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Washington University in St. Louis Student Priorities

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Contents

Overview


In the course of our work, we have identified crucial gaps in Washington University’s entrepreneurship ecosystem. First of all, students with ideas do not know where to look to find the right skills. Finance or Marketing majors, for example, do not know how to find Computer Science majors who are seeking to join startups, and vice versa. It is necessary to have a way to match skills on campus. Furthermore, once students have a viable team assembled, they do not know what steps they should take to launch their business and often get so bogged down in details that they fail to make progress. Having a mentor network of experienced entrepreneurs who have attended Washington University in St. Louis would help guide students toward launch. After students launch, they often have little to no capital on hand. Small amounts of seed funding (below $5,000) would give a vital boost to their businesses. Finally, they often have very little time to dedicate to their startups during the year due to obligations from classes. For this reason, a summer program should allow them to work on their ideas independently while receiving a stipend to allow them to live in St. Louis.

Priority #1: Skills Matching

It is necessary to match up appropriate skill sets between students at Washington University. Students need to know where they can find students who are actively looking to joinstartups,so that they do not waste time chasing leads that do not want to join their ventures. Spring 2017: We tested an analog prototype of a web-based subscription service where people can input their skills and be contacted by people with skills they are looking for (an "EHarmony for forming startup groups"). We would need to verify that non-students will have sufficient incentive to also subscribe to this service as potential mentors for a project.



Spring 2016: We have already developed and sent out a Skills Survey to students, that asks about the skills they currently have (business, marketing, technical, sales, etc) and the skills they would like to learn.

We have received around 50 responses, but we need to promote the survey more widely to reach interested members of the student population. We also need to share it among the graduate programs at Washington University, since our entrepreneurship program is one of the few that allows both undergrads and grads to participate.

Priority #2: Mentor Network

A mentor network would allow students to receive crucial advice as they go through various stages in founding their startup. When students are in the early stages of developing their ideas, we can match them with other students who have recently launched startups who can guide them through the process of executing on an idea. As they progress to more advanced stages and gain revenue or further funding, we can leverage Washington University’s alumni networks to match them with experienced entrepreneurs who can give advice appropriate to the stage that they are in.


We know entrepreneurs on campus and recent graduates in the St. Louis area well, and could reach out to them to match them with students seeking mentors. We do not know as many entrepreneurs who are more than a few years past graduation, however. We need to contact the Career Center and the Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurship at Washington University to find appropriate mentors for later-stage startups.

Update: Spring 2017-- the idea of a skills-matching website can extend to include mentors as well.

Priority #3: Seed Fund

Students often lack the capital needed to execute on their ideas. Small sums in the university’s budget are life-changing sums for students seeking to start businesses. Small amounts of funding (often under $5,000) would allow them to purchase necessary services, form legal entities, and outsource work as appropriate. Heads of various schools at Washington University and applicable professors (e.g. entrepreneurship professors) should be given a portion of a seed fund to allocate as they see fit. The university currently uses business plan competitions to allocate funding, but those do not properly evaluate how a startup progresses over time and how the founders work day-to-day. Allowing faculty to act in a fashion similar to small-scale angel investors would give students the ability to further their businesses.


Priority #4: Increasing awareness of Design Thinking

The term "Design Thinking" is virtually unknown at WashU. A lot of students set out to solve a problem by trying to tackle the whole thing at once. A lot of the time, it's important to pursue the steps of the design thinking methodology to ensure an idea's success. 


In the beginning, you may have multiple ideas for how to go about solving a problem, so it is a good practice to quickly provide a proof of concept to see which ideas are worth serious consideration. To this end, rapid prototyping is probably the most tangible and easiest way to provide this proof of concept. A "rapid-prototype-a-thon" in a public space with a low barrier to entry with a lot of WashU student participation will help students cultivate an appreciation for how design thinking can help them. It's success may also help convince WashU to add additional resources to help with rapid prototyping and design thinking paradigms. 

To convince people of the value of design thinking, and to illustrate why design thinking is valued by big corporations and industry, it's important that design thinking aligns with their goals and aspirations. We can bring in companies to give students problems for competitions, and link success in the competition to future internships and similar rewards. 

