The Sondland Durant Center for Entrepreneurship extends throughout the Wilkinson Building’s garden level, offering offices for team leaders, a large meeting area for lectures and workshops, and a group of small teleconference rooms. This sprawling workspace is the home of EngEn, the Duke Engineering Entrepreneurship Initiative.
“EngEn is an engine for innovation––driving the cycle of problem identification, solution development and the robust launch of new ventures,” says Ken Gall, the associate dean for entrepreneurship. “Other schools certainly have entrepreneurial programs, but EngEn is unique because we now have a unified home for design, innovation and entrepreneurship, and that centralization makes it really easy to build collaborations and find entrepreneurial success.”
EngEn was created to help students, faculty and staff translate research and technologies into licenses, patents and even successful startups. By supporting a suite of design programs like Design Health, business incubators like the BRiDGE and undergraduate initiatives like the A. James Clark Scholars program, EngEn aims to streamline the entire trajectory of a product––from the formation of an idea, through the design process, and ultimately into the commercial market.
“This new space gives us an opportunity to have an open door for anyone to walk in and meet and connect with entrepreneurs and co-innovators in the Duke network,” says Fioleda Kesseli, the Executive Director of EngEn. “Having this proximity and cross-pollination will move a lot of projects forward towards commercialization and allow a whole new suite of useful technologies to come to fruition.”
“These spaces were designed to create the optimum collaborative environment,” says Bill Walker, the Mattson Family Director of Entrepreneurship in Engineering. “In our larger space we’ll run workshops where we can teach students and faculty about topics like risk assessment and how to license a product. In the surrounding ‘phone booth rooms,’ we can leverage the global network of Duke alumni by teleconferencing and getting our students connected to mentors or potential investors all around the globe.
EngEn made an impact almost immediately after its formation in early 2020 with its support of the COVID-19 Engineering Response Team. This team, made of faculty, staff, students and clinicians across campus, identified critical equipment needs for health care workers during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Within six months, the team designed and produced more than 30,000 3D printable reusable face shields, developed a way to adapt surgical helmets to become powered air-purifying respirators, and even created isolation tents for patients.
Although EngEn will continue to build collaborations across Duke’s campus, program leaders are optimistic that the center’s proximity to centralized design spaces will result in new and exciting collaborations and startup opportunities.
“We know that people at Duke have phenomenal ideas, and we want to help get them out into the world,” says Walker. “Our goal is to coach them and help them along that journey, and the Center for Entrepreneurship will be where that happens.”