Every Wednesday morning during Spring semester, I was fortunate enough to be part of a roomful of graduate students who met to work on startup businesses together. We had a range of backgrounds, from full- and part-time MBAs, to PhD candidates in engineering or computer sciences, to Master students in Applied Security Analysis and Computer Sciences. The businesses were even more diverse, ranging from a mobile app for self-guided food tours, to a poke restaurant, to a pregnancy-safe skincare brand and more.
We all worked together as part of the popular Weinert Applied Ventures in Entrepreneurship (WAVE) course, taught by Weinert Center Director Dan Olszewski. The WAVE program is an applied practicum, offering students hands-on training for starting and growing entrepreneurial ventures.
WAVE was one of the most unique and most beneficial courses that I took during my graduate career. The course consisted of a weekly seminar where we learned the lean startup methodology for launching and scaling a venture, guest speakers from a variety of industries, and – best of all – the chance to actually start a business.
Every week, all seven of the student teams would present to the class about the progress that they made and how they applied the lessons learned from the previous week’s class. My classmate Ryan Close (CBPM ’18) reflected that “Dan has created an extremely beneficial course where each week builds upon the last, and by the end of the semester you realize you’ve laid the foundation and framework of a startup.” Each of these startups improved every week based on the hard work put in by the students and the constructive feedback given by Dan and the rest of the class.
Not only did we all benefit from receiving feedback, but it was a positive experience to provide feedback to our fellow classmates as well. Dan encouraged us to act like board members and advisors to our classmates’ businesses, which was a unique opportunity for most everyone in the class. As my classmate Kaitie Edmiston (CBPM ’18) puts it, “Dan set us up for success by providing a safe, friendly environment to give and receive feedback and a proven framework to test our business concepts.”
The WAVE program culminated with the annual board meeting on Friday May 4th, when all student teams pitched their businesses to the WAVE and Weinert Center advisory boards. Pitching to a room of impressive business leaders was already a great experience, but what made it even more exciting was that student teams had the opportunity to receive up to $50,000 in funding to help launch their businesses. The advisory board determines whether the student-led startups receive funding from the Weinert Ventures Fund and the Daniel Neviaser Fund. This year, two teams received offers for funding to help grow their businesses: Immuto Scientific (biotech startup based on a patented technology for analyzing proteins and epitope mapping during the drug development process) and NovoMoto (sustainable social enterprise that provides clean and renewable electricity to communities in sub Saharan Africa).
Although not every team has decided to continue working on their business ideas, the experiences from the WAVE program will serve us all well in our future careers. Whether we find ourselves launching our own businesses, working at a startup, or joining a large company, we will all benefit from the entrepreneurial experiences gained during WAVE. In addition to the lessons learned, WAVE provided us with a strong community and network of peers and professionals in the entrepreneurship community that will serve us long into the future.
We are all grateful to the WAVE program, the advisory board, and most of all to Dan Olszewski for a fantastic semester.
2018 WAVE Student Teams:
FoodBaby: John Paetsch, Jayapradha Rangarajan, Jayasruthi Rangarajan, Rogers Jeffrey Leo John, Christie Her
FreshFin Poke: Andrew Miller, Connor Pardell, Andrew Foster, and Ryan Close
Immuto Scientific: Zak Kavajecz,, Raefe Gross, Dan Benjamin, and Jenny Richards
Juno: Kaitie Edmiston, Linda Liu, and Cassandra Nissi
Rebel Kombucha: Meredith Rolen
SleekShots: Kevin Cencula and Matt Louison
TurkishWears: Greg Forkins and Alireza Aghayee