Duke News & Communications

Examples Abound of Student Entrepreneurship

Duke undergraduate and graduate students haven't been waiting for the university's new initiative  to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.

Senior Alex Zhang launched VoraciTee, a socially conscious design company that uses striking apparel designs to support nonprofits. MBA student Evan McCormick's idea was an auction website to help companies manage their electronic waste. Juniors Spencer Kuzmier and Andrew Sugrue, UNC students who work at Duke through the Robertson Scholars program, have been promoting a robotic bowl that helps keep fruit fresh by reducing the amount of gases that contribute to early ripening.

"We believe our game-changing innovation will improve the lives of millions of women," said MBA student Meghan Gallagher, part of a student team developing a medical device to treat urinary incontinence, which afflicts people around the world. "Medici MedTech has been able to leverage multiple resources across Duke University and RTP, resources that are helping us be successful and navigate the challenges of being a start-up."

A former investment banker, Gallagher said she came to the Fuqua School of Business to pursue her "strong urge to bring something innovative to the world, to be invested in something exciting."

Duke senior Nic Meliones felt a similar urge while developing an after-school program that provides positive learning experiences for teenagers in northeast central Durham. He and a group of Duke students collaborated with local organizations to "address the great troubles that Durham's at-risk youth face." Named for a Swahili concept from Durham's sister city in Arusha, Tanzania, their Ujamaa Project won the Duke ChangeWorks competition for social innovation and has received support from Ashoka's Youth Venture Program, as well as from other sources.

Similar examples abound. The winning team in the latest Duke Start-Up Challenge was Wasabi, a group of Duke students who presented a plan for "fast casual" sushi restaurants. The previous year's winner, EntoGenetics, proposed to create strong "spider silk" from genetically modified silkworms as a possible replacement for Kevlar. Several Duke undergraduates hope to establish an "entrepreneurship incubator" on Central Campus where they can live and interact together.

"There's an entrepreneurial spirit at Duke," said Erik Michielsen, who received his MBA from Fuqua and now runs the website Capture Your Flag in New York, where he frequently runs into other entrepreneurs with Duke degrees. Dozens of other startup companies are affiliated with Duke in some way.

Back on campus, Meliones said, "It is great to see entrepreneurship becoming a part of everyday undergraduate life, because entrepreneurship and the leadership and innovation that drives entrepreneurship is what leads to change and great new ideas."

Gallagher, who currently helps lead the Duke Start-Up Challenge, goes even further, saying "entrepreneurship at Duke should be treated like a school sport. Given how fast the Duke Start-Up Challenge is growing, I would venture to guess that more students come to Duke with the hope of starting the next Google than they do of playing college basketball."
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