As part of the Summer Internship Program, the Skandalaris Center is hosting six panel discussions with St. Louis area startups who are hosting students through the program. These panel discussions are open to the public. We will recap the panels and share important insights from local ventures.
This week the Skandalaris Center invited the founders of four local social ventures to join us for the penultimate Skandalaris Summer Internship Program St. Louis Venture Panel. The following founders joined moderator Laura Glanz (LA ’21), a summer intern at FocalCast, for an in-depth discussion around developing and leading startups focused on addressing societal problems:
- Andrew Glantz (LA ’17), Founder and CEO of GiftAMeal, a mobile application that helps provide a meal to someone in need each time a user takes a photo at a participating restaurant.
- Charli Cooksey, Founder and CEO of WEPOWER, an organization that activates community power to re-design education, economic, health, and justice systems to be just and equitable for all.
- Michael Woods, Co-Founder of Dream Builders 4 Equity, a venture that provides at-risk youth with access to a diverse and broad set of assets through mentorship, entrepreneurship, scholarship, and leadership training.
- Meghan Winegrad (MBA ’06), Founder and CEO of Generopolis, an online marketplace where people can buy and sell goods and services to support charities they love.
The audience for this week’s social ventre panel included participants in the Skandalaris Summer Internship Program, Skandalaris Center community members, and students in WashU’s BOLD@Olin program. BOLD@Olin is an immersive business and leadership program for rising junior and senior female high school students.
After brief introductions of the panelists and their ventures, Laura Glanz asked the founders to describe the difficulties associated with creating a social venture and measuring success beyond profit. Andrew Glantz shared that GiftAMeal, as an LLC, is focused on proving that profit and purpose can coexist as goals. In addition to explaining their social mission, GiftAMeal frames itself as for-profit and emphasizes that 25% of its revenue goes toward feeding the hungry. WEPOWER, a 501(c)(3) created to drive social change, raises money from philanthropists and is laser focused how to move the needle on creating more equitable outcomes. They will likely form an LLC in the near feature as they begin investing in other companies. Dream Builders 4 Equity is a hybrid in the sense that is has a 501(c)(3) and LLC enterprise. For them the nonprofit drives everything they do. They’re always thinking “how do we take our social impact activity and turn it into something to generate money”. For Generopolis integrating a social mission was important from the start. Founder Meghan Winegrad learned from her experience in corporate America that it is harder for companies to establish a social mission later. She’s found that “doing it in the beginning, allows you to bring in consumers and investors who align with that mission”.
Next Laura Glanz asked the panelists for their decision-making tips. Charli Cooksey finds that making big decisions is often the least challenging. WEPOWER is the third startup she’s led and the second she’s founded or co-founded. For her decision making comes down to understanding her values and setting a long-term vision. She uses her goals and vision to drive what she does on a day-to-day basis and to reflect upon when making decisions. Michael Woods is guided by his desire to make the most impact. Andrew Glantz founded GiftAMeal while he was a student at WashU and has found that to make decisions he must be open to learn and grow. Meghan Winegrad has tried to stop thinking about the end goal and instead focus on what is the next right step. She emphasizes following your inner calling.
A student in the BOLD@Olin program asked the panelists to describe how they deal with failure. Michael Woods enjoys failure – it gives him experience and a competitive advantage. He stressed the importance of being confident, taking risks, and failing. Charli Cooksey thinks about challenges rather than failure. She remains focused on her goals and sees failures as inevitable pieces of the journey and learning opportunities. She embraces a culture of continuous improvement and failing forward. Andrew Glantz believes it’s important to have multiple contingency plans in place and to never rely on one thing to be the success or failure of your business. He also measures everything so he can learn from any failures. Meghan Winegrad has learned to not judge wins or losses or success or failures by other people’s metrics or standards. Her two sons have helped re-establish her sense of success or failure – she now thinks in terms of the impact she wants to make and what she wants to show her children.
The panelists also shared the following words of wisdom to their younger selves as well as the students in the room.
- “At the end of each semester write down a few takeaways to go back to that you can apply to life.” – Andrew Glantz
- “Establish a diverse network of advisors and mentors. Embrace the power of building meaningful connections and fostering those relationships.” – Charli Cooksey
- “Take the step and use all of your resources. Go out on faith and remember your mission is worth it.” – Michael Woods
- “Be true to yourself and listen to your internal voice.” – Meghan Winegrad
As is tradition at St. Louis Venture Panels, the founders were asked to share why they chose to start their businesses in St. Louis and why they stay. Meghan Winegrad is a born and bred St. Louisian who never planned to return to the city. Since she started her business and family here, she now feels she has skin in the game from a social and economic perspective. She looks forward to seeing St. Louis evolve from a social justice and economic perspective. Michael Woods is from St. Louis’ North City neighborhood, and still lives there. He wants to be visible in his neighborhood doing good to show people that you can be cool, hip, and celebrated while doing the right thing. Charli Cooksey sees St. Louis as ground zero for civil rights. She believes the ground is fertile to launch a movement for change that can spread across the country. Charli can see the potential and lack of opportunity in her neighborhood, North City, and knows the work she’s doing in St. Louis wouldn’t be as impactful in a larger city. Andrew Glantz is from Los Angeles and moved to the city to attend WashU. He loves St. Louis and appreciates the support and resources GiftAMeal has received from the community. He wants to give back to the city and make GiftAMeal successful. He values the low cost of living and low business operating costs. He also loves the city’s cultural offerings including Forest Park and the region’s wineries.