Entrepreneurship Club kicks off first event with founder of Build-A-Bear
The Washington University Entrepreneurship Club hosted its first ever speaker Thursday afternoon when University board of trustees member and founder of Build-A-Bear Workshop Maxine Clark addressed aspiring student entrepreneurs.
Described by Olin Business School students and faculty members as an innovative entrepreneur and genuinely warm person, Clark provided executive insight into various aspects of the entrepreneurial process. Her presentation included a general overview of an entrepreneur’s role in business and society, the history of her business, and recent developments and challenges facing her company.
The event is the recently re-established Entrepreneurship Club’s first public lecture, which club leaders hope will help promote interest in entrepreneurship.
Sophomore co-founder Mary-Brent Brown said that she felt there was a need for more entrepreneurship-related events at Washington University, leading to the founding of the Entrepreneurship Club in early 2014 with the goal of holding such events.
“[The club co-founders] were connected by Dean [Steve] Malter…and when we learned there was no entrepreneurship club on campus, we were all really surprised because we had all been involved in business or nonprofit activities in high school, so we were interested in continuing that in college,” Brown said.
Entrepreneurship Club co-founder and sophomore Jessica Landzberg said Clark’s selection as the group’s first speaker was a nostalgic as well as common-sense move.
“Build-A-Bear for all of us has played a major role in our childhood—we all have such fond memories of going there with our grandparents, our friends—and the fact that Maxine Clark lives in the St. Louis area and St. Louis was actually where the first Build-A-Bear was [established],” Landzberg said. “It just seemed like the perfect fit.”
Sophomore Shea Gouldd, another co-founder, added that an entrepreneurship club had existed over a decade ago and was successful, but it disappeared with that year’s graduates. Gouldd highlighted their desire to restart the club and reinvigorate the experience of learning from other entrepreneurs.
Gouldd also said that the Entrepreneurship Club was a vital opportunity for students from all disciplines to learn about entrepreneurship, especially for those unable to pursue the entrepreneurship major offered by the Olin Business School. As such, Clark’s lecture event was open to all students.
“So how many of you have been to Build-A-Bear?” Clark asked. The response proved nearly unanimous as hands shot up throughout the lecture hall. Clark proceeded to describe the significance of current college-age students to the Build-A-Bear brand.
“You are the first generation…that grew up on Build-A-Bear Workshop,” she explained. “We’re really excited to have influenced a whole generation.”
Clark emphasized her rejection of the traditional definition of a corporate entrepreneur. Instead, she offered her own definition of entrepreneurship.
“An entrepreneur is anyone who really wants to leave their mark on the world and make it a better place than they found it,” she said.
Other topics of discussion included the local foundations of the company, which opened its first store in the St. Louis Galleria in 1997, and the negative impacts of online shopping, which has recently contributed to drastically reduced numbers of annual mall-goers.
Clark explained that her company needed to continuously keep up with modern times in order to keep customers engaged with her brand. She said Build-A-Bear has achieved this goal through its website and interactive environment, which allow children to experience their bears in a virtual world.
Following the presentation, Clark answered students’ questions and presented a Washington University-themed teddy bear to the Entrepreneurship Club.
Students seemed to admire Clark’s talk and experience.
“Maxine Clark was very inspirational when she told the story about how she quit her well-paying job to look for something that was right for her,” sophomore Risha Rathore said. “In my eyes, that’s something only a true entrepreneur would have the courage to do.”