Founder’s Workshop Creates Entrepreneurial Confidence

3/11 Pratt School of Engineering

A special-topic course guides student teams through the development of startup plans.

Founder’s Workshop Creates Entrepreneurial Confidence

The Duke Engineering Founder’s Workshop was created through a bit of the same bold entrepreneurial process that led instructor Steve McClelland to found two successful software start-ups.

“I asked what if I created a class where students could bring their own ideas,” said McClelland, a 1995 Duke Engineering graduate, former executive for Yahoo! and Twitter, and now executive-in-residence in the Entrepreneurship @ Duke Engineering office. “And then build a structure around finding out if those ideas are any good.”

The result is the Founder’s Workshop, a special-topics course cross-listed in the Pratt School of Engineering and the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative. The course is open to all undergraduates, but students apply to McClelland first to discuss their ideas for potentially marketable solutions to problems.

Entrepreneurship is one part of Duke Engineering’s signature educational experience—which also immerses students in hands-on design, data science, computing and research from the very beginning.

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During McClelland’s course, students gather into teams. Some students work on ideas they brought into the class, others join those efforts.

Meeting twice a week, the class usually spends one session hearing from expert guest speakers, who share their experiences investigating, developing, activating and growing start-ups. Other course meetings include regular update presentations from each student team.

Anshu Dwibhasi, a senior studying electrical and computer engineering as well as computer science, led a team working on an intriguing idea—a smartphone app that would both rate fraternity and student parties while also making them safer. Transparency is the key, he said during one presentation. The team had decided that students, party hosts and university administrators would all have access to the app.

“It has been an interesting exercise and we realize that there is a lot to do to found a company,” Dwibhasi said after his presentation. “At the end of this course, the goal is to have the tools required to start a successful company.”

Practice of these new skills is a big part of building each student’s entrepreneurial confidence, McClelland said. The course is both about building that confidence and demystifying the founder’s journey.

“At first this stuff is new and it’s awkward,” he said. “After you do it a few times, you get faster and you build confidence. I think this course is unique in the engineering curriculum.”