appeal as the 2021 Class featured a student population that included 47% women and 43% international students.
“We’re leaning into the needs of today’s business students, differentiating WashU Olin by leveraging our unique assets, preparing them to be globally-minded and globally-mobile and providing the tools to confront the challenge and create change,” Taylor adds.