Tactic Milestone Date
Create comprehensive plan of activities/dates for program 2/25/17
Meet with and propose ideas to companies/find venues. Revise the plan if needed. 3/15/17
Find venues and sponsors to host events 4/15/17
Finalize the Program for Launch 9/1/17

[ACHIEVED] Priority #4: Summer Program

Students often lack large amounts of time during the school year. Between classes and various extracurricular obligations, they are not able to make their startups a primary focus. A summer program that pays students a stipend would allow them to focus on their startups and make far more progress than they could during the school year. Some entrepreneurship summer programs exist, but they are not widely available for students seeking to work on their own businesses.

Fall 2016 Project Pitch and Overview:

Washington_University_in_St._Louis_Campus_Overview_2016

UIF Washington university in St. Louis Project Pitch link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZr5S00c6MQ


Bear Studios, founded by Peter Delaney, Will Papper, and Avi Felman, is an on-campus incubator to help students found startups. Bear Studios receives idea submissions from undergrads and faculty members, and helps the best ideas launch into full businesses.


In the course of our work, we have identified crucial gaps in Washington University’s entrepreneurship ecosystem. First of all, students with ideas do not know where to look to find the right skills. Finance or Marketing majors, for example, do not know how to find Computer Science majors who are seeking to join startups, and vice versa. It is necessary to have a way to match skills on campus. Furthermore, once students have a viable team assembled, they do not know what steps they should take to launch their business and often get so bogged down in details that they fail to make progress. Having a mentor network of experienced entrepreneurs who have attended Washington University in St. Louis would help guide students toward launch. After students launch, they often have little to no capital on hand. Small amounts of seed funding (below $5,000) would give a vital boost to their businesses. Finally, they often have very little time to dedicate to their startups during the year due to obligations from classes. For this reason, a summer program should allow them to work on their ideas independently while receiving a stipend to allow them to live in St. Louis.

Previous Student Priorities

Previous UIFs from Washington University have developed student priorities that were implemented on campus. Their priorities are listed below.

Overview

Washington University in St. Louis sits at the heart of what is said to be the next "Silicon Valley". St. Louis was ranked as the number 1 emerging startup city in America by Popular Mechanics.  Sparked by Jim McKelvey, a Washington University alumni and the inventor of Square, St. Louis has drawn the attention of venture capitalists around America. Washington University has ridden this entrepreneurship wave and has exponentially expanded entrepreneurial education and opportunities for its students. Students in return have sparked many successful start ups such as IdeaLabs and BetaVersity, founded by a Washington University University Innovation Fellow, Blake Margraff.

As resources expand and experimental programs are tested by the administration, an increasing number of undergraduates are unaware of such opportunities. In contrast, entrepreneurial activity at the graduate level has grown dramatically in response to these opportunites. Undergraduates also don't have the opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship academically until they are almost graduates. 2015 University Innovation Fellows have a perfect opportunity to capitalize on this opportunity by acting as the main focal point for undergraduate entrepreneurship, empowering undergraduates to interact with faculty, and utilizing the powerful undergraduate career-driven culture.

The following are our student priorities to acheive this goal:

  1. Creating a freshman orientation program
  2. Creating a campus resources web portal
  3. Advertising and generating traffic at Washington University's Co-Lab
  4. Creating more opportunities for students to investigate the St. Louis startup scene

Strategic Priorities

Creating a Freshman Orientation Program

Our Freshman Orientation Program aims to expose incoming students to the various entrepreneurial and innovation opportunities and resources available to them on Wash U’s campus. Over the past few months, we have uncovered many new resources we never knew existed; the majority of students on campus do not know about these resources, either. We feel that a thorough understanding of what our campus offers is crucial to spurring entrepreneurship and innovation at Wash U. We believe that exposing students to the opportunities available to them and motivating them to innovate will be most effective when they are incoming or new students and have yet to establish themselves on campus. Furthermore, we want to foster collaboration among various different disciplines across the school by bring a diverse array of students in contact with each other.

Specifically, we plan to host many meetings where students can meet each other and network. We also will oversee trips to various innovative and entrepreneurial spaces on Wash U’s campus and in the St. Louis community. Additionally, we will acquaint students with the many entrepreneurial activities and clubs on campus by hosting pitches from various clubs and providing a centralized source of information regarding them.

