New Initiative Will Promote Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Duke

DURHAM -- Duke University is launching a major campus-wide initiative to expand the societal impact of Duke innovations and better serve students who seek to think big, follow their dreams and launch initiatives of their own as entrepreneurs.

Kimberly Jenkins, a university alumna and trustee who has launched entrepreneurial ventures with leading technology companies and established prominent nonprofit organizations, will lead the effort.

"One of the hallmarks of a Duke education is the ability to translate theory into practice," said President Richard H. Brodhead.  "Supporting entrepreneurship at Duke is a way of helping students transform creative ideas from the classroom or the lab into real-world applications.  With Kimberly Jenkins as the leader of Duke's already expansive efforts, we have someone whose own accomplishments will set a very high standard for innovation on campus."

Building on what Provost Peter Lange calls "a tremendous amount of interest" in innovation and entrepreneurship across the Duke campus, Jenkins will encourage students, faculty members and alumni to transform their ideas into businesses and socially minded ventures that create jobs and serve society.

"There's already a lot going on but it's been uncoordinated and lacking a coherent vision," Lange said. "We're making this change to bring more of our campus innovations to the service of society, and to enhance the ability of Duke students to pursue their interest in entrepreneurship, whether it's financially oriented or focused on a social problem."

"Duke already has a culture that values innovation and is attracting students who are interested in it, through programs like DukeEngage," said Jenkins, who will serve as senior advisor to the president and provost for innovation and entrepreneurship. "We need to do a better job of supporting them and of helping faculty move their discoveries out of the laboratory and into the marketplace."

In her new role at the university, Jenkins will build on entrepreneurial initiatives across Duke's undergraduate programs and professional schools. More than two dozen Duke organizations are already promoting student entrepreneurship. They range from Duke Student Ventures, which helps students develop business activities on campus, to the Duke Start-Up Challenge, which hosts an annual competition where budding entrepreneurs pitch ideas.

Recent Duke student projects have ranged from an iPhone app to help restaurants offer last-minute specials to "micro-engines" that run on ethanol. 

Duke students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels also are taking courses related to entrepreneurship.

Lisa Keister, who directs Duke's Market & Management Studies program, said, "I often find myself having conversations with students about whether or not to take the risk. For them, the issue is: Do I take a job with Company X or start my own business? We often talk about how starting a business when you are young is a great time to do it. You have relatively less to lose, are mobile and can always parlay 'failure' into a great learning experience."

In Tony Brown's courses at the Sanford School of Public Policy, the focus is on social entrepreneurship. "We offer opportunities for students to create significant educational experiences in social entrepreneurship through project-based pedagogies," Brown said. "Social entrepreneurship is different from more traditional forms of entrepreneurship in that the driving purpose is a social mission, to contribute to the well-being of people and communities.

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Students pursuing entrepreneurial ventures also are able to call upon other university resources, such as Duke's offices that help commercialize campus research. The new initiative will use multiple approaches to expand the transfer of expertise from the Duke campus to private companies and across society.

Barry Myers, who directs emerging programs at Duke's Translational Research Institute, has been encouraging students to learn about entrepreneurship through their own research activities and by analyzing how other Duke discoveries make their way to the marketplace. "This combination of hands-on experience and a more didactic approach really teaches our students how this works," he said.

Jon Fjeld, executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Fuqua, said, "Twenty years ago, nobody had heard of entrepreneurship at Duke. Five or six years ago, there was an undercurrent of interest. Now there's really a buzz about it." Noting that other universities also have begun establishing entrepreneurship programs, Fjeld said he and others are determined to "focus on the quality of our programs at Duke and on their value to students."

Along with his Fuqua colleague Howie Rhee and others, Fjeld has been active in bringing together undergraduate and graduate students on teams to tackle entrepreneurial projects.

"The more diversity we have, the more skills and resources we can apply, the better our teams will be," Fjeld said, adding that the collaborations also give MBA students experience interacting with younger colleagues, just as they might at a start-up company.

The growing focus on entrepreneurship also is strengthening ties between Duke and the local community. One example is Bull City Forward, an initiative that promotes social innovation in Durham.

Earlier this year, the initiative opened a storefront "campus for social entrepreneurs" at the intersection of Main and Mangum streets downtown. Christopher Gergen, director of Duke's Entrepreneurial Leadership Initiative and a proponent of social entrepreneurship, is a leader of the effort, which is complemented by other local initiatives such as Launch Box and Joystick Labs.

"Our faculty, students and staff can be incredibly innovative, and one of our fundamental goals with this initiative is for their work to have a positive impact not only here on campus and in the city, but regionally and globally," Lange said.