Student entrepreneurs want to connect, inspire peers

There's a lot of talk about how college is supposed to prepare you for the "real world." But like many of their WashU peers, juniors Stephanie Mertz and Allen Osgood aren't waiting for graduation to gain real-world experience outside the classroom.

John Saddington (center, in cap), spoke to the members of WUTE earlier this spring.

In January, the duo started leading Washington University Technology Entrepreneurs (WUTE), a student organization with the mission to discover, connect and inspire the university's most innovative tech-focused students.

"WUTE is a hub for students to pursue projects outside the classroom," says president and computer science student Mertz. "We foster the sharing of ideas, feedback and rapid iteration necessary to bring an idea to life."

And they're not doing it alone. During the spring 2016 semester, Mertz and Osgood brought three notable entrepreneurs and investors to campus to aid WUTE in its mission.

In late March, blogger, startup founder, enterprise executive and indie developer John Saddington shared his life's story and success principles with a group of entrepreneurially inclined Washington University students.

The second event, "Know Thy Investor," featured Dan Conner, a senior associate with Lewis & Clark Ventures. Conner, who talked about understanding what investors are looking for, earned a master's in energy, environmental & chemical engineering from WashU and was a student representative to the university's Board of Trustees while getting a MBA in finance and entrepreneurship from the Olin Business School.

On April 21, Arteen Arabshahi covered what he learned about the business of venture capital from working at early-stage investment fund Karlin Ventures. He also shared common pitfalls of investing and how he came to be named one of the Forbes 30 under 30.

Mertz and Osgood say the past five months far exceeded their expectations.

"This semester was amazing for WUTE. Our speakers were able to assist and inspire some of the most talented and driven students," says Mertz, who worked for Advanced Technology Group as a consultant until January.

WUTE has even bigger plans for the upcoming fall semester. One of the events will be ArchHacks, a student hackathon slated for Nov. 4-6, which will bring together more than 500 students from around the country for 48 hours of collaboration, problem solving and building.

Mertz and Osgood secured sponsors including Google and Express Scripts as well as popular local eateries Pi Pizzeria and Seoul Taco to ensure hackers will be well fed. Mertz says WUTE also will continue to bring in venture capitalists.

Saddington said he believes WUTE's mission to encourage entrepreneurship is some of the most important work by any organization, regardless of its size and type.

"This builds the best entrepreneurial ecosystems since 'giving back' is absolutely essential," Saddington said.