Olin Business School to offer free mentorship, guidance for Arch Grants hopefuls  

Deadline to submit application materials for review to WashU is March 3

Arch Grants winners
Of the 22 individuals and teams to win 2023 Arch Grants, four were mentored by Olin MBA students, faculty and staff. (Image courtesy of Angelica Harris)

Each year, entrepreneurs from St. Louis and around the world compete for Arch Grants’ coveted $75,000 equity-free grants and access to an ecosystem of resources aimed at helping early-stage startups grow and scale. The local nonprofit’s mission is to catalyze economic impact in St. Louis by attracting and retaining high-growth startups through its annual Startup Competition in an effort to “develop the next generation of employers, civic leaders and philanthropists for the St. Louis region.”

The competition is fierce, though. Of the more than 500 completed Arch Grants applications last year, only 22 individuals and teams ultimately received grants — less than 5%. 

Last year, a team of Washington University in St. Louis Olin Business School entrepreneurial students from the master’s in business administration (MBA) program — under the guidance of Doug Villhard, a professor of practice and academic director for entrepreneurship, and Rian Edwards, associate director of entrepreneurship — offered free mentoring for Arch Grants applicants. Together, they worked with 13 individuals and groups, 10 of which went on to apply for a grant. All 10 applicants advanced to subsequent rounds of the competition, and four were among the 22 awardees who won $75,000 Arch Grants.

Now, the team is back for the Arch Grants 2024 competition and looks to make an even bigger impact. All startup founders are welcome to submit materials for feedback, Villhard said. 

The deadline to submit application materials to WashU for review is March 3 to ensure enough time for the team to review and provide feedback. For more information or to submit application materials, email Edwards at rianedwards@wustl.edu.  

Arch Grants applications are due by March 29. Read more details about the competition. 

Learning by giving back

One of the lessons Villhard emphasizes for his students is that feedback is a gift. In addition to being a successful entrepreneur and director of Olin’s top-ranked MBA entrepreneurship program, according to Poets & Quants, Villhard also has served as an Arch Grants judge for years. So he knows what it takes to craft a winning pitch.

“When our team reviews Arch Grants applications, we offer suggestions based on best practices related to pitch decks and such. But what we really do is offer an honest take — kind of like Simon Cowell used to do on ‘American Idol.’ We tell the truth upfront so entrepreneurs have both honest feedback and time to adjust.”

According to Edwards, both founders and students learn a lot from the program.

“Assessing startup pitches can be as amazing of a learning opportunity for our students as entering the contest themselves,” she said.  

Olin MBA student Voranun Taweerutchana is returning this year to lead the team. She said working with founders to help them develop strategies to advance in the competition was incredibly rewarding. 

“Overall, it’s a unique opportunity to apply our classroom knowledge to real-world challenges, supporting innovative startups in our community,” Taweerutchana said. 

This year’s team — which also includes Linda Graff, Watunyu Suthacheewa and Gloria Wiredu — is well versed in marketing, strategies and tech startup experience, Taweerutchana said. Their goal is to reach at least 20 applicants and to help them boost their chances of winning Arch Grants, especially those who were close last year. 

“Our collaboration with Doug, Rian and the entire team at the Olin School of Business is an increasingly vital component of our Startup Competition process,” said Gabe Angieri, executive director of Arch Grants. “Their involvement, ranging from serving as volunteer judges to enhancing our outreach by connecting us with Olin students, and inviting Arch Grants to engage with WashU classes and events, is invaluable.

“Furthermore, their commitment to providing detailed feedback to new and previous Startup Competition applicants has a profound impact on the success and development of these entrepreneurs. This partnership not only enriches our program but also plays a significant role in cultivating a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Of the four grant winners who were aided by the WashU team last year, three were founded by WashU students and graduates: 

  • Top Tutors for Us, a company that designs educational programs and curricula for predominantly Black public schools and also provides tutoring services, founded by Angelica Harris, who earned a bachelor’s degree in 2021 and an MBA in 2022; 
  • King of the Curve, an educational technology company that helps students score top marks on rigorous standardized exams, co-founded by School of Medicine student Heath Rutledge-Jukes; and
  • Gateway Quantum Electronics, a St. Louis-based business focused on quantum computing technology, founded by Jordan Russell, who earned a doctorate in 2019 and is now a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Physics in Arts & Sciences. 

The fourth winner was Shades of Color, a St. Louis-based beauty retailer founded by Tashara Earl.

“The feedback from Olin MBA students helped to strengthen my grant application responses. The students’ thought-provoking feedback gave a perspective to help me fully articulate my idea concept, milestones and goals,” Earl said. “I would highly recommend this service to other founders.”

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