Duke Engineering’s New “EngEn” Accelerates the Impact of Tech-Based Innovation

9/23/20 Pratt School of Engineering

Duke Engineering Entrepreneurship integrates education, startup resources, new facilities and an A-team of seasoned entrepreneurs

The Duke Engineering Entrepreneurship team has already guided several startups to launch, including student-founded Protect3d
Duke Engineering’s New “EngEn” Accelerates the Impact of Tech-Based Innovation

When the pandemic forced a partial shutdown of Duke University’s campus on one side and raised concerns about PPE supply shortages at the medical center on the other, Duke Engineering Entrepreneurship was ready to step up.   

Also known as Duke EngEn, the major new initiative at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering came together in early 2020 to coordinate authentic design experiences, entrepreneurial education, and resources to support faculty, staff and student startups—all with the goal of speeding the delivery of technology-based solutions to society.

“At Duke Engineering, we are focused on accelerating the process by which the innnovations of our faculty and students get to the marketplace.”

Ravi V. Bellamkonda
Vinik Dean of Engineering

EngEn’s “dream team” of talented engineering designers and entrepreneurs, most recruited to Duke in the last few years, pivoted to launch the Duke COVID-19 Engineering Response Team, working closely with faculty, staff, students and clinicians across campus to meet identified clinical equipment needs.

Six months later, the team has developed and produced more than 30,000 3D-printed reusable face shields; invented a way to adapt surgical helmets to become powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) systems (and licensed the design to dozens of other institutions); and designed a sophisticated device to enable one ventilator to serve two patients that is currently awaiting emergency FDA approval—among many other innovations.

The COVID-19 response is just one example of the impact Duke Engineering leaders expect EngEn will have over the long term.

“Many of the greatest challenges facing society and our planet will only be solved by interdisciplinary teams that know how to identify authentic needs, have the expertise to design solutions that are both technically and commercially sound, and use entrepreneurial know-how to deliver those solutions to society,” said Ravi V. Bellamkonda, Vinik Dean of Engineering.

“At Duke Engineering, we are focused on accelerating the process by which the innovations discovered and created by our faculty and students get to the marketplace—the best place to make timely and major global positive effects.”

EngEn operates BRiDGE, the Breakthrough Research Initiative to Develop Global Entrepreneurs—a 2,000-square-foot lab and office complex in downtown Durham where at present eight Duke-affiliated startups are developing products and services with significant commercial and societal potential

Duke EngEn currently sponsors programs including:

  • Duke Design Health, which brings together engineering and business graduate students with medical trainees to develop needs-based solutions to problems in the clinical setting
  • Undergraduate educational initiatives including the A. James Clark Scholars Program and the Founder’s Workshop course
  • Duke Design Defense (previously known as Hacking 4 Defense), a course in which undergraduate and graduate students team up to design solutions for local military units
  • Student Founders, a joint program with Duke I&E that offers entrepreneurship coaching, practice and community for students interested in starting new ventures
  • The Entrepreneurship & Founders Track of Duke’s Master of Engineering Management program
  • The BRiDGE, a business incubator in the Chesterfield building which is home to more than a half-dozen Duke-affiliated startups
  • FastTrack, an accelerator program which provides full-time engineering support to develop and commercialize medical devices that address clinical unmet needs.
  • The Baquerizo Innovation Grant, which awards up to $20,000 annually to support student led technological innovation
  • An Entrepreneurship Workshop Series for faculty, staff and students
  • One-on-one consultation and advising from a team of experienced tech entrepreneurs

“While EngEn brings together a big team and lots of projects that have been ongoing at Duke Engineering, this initiative is about more than just streamlining administration,” said Associate Dean for Entrepreneurship Ken Gall, a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and successful entrepreneur, who co-leads the initiative. “Our goal was to build a true engine, driving the cycle of problem identification, solution development and the robust launch of new ventures into the commercial space.”

“In entrepreneurship, there is ‘tech push’ and also ‘market pull’—critically, EngEn does both.”

Barry Myers
professor of BME and director, Duke-Coulter Partnership

Two dedicated spaces in Duke’s New Engineering Building will focus on EngEn programs along both sides of the spectrum. A Center for Innovation will serve students, faculty and staff that identify, design and test tech-based innovations, while a Center for Entrepreneurship will support those working to launch new products, services and companies. 

“When our new entrepreneurship spaces become available in November 2020, our students will take on complex problems, design solutions and work to deliver them to the customer,” said Bill Walker, the Mattson Family Director of Engineering Entrepreneurship. “Typically, universities leave that last step to someone else, but our vision is for our students to have this ‘problem-to-design-to-launch’ experience while they’re enrolled and earning credit.”

Combining Problem-Finding and Problem-Solving

“Entrepreneurship is more than having a great idea—it must also satisfy a need,” added Barry Myers, a professor of biomedical engineering and director of the Duke-Coulter Translational Partnership. “There is what we call ‘tech push,’ where we have a new technology that might be of help to the world, but there is also ‘market pull,’ where our careful analysis has identified a problem that needs a solution—critically, EngEn does both.”

For example, in 2019, Duke Engineering led the launch of the Duke Design Health Program in collaboration with Duke’s School of Medicine, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative and Fuqua School of Business. It offers a nine-month experience in which students and medical trainees work with Duke Health clinicians to actively identify, validate, prioritize and create solutions to problems that impact human health.

“The Duke Office of Licensing & Ventures and our Duke New Ventures group look forward to collaborating with EngEn.”

Robin Rasor
executive director of Duke OLV

Design Health is among the many ways EngEn collaborates with partners across campus, including MEDx (Medicine & Engineering at Duke), Duke Office of Licensing & Ventures (OLV), Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative (I&E) and Duke School of Medicine’s Office of Regulatory Affairs and Quality (ORAQ), among others.

“OLV and our Duke New Ventures group look forward to collaborating with EngEn,” said Robin Rasor, executive director of OLV, which focuses on identifying and protecting Duke-owned inventions and negotiating the appropriate license agreements. “Our Mentors-in-Residence and Venture Fellows have used their entrepreneurial experience, insights, and connections to help several Duke Engineering startups such as MicroElastic, Lumedica Vision, and RealTime Robotics. Our shared goal is to move innovations out of the university and into the public to solve unmet problems and societal needs.”

Duke’s new engineering building opening in November 2020 will house two student-focused centers focused on entrepreneurship and on needs-driven engineering design, both operated by EngEn.

Duke Engineering Entrepreneurship is a new and bold initiative to intentionally co-mingle design spaces, design faculty, interdisciplinary student teams and a dream team of successful entrepreneurs to allow for creative technology-based solutions to complex challenges like health, defense and climate change, Bellamkonda said.  He sees it as a natural next chapter of Duke Engineering’s 80-year heritage as a leader in creating high-impact solutions for significant challenges facing society.

“Developing creative solutions that help advance our society is the essence of being an engineer,” he said. “Engineers help us manage and cope with change. However, that commitment to problem-solving for the good of society has remained our outrageous ambition from the outset.” 

Learn more about EngEn:

Go to EngEn.duke.edu