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The entrepreneurial rise in St. Louis couldn’t happen without the foundation and support set by successful mentors and entrepreneurs who came before. Because Saint Louis University has been a leader in entrepreneurship education for more than four decades, it is no wonder that it’s produced graduates who go on to support and create a strong environment for entrepreneurs in St. Louis. The following names are just a selection of the top tier graduates from SLU contributing to the startup ecosystem and continuing to grow the entrepreneurial spirit in the community as a whole.
Course of study at SLU: Communication Technology, Fine and Studio Arts, 2003
What he’s up to now: Co-Founder & CEO, Pixel Press
Taking his passion for video games to the next level and the next generation, Rath and his team at Pixel Press have created products such as Floors and their newest addition, Bloxels, for users to transform drawings and building-block configurations into their very own sharable video games. Integrating the physical world with the digital world on a level that even young kids are able to experiences, helps to grow passion for technology and really puts meaning behind, “bringing big ideas to life.” In 2015, Rath was included in The Business Journal’s “Upstart 100” list that features “intriguing, ingenious, creative entrepreneurs.” And in 2016, Rath was given the title of “Inventor of the Year” by the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis, as well as partnering with Mattel to bring Bloxels to the retail space.
Course of study at SLU: BSBA, Accounting and Finance, 2004
What he’s up to now: Founder, Greetabl
After coming up with a gift-box idea to bring a little more personalization to a cash gift at a wedding he attended, Joe Fischer’s thought maybe he could turn this gift box into a business. In 2012, Fischer met Zoë Scharf, a freelance designer, and together they brought Greetabl to life. Greetabl became an Arch Grant recipient of $50,000 in 2014 adding to the $150,000 Fischer and Scharf raised on their own. This January, Fischer was selected to joined the elite Pipeline Entrepreneurial Fellowship, an organization composed of the “Midwest’s most successful, high-performance entrepreneurs.” Fischer’s involvement in this organization will help grow Greetabl with mentors and advisors dedicated to building “high-growth businesses with global reach.”
Patricia Hagen, PhD
Course of Study at SLU: PhD in Policy Analysis, 1999; Masters in Public Administration, 1991
What she’s up to now: President/Executive Director, T-REX
With more than 20 years of leadership experience, in 2014, Dr. Patricia Hagen, was named the first full-time Executive Director of T-REX, a technology startup incubator in downtown St. Louis. Prior to T-REX, Hagen served in a number of leadership positions including vice president for the National Audubon Society and several roles at SLU, including associate provost for Research, associat dean of the Office of Graduate Education, and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. In her role at T-REX, Hagen helps to support the growing technology startup scene in St. Louis by developing strategies for T-REX’s continued success.
Course of Study at SLU: BA, Psychology, 1998
What he’s up to now: Executive Director, ITEN
In February 2016, Francis Chmelir was named one of St. Louis Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” for his support in the St. Louis startup scene as the executive director of ITEN, an organization which helps tech startups scale, attract capital and/or be acquired for a price that will help the organizations put more money back into the St. Louis ecosystem by investing in other startups or creating a new company entirely. Chmelir joined ITEN in 2012 as director of operations and was named Executive Director in early 2016. Since Chmelir has been with ITEN, the organization has grown from 186 startups to more than 350 with combined monthly revenue of $7.5 million and $214 million in outside funding. Chmelir has been helping to build the St. Louis tech startup ecosystem for more than a decade as both an entrepreneur and as a leader in technology business organizations such as MoFAST and Technology Entrepreneur Center (TEC).
Course of study at SLU: MBA, Management, 1992
What she’s up to now: Director of Entrepreneur Services and Institutional/Corporate Partnerships, Cortex Innovation Community
As of 2014, Phyllis Ellison has been helping the St. Louis startup ecosystem for more than a decade by creating resources and events to support entrepreneurs. Currently, Ellison is the director of entrepreneur services and institutional and corporate partnerships at Cortex, a innovation hub of bioscience and technology research, development and commercialization. Ellison’s title means she identifies opportunities for programming for entrepreneurs in the Cortex district and the greater St. Louis entrepreneurship community, including activities like House of Genius. She is a board member with St. Louis Makes, and was on the Women’s Angel Network committee with Prosper Women Entrepreneurs. Ellison was previously the Executive Director at Innovate Venture Mentoring Service (IVMS), one of the area’s first mentoring programs, started in 2007. Since 2012, she has also been the managing director of Startup Connection, the annual celebration of entrepreneurship in St. Louis.
