by Caroline Roseman
There’s a reason Washington University in St. Louis frequently makes Princeton Review’s list of top entrepreneurial schools.
Through programming, funding, mentorship and more, WashU is steadfast in its commitment to supporting innovators and entrepreneurs, on campus and beyond. Many of these successful entrepreneurs are carrying that mission forward by engaging with current students, faculty and community members at networking events such as the HER Summit.
While the South Forty, WashU’s main residential area, is usually quiet at 9:30 on a Saturday morning, Oct. 19, Risa Commons was buzzing. Attendees of the second annual HER Summit, hosted by the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation & Entrepreneurship, were excited to share ideas and receive the expert advice of entrepreneurs from a variety of industries. The HER Summit is the flagship event of the Simon Initiative, made possible by the continued generosity of Andrew Simon (LA’63) and his wife Andrea. The Simon Initiative aims to make entrepreneurship more accessible to women and other under-served groups. It also advocates for an interdisciplinary approach to innovation by combining entrepreneurship with the humanities and STEM.
Many of the featured speakers and workshop leaders at the HER Summit are WashU alums who benefited from the wide-ranging campus resources and brilliant peers and mentors they met as students. The WashU community has supported these entrepreneurs from seed to tree, and now they are paying it forward to the next generation.
Amanda Zuckerman: The importance of a powerful social network
The keynote speaker was Amanda Zuckerman (BFA‘ 13), co-founder and creative director of Dormify, a retailer of unique dorm-room and apartment decor and other college-life products.
When Zuckerman first visited WashU, she was impressed by the StEP businesses on the South Forty. These student-run businesses put her in an entrepreneurial mindset even before submitting her enrollment deposit. The stars aligned when she and her mom went shopping for dorm supplies and couldn’t find cute Twin XL bedding. She realized there was a dearth of dorm-appropriate decor items being offered. That experience, combined with her interest in entrepreneurship, primed her to take advantage of this gap in the market.
Dormify was born.
In developing her business idea, Zuckerman applied insights she gained from marketing classes she took at Olin and her communication design classes in the Sam Fox School. She also took advantage of her campus social networks: before Dormify was even a brand she convinced friends to be brand ambassadors and contribute to her burgeoning blog, which featured design tips and photos of cool dorm rooms. This input from friends and peers made all the difference in getting Dormify off the ground. Says Zuckerman, “I don’t think Dormify would exist if I didn’t go to WashU.”
“I don’t think Dormify would exist if I didn’t go to WashU.”
Chandler Malone: Giving back through entrepreneurship
Chandler Malone (AB’18) is another WashU alum who gave back by participating in the HER Summit. He cut his entrepreneurial teeth by starting two ventures—an event promotion company and an event-related app—while at WashU. Says Malone, who initially wanted to be a lawyer, “WashU was fully responsible for my entrepreneurial direction.”
In a class called “Anxieties in the Digital Age,” Malone wrote a 20-page research paper about Square, the credit card processing company co-founded by WashU alum Jim McKelvey. His research sparked an interest in fintech and app development. This led Malone to develop The Moves, an app that lets users discover local events and buy tickets with low transaction fees. He started working with the Skandalaris Center as a junior. Not only did Skandalaris give him the opportunity to network and share ideas with other entrepreneurs, but he also won $5,000 in funding for his company through the Skandaris Cup competition.
“WashU was fully responsible for my entrepreneurial direction”
Today, Malone pays it forward as a founder of Underground Ventures, a global venture studio that identifies promising underrepresented founders in the tech sector and provides them with the resources they need to grow. Says Malone, “A little bit of success fuels you to continue.” Malone continues by using innovation to make entrepreneurship more equitable.
Vicky Zhang: Finding a like-minded entrepreneurial community
Starting a business is not the only way students can experience entrepreneurship on campus. HER Summit’s student speaker Vicky Zhang (BSBA ‘21) first became involved with the Skandalaris Center through their first-year Pre-O program. Says Zhang, “The Skandalaris Center gave me an unprecedented way to get involved on campus.” She purchased an existing StEP business, Bears Bikes, that rents, repairs and stores bikes on campus.
In her remarks, Zhang shared her passion for providing a positive customer experience—like the time she rented a bike to an exchange student from the Netherlands who wanted a taste of home. Zhang noted that in her fellow StEP owners, she has found a community of people who share her entrepreneurial passion.
“The Skandalaris Center gave me an unprecedented way to get involved on campus.”
WashU is committed to supporting and nurturing innovation and entrepreneurship from seed to tree. It has created an environment where people are supported from idea through development to launch and beyond. Events like the HER Summit are just one of the ways students, faculty, alumni and community members can learn, share and grow with like-minded fellow innovators and entrepreneurs.