Entrepreneur Week

Start Up Challenge Begins

Compared to last year’s event, the 2008 edition of Entrepreneurship Week at Duke was “bigger and better,” according to Lawrence Boyd, Associate Director of Duke’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization (CERC).

The week-long event brought entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and business people to campus to share their expertise with students from the Pratt School of Engineering, as well as from other schools across campus.

What was particularly rewarding to Boyd was the attendance by many undergraduates.

“The awareness around the events during the week has grown,” Boyd explained. “While we saw an increase in the number of undergraduates participating, what was especially gratifying was the presence of more freshmen than last year.”

One of the year’s most popular competitions – the Duke Start-Up Challenge – begins during Entrepreneurship Week. Student groups from across campus came up with an idea for a company and prepared a business proposal. The first phase of the school-year-long competition is known as the “elevator pitch” competition.

“Each group has two minutes to describe their company and the rationale behind it,” Boyd said. “No PowerPoint slides are allowed, just the entrepreneur speaking to the audience.  A panel of judges, including entrepreneurs, faculty, investors and businesspeople from the local community, judged the presentations.”

The winners of this year’s elevator pitch competition were:

Overall and Consumer Products and Services – Trace Aid.  This team developed a business plan for a device to help train autistic children fine motor skills. Team members included Lauren Knish, Kathleen Murphy, Alex Cheng, Jared Smith and Lucas Gong.

High Tech  – Quantios. The team included Max Hodak, Max Altman and Jason Mueller.
Social Entrepreneurship – RadioAC. The team included Nick Sarnoff and Tom Rose.
Life Sciences – Brace Yourself. The team included Vinay Lekharaju, Caitlin Therrien, Baishi Wu, Curtis Lane and Kyle Matthews.
Undergraduate – Wimzii. The team included Alex Hu, Ralph Shao and Alex Schulz.

The winning elevator pitch team received a $1,000 prize. By the final phase of the competition next spring, the winning team can win $25,000 for their business. The second phase of the competition takes place in February, when teams submit more detailed business plan.

The final round of competition begins on April 18, 2009, when business plans will be judged by a panel including faculty, attorneys, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs.

The opening day of the week was devoted to undergraduates, where students got hands-on experience in what it takes to start a business. Students were placed in small groups and given 45 minutes to put together a concept for a business or social venture to address a variety of challenges in areas as diverse as enhancing marketing for women’s athletic events, providing pure water to those in developing countries and reducing childhood obesity.  They then proceeded to pitch their ideas to the audience.  The featured speaker was Christopher Gergen, a Duke alum and founding partner of New Mountain Ventures, an entrepreneurial consulting and leadership development firm.  

The week ended with the opportunity for student groups to create a start-up business in a single day. The One Day Startup session was led by Duke alums Jonathan Gindes, co-founder and CFO of Affinergy, a company that develops biomedical coatings for medical devices; and Taylor Mingos, founder and CEO of Shoeboxed.com., a website that organizes receipts and business cards.