Duke News & Communications

Kimberly Jenkins: 'Entrepreneurship is Part of My DNA'

Back when Microsoft was a start-up company, Kimberly Jenkins persuaded Bill Gates to let her launch an educational division, which went on to earn billions of dollars. Her next challenge was leading the marketing department for Steve Jobs at NeXT, and then advising companies such as Sun, Oracle and Cisco. After that she established two non-profit organizations that educated legislators on the importance of technology.

Now Jenkins is gearing up to apply her years of entrepreneurial experience to promoting entrepreneurship itself at the university where she earned both bachelor's and doctoral degrees and has served as a trustee since 2001.

"Entrepreneurship is part of my DNA; it's where I get my energy," says Jenkins, who will lead a wide range of campus initiatives in her new role as Duke's senior advisor to the president and provost for innovation and entrepreneurship.

For the past several years, Jenkins has been serving as a part-time faculty member and mentor to students in the Masters in Engineering Management Program at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering, where her special interest has been encouraging women and minorities to consider entrepreneurial careers. She's worked with "a ton of really smart Duke students" but says they've lacked "access to the mentoring and coaching, venture capital, financial experts, legal experts, communications experts and everything else they need to turn their great ideas into companies."

Jenkins aims to provide all of that and more in her new role at Duke, providing vision and coordination for initiatives that already extend well beyond the campus into the local community and around the world.

"We've reached the limits of what can happen in a communal but unguided way," said Larry Moneta, vice president of student affairs and an active member of what he termed an "underground entrepreneurial movement" at Duke that Jenkins will now nurture and expand.

Although Duke is among the nation's leading research universities and prides itself on having an entrepreneurial spirit, it needs to move more good ideas into the marketplace to produce jobs and serve society, Jenkins says. "We've done well with biomedical applications but need successful models for other areas such as energy and the environment, information technology, clean technology and social entrepreneurship."

She's been visiting universities such as MIT and Stanford to study how they support faculty, educate students, interact with companies and advance innovation in other ways. "You can't just flip a switch and make this happen; they built a culture over 20 or 30 years," she says. "But now is our time. We have all the right ingredients to make big things happen at Duke, in the RTP and even nationally. I visited Stanford recently and can't tell you how many of them were asking me about a job. They want to move here."

Just as Stanford played a critical role in the development of California's Silicon Valley, Jenkins points to Duke and other universities as "the crown jewels" of North Carolina. She's worked with local leaders and taught entrepreneurship courses at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she also serves on an Innovation Circle that advises Chancellor Holden Thorp. "Carolina and Duke compete aggressively in sports, but we also collaborate in many ways," she said. "By working together along with other area universities, we can benefit not only our own campuses but the region as a whole. The future of North Carolina lies with innovation and entrepreneurship. That's the best way out of the economic crisis."

Beyond the local region, Jenkins sees her mission as essential to Duke's emerging global agenda. "This is very high on the list for China, India, Brazil and others. They want to learn how to promote innovation," she says.
Jenkins says her new role builds on her service as a university trustee, from which she is stepping down. "At almost every meeting over the past several years I'd raise my hand and ask how we could be doing more to promote innovation and entrepreneurship. But I'll tell you what - I wasn't the only one raising my hand. This is a priority of the senior leadership."
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