46 Freshmen Kicked off the School Year with 10 New Venture Ideas

Pre-OrientationForty-six incoming first-year students arrived on Sunday, August 19th for Startup WU, the Skandalaris Center’s pre-orientation program. The program spanned four days and was packed full of entrepreneurial and team-building events, both on- and off-campus. Here are some highlights:


After the students got settled in their dorms, the program kicked off with dinner and a Design Thinking Workshop led by Professor Robert Mark Morgan, Teaching Professor of Drama at Washington University. Professor Morgan’s workshop guided students through crafting creative solutions to everyday problems, no matter how silly their solutions may seem.


Student pitches her business idea to the group during the Pitch Session | Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Design Thinking Workshop served as a precursor to the Business Idea Pitch Session. In the Pitch Session, students applied their workshop learnings and pitched creative business ideas to their peers. Over 40 students pitched a business idea! Then, the students voted on their top ten favorite ideas, and the night ended with students forming teams around each idea.


Monday started off with breakfast and team time. After lunch, students participated in a Market Validation Workshop with Adam Hoffman, alumnus (LA ’17), co-founder and CEO of CheckTheQ. Some of Adam’s insights included:


Adam Hoffman leads a workshop about Market Validation | Monday, August 20, 2018

  • Clearly define your target audience.
  • In order to validate your market, you must have conversations with your target audience and acquire detailed information from them. Listen more than you talk.
  • Market Validation is NOT a sales conversation.
  • Having a team of both extroverts and introverts is beneficial when conducting market validation: Extroverts are strong at making the external connection, and introverts are strong at listening and processing the information.
  • It is best to ask open-ended questions that are designed to spur conversation.
  • The hardest part of market validation is overcoming the fear of starting a conversation and fear of rejection. To combat these fears:
    1. Know that you are entering the situation purely to learn
    2. While the people you talk to are a part of the target market, assume they’re not going to be customers.

The workshop ended with teams brainstorming and defining their target markets. Then, the students conducted real-world market validation off-campus. The teams ventured all across town—from the Medical Campus, to downtown, to the mall.

After completing their market validation, the teams gathered for a “progressive” dinner, in which they experienced various St. Louis-style cuisine by visiting different parts of town. They had appetizers at  St. Louis’ Innovation District, Cortex, followed by dinner and a team building activity at local co-working space, TechArtista. The day ended with frozen custard from local favorite, Ted Drewes.


Students started off the day with team time and then split off for Consultant Breakout Sessions. Students heard from local entrepreneurs and experts in areas such as sales, funding, and product development. Each discussion ended with a casual lunch with the experts where students were able to ask questions and receive additional thoughts or advice.  Consultants included:

  • Team Building: David Allston, Director of Corporate Development at Harbour Group
  • Sales: David Dresner (MBA, BSBA ’10), Founder of Sleeve a Message
  • Legal: Kathleen Chaffee, Patent Agent at WashU
  • Funding: Dana Watt (PhD ’15), Investment Associate at Ascension Ventures
  • Marketing & Branding: Michael Wall, Professor of Marketing Practice at Washington University
  • Product Development: Victoria Swamidass, Founder and CEO of PlatformSTL

Elise Miller Hoffman, Principal at Cultivation Capital, shares best practices for crafting a pitch deck | Tuesday, August 21, 2018

After lunch, students attended a Pitch Deck Workshop led by Elise Miller Hoffman, alum (MBA ’16, LA ’11) and Principal at Cultivation Capital. The goals of the workshop were to:

  1. Learn the basics of a pitch
  2. Apply it to a startup example
  3. Practice & have fun

After learning the basics of an elevator pitch, students paired up to practice and present their pitches. Elise then explained the components of a startup pitch. She emphasized the importance of:

  • Being clear and confident: “An investor is investing in you so they want to know why you can be successful.”
  • Preparation: “Preparation leads to confidence.”

Students practicing their elevator pitches | Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The workshop ended with students gathering in groups of four to plan a five-minute pitch on the topic Why Should Lime-E come to St. Louis? One brave team volunteered to present their pitch to their peers and executed it brilliantly.

Some students shared their perspectives on the workshshop:

“Learning about the basics of making an elevator pitch will definitely help me be successful anywhere I work post-graduation. “ – Emily McPhie, Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Art ’22

“I liked the versatility of the elevator pitch. It’s definitely applicable in business and any other opportunities that may come about both throughout my time at college and beyond.” – Pryce Yebesi, Arts & Sciences ’22

Students then had team time. Over dinner, they listened to an Entrepreneurship Diversity Panel, which included panelists Chris Presley, founder and CEO of Improving Outcomes, LLC; Cheryl Watkins-Moore, Entrepreneur in Residence at BioGenerator, Director and Lead at BioSTL, and co-founder and CEO of Accelerated Rehabilitation Technologies, LLC; and Art Chou, co-founder and Managing Director of Stadia Ventures. The night ended with a fun team-building activity.


Wednesday started off with team time. Over lunch, students heard from an Alumni Entrepreneur Panel. The panelists included Paul Bender (MS ’08, LA ’07), CEO of Greater than Games, and Diana Zeng (BSBA ’14), a freelance artist.

Later that day, the ten teams pitched their ventures to judges, the community, and peers at the Final Poster Session. The ten ventures included:

  1. Better Union, a social platform for political discussion that encourages empathy and respect
  2. Better Bottoms, a wearable seat cushion for comfort wherever you go
  3. Closet Squad, a clothes swapping app
  4. Deliver WU, an on-campus delivery app for all necessities
  5. Devour, an app that recommends weekly recipes/meals specific to your taste and diet
  6. Eco Vend, and eco-friendly vending machine aiming to reduce plastic waste
  7. Erro, a wireless cellular device charger that fits in your pocket
  8. Massanger, an app that aggregates all your messages from messaging and social media apps
  9. Multi Card, a universal credit card that also serves as a tracker
  10. WashBox, an $18 monthly subscription box service that delivers toiletries and other products that are used on a regular basis

To conclude the program, students gathered for a celebration dinner, replete with superlative awards and a performance by a WashU a capella group.

It was a busy and unforgettable 4-day introduction to WashU.

“I thought it served as a great introduction to WashU and provided an opportunity to learn more about fundamental concepts needed to initiate a successful startup.” – Alex Brodkowitz, Arts & Sciences ’22