Stories of Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Duke Senior Ashan-wa Aliogo

Student Ashan-wa Aliogo talks about how the Duke I&E program provided opportunities for her. Video by Pilar Timpane, Duke I&E

Duke senior Ashan-wa Aliogo has always had an interest in business.

“I knew I really wanted to pursue business, and the Innovation & Entrepreneurship (I&E) certificate was the closest offering that Duke had,” Aliogo said. “I knew I wanted a hands-on approach because I really learn by doing. I wanted to take what I learned and apply it to real life, and I feel the I&E certificate really combines that learning experience with real-life application.”

With the help of what she’s learned from the certificate, she has started and grown her business, Laja. What began as a blog to promote positive aspects of the culture of her native Nigeria has transformed into a business with an e-commerce platform to sell her designs using African prints and textiles.

Following graduation, Aliogo, an international and comparative studies major focusing on French, plans to continue to grow Laja while also spending time gaining more experience in the fashion industry.

But Aliogo already has considerable experience under her belt through the internships she’s completed for her certificate requirements.

She spent one summer in Nigeria working on her second collection for Laja, collaborating with Nigerian tailors to source fabric and creating designs and concepts for the business.

She also held a merchandising internship with Belk, which gave her insight about how the retail arena operates.

“It was a good experience because I was able to apply a lot of what I learned there to Laja,” she said.

Aliogo sees herself eventually returning to Nigeria to work in the fashion and retail sector.

Not only did her summer experiences help her build Laja, but her innovation and entrepreneurship classes were also critical.

Most recently, Aliogo finished up the senior capstone class required of all certificate students.

“We had to come up with a business idea,” she said. “I already had my business, so it was really cool being able to work on that in class – getting feedback from my professors, getting feedback from my classmates, as well. It was almost like I wasn’t doing school, in a sense – I was doing what I love, but also learning and getting feedback and merging my business with my Duke experience and my Duke academic career.”

Aliogo said she believes entrepreneurship teaches one a lot about him or herself. Many of the classes encouraged students to look at failure as an inevitable learning experience, a lesson she credited with changing her perspective on life.

“That really helped me change my perception of learning and my whole attitude toward learning,” she said. “I was more focused on learning and gaining knowledge rather than, ‘What do I have to do to get this grade?’”