Offering free samples of an "awesome, awesome" carbonated tea beverage she is selling, senior Tatiana Birgisson joined three other Duke student entrepreneurs on Thursday evening in describing how they’ve been growing their own businesses on campus this summer.
Working at DUhatch, the "student business incubator" located at the Pratt School of Engineering, Birgisson tweaked her recipe and developed a business plan for Mati, the tea she is marketing as an alternative to sodas or coffee, or as a mixer for cocktails. She served glasses of the fruity tea to local entrepreneurs, faculty members and students at a reception following the talks.
Her fellow participants also promoted their products. Grant Warman explained how TabSprint offers a mobile platform that makes it easier for people to buy drinks at a bar. Alex Browne described NeoTeach as a "crowd-sourced online education platform." Jake Stauch presented NeuroSpire as a less costly way for companies to learn about customer preferences through the emerging field of neuromarketing.
The four students "worked together and played together" during the summer, getting advice along the way from mentors at local companies, said Pratt's Larry Boyd. An entrepreneur himself who oversees DUhatch, which works with enterprising undergraduates from across the university, Boyd gave up his office to make more room for the summer participants. "We tried to pick students who would be a catalyst for entrepreneurship at Duke and inspire others," he said.
Robert Calderbank, dean of the natural sciences and interim director of Duke's campus-wide entrepreneurship initiative, was among those who attended their presentations. "You sit here and you almost feel the world changing in front of your eyes," he said. Alison Dorsey, a Duke graduate and local entrepreneur who introduced the session, praised DUhatch for helping to "create pathways for graduates to stay and create jobs here in Durham."
A similar program this summer provided opportunities for Duke undergraduates to start companies and work with existing startups in California's Silicon Valley.