Not only Olin: StEP offers students real-world entrepreneurial experience 

| Junior Scene Editor 

At Washington University, students are able to wholly operate their own businesses on campus. Currently there are seven businesses run by undergraduate students. Much of this enterprise is thanks to The Student Entrepreneurship Program (StEP), run by the Skandalaris Center. StEP is a 24-year-old program that grants students entrepreneurial opportunities. II Luscri, managing director for the Skandalaris Center, believes StEP’s value is in the full ownership by students. 

“There are some universities that have student-run businesses, but that’s a lot different than student businesses because it could not work out right,” Luscri said. “[Our] businesses aren’t immune to market conditions. There’s real money at stake in that.” Students who own and open businesses assume all of the risk of running a business as well as any opportunity for profit.

Any student currently enrolled at the University can work with the Skandalaris Center to found a business on campus. In 2020, seniors Drake Shafer and Justin Reiling created Gallery 314, a store for selling items made by WashU students. What was originally something to focus on and keep busy with during COVID-19 has since become a fruitful business. 

“We decided that we wanted to open a business-like gallery that would focus on selling handmade items from around the area,” Shafer said. “We started the business from scratch and then in September 2020, maybe 3 months later, we opened for the first time on campus.” 

Because the businesses are fully incorporated, owners and workers are in charge of all decision-making and operation of the business. 

“There was a lot of work that had to be done kind of outside of the store: keeping track of finances and balances of all the consignors and small business accounts that we had, upkeeping [the] website, social media, marketing, and emails,” Shafer said. He estimated that he put in a total of 10 to 20 hours a week of work.  

Many StEP businesses currently at the University have a history older than their current owners. Bears Bikes has been operating for 19 years, 

Vicky Zhang, class of 2021 graduate and former owner of Bears Bikes, bought her ownership in 2018.

“When I bought in, it was an established business, meaning somebody had created it like an LLC. It had gone through legal integration, legal iterations, and it had been successful in the past,” Zhang said. 

Businesses in StEP primarily serve the WashU community and are established to fill a need or improve campus life in some capacity.

“I know it has a tangible impact on the community and I really enjoyed seeing some of the things that I’ve implemented in the store work out really well,” said junior Campbell Sharpe, the storefront manager of Sharing With a Purpose (SWAP).  

Not only do the businesses positively impact the University’s community, but operating them behind the scenes also offers unique business experience to undergrad students. The business owners in StEP gain practical management experience through their ownership and growth. 

“The biggest thing you learn is the ability to actually act on things. A lot of times the world has really good ideas…But we are not thinking about the day to day of it or the potential implications,” Zhang said. To run a StEP business takes commitment. She added, “I’m gonna be honest with myself about what it’s gonna take, and I’m gonna be willing to do it, plan it out, and deal with the problems that come with it.” 

For students looking to get involved and move their own ideas forward, the Skandalaris Center encourages students to present all their entrepreneurial plans.  Skandalaris Center will then attempt to help make them work. 

“I would encourage students to come forward with any business idea. Maybe it fits with StEP, maybe it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, we’ll help find another avenue, find another place to help get that company up and running and help students launch that,” Luscri said. 

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening at Washington University and beyond.