Course of study at SLU: MBA, Marketing, 2003
What she’s up to now: Founder & CEO, Brazen Global
In 2011, “before entrepreneurship was cool in STL,” Jennifer Ehlen was the Director at the Center for Entrepreneurship at SLU and often found herself to be the only woman in the room. And while we’ve come a long way, St. Louis still ranks low for women entrepreneurs which is how she came to be the founder of Prosper Women Entrepreneurs (PWE), the CEO of Brazen Global (formerly Prosper Institute) and Managing Partner of PWE Startup Accelerator in 2014. PWE was created to advance women-led companies, and Ehlen serves as a coach, mentor and advisory board member to several early stage entrepreneurs and CEOs.
Mary Jo Gorman, MD
Course of study at SLU: BA, Chemistry and Biology, 1981
What she’s up to now: Lead Managing Partner, Prosper Women Entrepreneurs Startup Accelerator
Having started and operated three health care companies of her own, Dr. Mary Jo Gorman is now the lead managing partner of Prosper Women Entrepreneurs Startup Accelerator. The organization connects women entrepreneurs to capital for their health care, tech, or consumer product startups. No stranger to fundraising for her own businesses, after taking the lead managing partner role in 2014, Gorman’s expertise helped the accelerator raise $3 million, $1 million over their $2 million dollar goal.
Course of Study at SLU: MBA, International Business & Marketing, 1994
What she’s up to now: Member Development, Billiken Angel Network; Director Brand Strategy, Express Scripts
Laura Burkemper is a driving force in strategic planning and development. With an entrepreneurial mindset, Burkemper has helped to build profitable business and brand growth strategies to accelerate companies, people and products to their peak performances. With that experience, she has been a Senior Adjunct Professor of classes such as “Corporate Entrepreneurship & Innovation” and “New Venture-Feasibility Analysis”. She also implements a “Shark Tank” structure to her classes with community entrepreneurs evaluating pitches to give students real-world experience. Burkemper also oversees member development for SLU’s Billiken Angels Network, a growing group of “angel” investors for a variety of St. Louis area startups.
Course of study: Honors Bachelor of Science, Business Management – Entrepreneurship, 2008
What she’s up to now: Director of Content Strategy for Brazen Global; Vice President, West Model & Talent Management
Sutton Lasater founded Sutton Lasater Jewelry in 2003 starting with custom vintage creations by repurposing a collection of costume jewelry. Her entrepreneurial spirit helped her expand her jewelry line into bridal and wedding, costume and custom pieces. Lasater also continues to support young entrepreneurs in her role as Youth & Collegiate Program Director at Prosper Women Entrepreneurs.
Course of Study: Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, 1986
What he’s up to now: Cofounder and CEO of World Wide Technology and Cofounder, Saint Louis FC, part of the United Soccer League
Jim Kavanaugh co-founded World Wide Technology with David Steward in 1990 and serves as the company’s Chief Executive Officer. Kavanaugh and his management team have guided WWT from a small product reseller to a technology solution provider with more than $9 billion in annual revenue and over 4,000 employees.
Course of Study: MBA, 2002; BS/BA, Marketing & Information Technology, 1993
As a Senior Adjunct Professor at Saint Louis University and head of the Center for Entrepreneurship, Tim Hayden is dedicated to helping the next generation of entrepreneurs thrive in St. Louis and even helped expand SLU’s top 10 entrepreneurship academic program by launching the Sports Business Program.
Aside from his role at SLU, Hayden is also the co-founder and managing director of Stadia Ventures, an ecosystem for sports innovation growth. Stadia Ventures’ program Stadia Accelerator provides up to 10 companies a year with up to $100,000 equity investment, mentoring and networking opportunities to establish the sport startups.