Bridging the Divide between the Lab and the Marketplace

Coming up with new ideas to help solve the problems facing society is one of the main motivations driving all scientists and engineers. While universities provide the optimum environment for the formation of ideas and their nurturing, they are not always best suited to translating their discoveries into tangible products.

This niche is often best filled by the commercial world.

More and more, engineers are appreciating the fact that coming up with a great idea or technology is not necessarily an end in itself. They are seeking ways of bridging the often wide chasm between the laboratory and the marketplace.

For one week in November, the 17th through the 23rd, events are planned across campus and in Research Triangle Park intended not only to inspire students and faculty to think more like an entrepreneur, but to provide practical information on all facets involved in starting a business or social venture.

“There are so many great opportunities for students and faculty during Entrepreneurship Week,” said Lawrence Boyd, associate director of Duke’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization (CERC). “When people think of the entrepreneurial spirit, they tend to think of other locations like Silicon Valley and Stanford or MIT.

“But we also have great resources here in North Carolina and the Research Triangle Park,” Boyd continued. “Not only do we have strong engineering, medical, law and business schools, we have alumni who have been successful in starting businesses and who are interested in passing along what they have learned from experience.”

In general terms, the first three days of Entrepreneurship Week are targeted at specific schools within Duke, such as undergraduate, medical, engineering, business and law. The highlight of the opening day of the E-Week is Undergraduate Day, where students get hands-on experience in what it takes to start a business. The featured speaker is Christopher Gergen, a Duke alum and founding partner of New Mountain Ventures, an entrepreneurial consulting and leadership development firm.  Gergen also teaches the Enterprising Leadership Initiative course at the Sanford Institute and recently authored the book “Life Entrepreneurs.”

During E-Week, one of the most popular competitions – the Duke Start-Up Challenge – begins. Student groups from across campus come up with an idea for a company and prepare a business plan. 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, investors and businesspeople from the outside, will judge the presentations.”

Winning teams will receive a $1,000 prize. By the final phase of the competition next spring, the winning team can win $25,000 for their business.

Other highlights of the week include a tour of companies in Research Triangle Park, a talk by Duke football coach David Cutcliffe, the opportunity to meet entrepreneurs who started companies in the Triangle, and presentations geared towards students from the Fuqua School of Business and the Law School.

The week ends with the opportunity for student groups to create a start-up business in a single day. The goal is to demystify the start-up process and help students realize some of the key steps it takes to start a company. Students should leave the session with a clearer path to creating a startup, Boyd said.

This session is being 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..

A complete list of speakers, events, times and locations is available at http://www.eweekatduke.com/.