WU student-run Bear Studios expands to Baltimore, continues to succeed with LEAP Challenge
Three years after its founding, Bear Studios—a student-run strategy and design firm—has expanded its operations to Baltimore.
Bear Studios was founded in 2014 by senior Peter Delaney, Avi Felman, a 2017 Washington University alum, and current Stanford University senior Will Papper, a former Washington University student. Now, Bear Studios is establishing a branch in Baltimore through a connection with Loyola University Maryland. Led by two Loyola students, supported by three fellows, the Baltimore location will begin its first cycle of operation in the fall semester.
Operating with support from the Olin Business School and the Skandalaris Center, Bear Studios assists other businesses with venture development. Directed by Delaney, Felman, and senior class president Bill Feng, Bear Studios is supported by a team of 20 fellows across multiple academic divisions at Washington University. The firm works with clients including The Cleveland Clinic and Archware, and it provides three sets of services, under three domains: consulting, design and technology.
While expansion was always a targeted goal for the organization, the idea didn’t come to fruition until after Bear Studios’ co-directors attended the University Innovation Fellows (UIF) program, housed in Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. After connecting with other entrepreneurial-minded students, the co-directors were approached by a UIF fellow from Loyola about expanding the business, and from there, they connected with other Loyola University Maryland students to establish a branch in Baltimore.
An additional factor in Bear Studios’ expansion is Felman’s recent move to the Washington, D.C. area. He will provide direct mentorship to the directors in Baltimore and allow the organization to leverage a fairly developed entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“[Felman’s move] was really exciting to us and contributed to our decision in expanding there; first in terms of all of the pieces and random variables—[they] fell into place in terms of location, inspiration and direct mentorship,” Delaney said.
The Baltimore branch provides Bear Studios with additional support by offering more student talent that clients can utilize.
“The really cool thing we’re able to leverage is the network of students who have the ability to utilize their skills that they’ve been honing over several years of college in an entrepreneurial capacity,” Delaney said. “Moving forward, when we have too many projects or our pipeline is really full in St. Louis, they’re offering the same kinds of consulting, design and technology services that we offer here, in Baltimore.”
Through Bear Studios, senior Bradford Orr, a strategy fellow, is able to work with a wide range of companies, gaining experience in entrepreneurship spaces while at Washington University.
“By joining Bear Studio, I’ve been exposed to a number of different startups and ventures, often people who are just at the idea stage. And I’ve been able to give input and advise different idea-havers, so to speak, on where they think their market can go,” Orr said.
Co-director Feng views Bear Studios as an organization that facilitates the connection of Washington University students with the St. Louis entrepreneurial community. Such a model provides fellows with opportunities for individual growth and engagement in startup spaces.
“One thing we’ve noticed is in the St. Louis area—this being now one of the fastest growing startup communities in America—you’ve got a lot of people with really good ideas for what they want to do for their business ventures, but you don’t necessarily always have the talent there on their teams to work on these projects,” Feng said. “We have people with this huge breadth of talent and skills, and [we] connect them with all these different kinds of people who are looking for the helping hand to develop their business.”
In addition to geographically expanding, Bear Studios will continue working with the Leadership in Entrepreneurial Acceleration (LEAP) Inventor Challenge, which engages and trains Washington University faculty, postdoctoral researchers, graduate students and staff teams towards commercial development of their technology or products. The competition, which occurs three times per year—in the fall, spring and summer—allows individuals and teams to pitch venture and business ideas to a panel of venture capitalists and industry leaders. A $250,000 budget of investments is allocated toward the various projects presented. The competition, according to Delaney, provides Bear Studios with exposure to emerging ventures in the St. Louis community, particularly the medical school.
“We play a direct role in assisting all of these companies and [advising] them of how they should pitch themselves, what they haven’t developed in their business models and…how they can really think out how their venture might or might not function,” Delaney said. “[There are] so many people at Wash. U., and there’s so much being done that a lot of it gets missed. It’s been really amazing to see, in a cycle that goes on three times a year, how consistently amazing projects are being brought up and proposed.”
According to Delaney, Bear Studios has worked with a winner during each cycle that the organization has assisted, which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars raised in investments for budding companies.
Sophomore Lexi Jackson, a Bear Studios strategy fellow, worked with a LEAP Challenge winner during the competition’s most recent cycle this summer.
“To have my first client through Bear Studios be so successful and secure money that could really allow him to make a difference in his discipline and for the world was an incredible feeling and such a surprise to me. Joining Bear Studios, I did not anticipate that I could have such a large impact, especially so soon,” Jackson said. “The fact that the Skandalaris Center gives these local entrepreneurs, whether students, professors or local St. Louis community members, the opportunity to compete in this contest…and [that] the Skandalaris Center can really facilitate that is wonderful.”