Tactic Milestone Date
Create comprehensive plan of activities/dates for program 3/15/15
Meet with and propose ideas to advisors/find venues. Revise the plan if needed. 4/1/15
Find venues and sponsors to host events 4/15/15
Finalize the Program for Launch 7/1/15

Creating a Campus Resources Webportal

After interviewing many faculty and deans around campus, it was clear the awareness of campus resources across different disciplines was severely lacking. Even within each school (engineering, business, etc.) knowledge of prototyping resources such as 3D printers, modeling software, and machine work shops was inconsistent across many students and faculty. To solve this problem, we are envisioning a web portal documenting campus resources such as 3D printers, milling machines, biosafety hoods, etc. For example, a student could query for 3D printers and get several hits in the schools of engineering and art. Each resource will have the contact name of the person managing that resource for student entrepreneurs. 

This will also help to encourage collaboration across schools. Currently, students in the business school have trouble accessing many of the engineering resources such as the machine shop. Having this portal will document how they should go about getting access, the best times to go and who to contact. With such a compact collection of the resources, the university will also be better able to allocate its resources since it will be clear on what already exists and what is lacking.

Lastly, we could also have a wishlist section on the page of new equipment desired or equipment that needs to be repaired or replaced. Alumni and other sponsors of the university will have access to this page and can choose to fund something specific instead of the unviersity as a whole. 

Tactic Milestone Date
Propose idea to deans of engineering and entrepreneurship already invested in promoting entrepreneurship. We would determine the logistics of how to create and manage this web portal and next steps.  2/01/15
Meet with WashU's Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and propose the project with backing from administration. We could offer compensatory pay.  3/01/15
Pilot the webportal in the School of Engineering and monitor website traffic and advertise it 4/01/15
Expand the webportal to the Sam Fox School of Art and monitor website traffic 8/01/15
Expand the webportal to the School of Arts and Sciences 10/01/15

Advertising and Generating Traffic at Washington University's Co-Lab

The Washington University Co-Lab is our first incubator space. We now need to advertize this to students, community leaders, local companies, and faculty. By generating high amounts of traffic, student entrepreneurs can request for more institutional support, network with each other, and hopefully generate more entrepreneurial ventures. 

Tactic Milestone Date
Creating logistics for the Co-Lab ie sign up sheets, informative and attractive website, and begin gathering student participation 02/01/15
Meet with engineering deans, director of the Skandelaris center, and CEP to discuss how the space will be managed and programming 02/07/15
Begin advertizing entrepreneurship programming already planned by the Skandelaris Center  03/01/15
Decorate the Co-Lab to reduce white space and create attractive signs outside 04/01/15
Have a 3 Day Start Up Weekend or Innovation Workshop to officially showcase the Co-Lab to all students 05/01/15

Creating More Opportunities for Students to Investigate the St. Louis Startup Scene

We believe that hands-on learning is crucial to the development of creativity, innovation, and valuable skills in today’s economy. With that in mind, we hope to create either an engineering class or club (whichever is more feasible both the short and long term) that is student guided to teach underclassmen (freshman/sophomores) the basic skills expected of an engineer in the workforce. Many of these foundational skills such as programming, computer aided design, etc. are not taught in detail until the Junior and Senior years. The goal of this course/club would not to replace these upper level classes, but to offer a challenging rudimentary intro for underclassmen. The culmination of this course would be a pairing of engineers to engineering companies.  Each group of students would embark on a semester-long project assigned to them by the startup. Alternatively, the engineering club would work to develop connections with engineering startups and take on projects that would seem to have industrial value. Those that join this club and work on the projects would gain valuable hands-on skills that they can market to companies or innovate with.

Tactic Milestone Date
Create comprehensive plan of activities/dates for program 3/15/15
Meet with and propose ideas to advisors/find venues 4/1/15
Find venues and sponsors to host events 4/15/15
Finalize program 5/1/15



Related Links

Washington University in St. Louis

University Innovation Fellows

Spring 2017:

Rishil Mehta

Brett Gao

Daniel Zahka


Spring 2016:

Peter_Delaney

Avi Felman

William Papper


Spring 2015

Varun Krishnamurthy

Stephanie Mertz

Chan Hyung Park

Huy Lam Fall


Fall 2012

Blake Marggraff