Duke Undergraduate Entrepreneurs in Action

December 17, 2007

Ideas that included promoting childrens books for African-Americans and creation of a cooperative kitchen for low-income single mothers were among the student presentations Dec. 6 at the Undergraduate Entrepreneurs Pitch Session, part of the University’s inaugural Entrepreneurship Week.

Six groups of undergraduate entrepreneurs made presentations before a large audience and a panel of venture capitalists and other professional entrepreneurs, including Chris Kroeger, partner of The Aurora Funds, which co-sponsored the event; Bonny Moellenbrock, director of SJF Advisory Services; and Jay Mebane, co-owner and CFO of U.S. Handbags, Inc.

The business ideas, developed in biomedical engineering (BME), markets and management studies (MMS) and public policy studies (PPS) courses, included social enterprises, innovative biomedical and consumer product distributors, and hospitality ventures. The students’ PowerPoint presentations included professional discussions of production schedules and financial considerations. They then faced an intense question and answer period with the panel of evaluators and the audience.

The event was moderated by Duke professors Christopher Gergen and Lawrence Boyd, who wanted to show the many ways in which entrepreneurial skills and attitudes are applied across disciplinary settings and real-world contexts.

“Christopher and I conceived of the event as a way to bring together students from across campus and to show them how the skills they are learning in class can be used to put their knowledge into the service of society in a wide range of social activities, products and services,” Boyd said.

All groups discussed the steps they have already taken in getting their projects off the ground -- whether it was talking with officials at North Carolina Central University or the Weaver Street Recreation Center, or establishing production strategies and doing market research. Additionally, many project teams plan to build on the experience and participate in the ninth annual Duke Start-Up Challenge.

Adam Zell, a student in Boyd’s BME course, said the showcase was “a great opportunity to practice our business pitch and get informed feedback to keep improving it.”

Featured Students and Business Proposals included:

Tailored Fitness, a company developing an automated personal trainer with a multi-component, interactive web-based workout plan designed to enhance motivation and help combat the obesity epidemic. Presented by students Adam Zell and Peter Zolides.

SkinSight, a company hoping to commercialize a novel transparent bolus material for radiation therapy developed by their faculty adviser John Kirkpatrick. Presented by Kristina Wilson and Anand Sundaram.

Duke-NCCU Unity Scholars Program, a joint scholarship program between students at Duke and North Carolina Central University, consisting of retreats, courses, summer projects, and residential immersion, with the goal of promoting academic and social interaction between the two schools. Developed and presented by Trevor Ostbye, Eugene Vayntrub and Shannyn Piper.

SEED Restaurant, an innovative dining experience targeting dating singles and young professionals that allows them to cook and dine on site, eliminating the need for shopping and cleaning up. Developed and presented by Jason Tofsky, Matt Stoner and Nick Brown.

The People’s Choice Awards went to:

Assata’s Books, a franchise producing Black-interest children’s books that promote academic concepts and provide an accurate portrayal of diversity. Developed and presented by Diana Ozemebhoya.

Rosie’s Kitchen, a cooperative kitchen venture for low-income single mothers from the Weaver Street neighborhood of Durham. Developed and presented by Priyanka Chaurasia, Vatsala Kabra, Mariam Nassiri, and Melanie Wright.