Embedding with startups to study entrepreneurship

Washington University launches new course inside incubator

Washington University’s business, engineering and law schools are collaborating on a new course in 2013 that will embed students in the center of the thriving entrepreneur community in downtown St. Louis.

Students will trade their campus classroom for working space at T-REx, a new St. Louis tech incubator that offers startup companies affordable offices in the historic Railway Exchange Building.

As part of the new course, Washington University students will engage in consulting projects for resident entrepreneurs at T-REx to better understand the inner workings of growing a business from the ground up.

“Student projects will range from revenue modeling and pricing strategies to marketing and competitive analysis,” says Clifford Holekamp, senior lecturer in entrepreneurship at Olin Business School. “The results will ultimately benefit both the startups and the students who are studying entrepreneurship.”

The course will be open to undergraduates and graduate students in Washington University’s business, engineering and law schools.

Holekamp and Ron King, PhD, director of Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning (CEL), will co-teach the course at the school’s office/classroom space at T-REx.

“This course is very unique at Washington University and nationwide,” explains King who is a senior associate dean and the Myron Northrop Professor of Accounting at Olin. “The students will work closely with the entrepreneurs, guided by faculty experts over the course of the semester. It’s a win-win situation for students and entrepreneurs.”

Of the 45 companies currently leasing space at the T-ReX incubator, many count Washington University alumni among their founders and employees. (See OlinBusiness magazine feature story on alumni at T-REx.)

Entrepreneurship courses are popular at Washington University and attract students from multiple disciplines. In fact, professors encourage students with diverse backgrounds and majors to form teams when planning a business.

Nick Benassi, associate dean at Washington University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, collaborated on the design of the new course. “This innovative partnership with the business school is opening up exciting opportunities for our students to experience entrepreneurship firsthand and be a part of the thriving St. Louis startup community that is creating new ventures with global impact,” Benassi says.

The engineering school holds a competition for undergraduate students to promote the discovery of entrepreneurial solutions for global challenges.

Benassi sees the convergence of multiple disciplines around innovation and entrepreneurship as part of a larger and necessary trend of interfacing talents to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

“The law school is very excited to be a part of this initiative,” says Hillary Sale, JD, the Walter D. Coles Professor of Law at the law school and professor of management at Olin Business School. “We look forward to collaborating with our colleagues at the business and engineering schools to provide unique educational opportunities for our students to work with the growing entrepreneurial community in St. Louis.

“The partnership is another example of our commitment to professional practice opportunities for our students and underscores the benefits of developing critical skills while working in interdisciplinary teams.”

Pairings of student teams and companies will be announced at the start of the course this month.

Entrepreneurship at Washington University in St. Louis

Entrepreneur magazine ranked Washington University No. 5 in undergraduate programs and No. 6 in graduate programs. Degrees in entrepreneurship are offered at the undergraduate and graduate level in the business school; WUSTL’s Brown School offers a master’s degree in social entrepreneurship in conjunction with Olin Business School. A minor degree in entrepreneurship is an option for all undergraduates at WUSTL. The Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies manages two annual business plan competitions: the Olin Cup for commercial ventures and the YouthBridge Social Enterprise and Innovation Competition. The School of Engineering and Applied Science launced its Discovery Competition this fall with the goal of promoting new and innovative solutions for real-world problems and allowing students to compete for financial resources that could help turn their ideas into businesses. The winning team will be awarded $25,000.