Student Entrepreneurs Gather for Inspiration and Community at Program Launch

3/10 Pratt School of Engineering

The Student Founders Program is a Duke-wide activity group for students interested in launching their own ventures

Students and staff at the Student Founders Program kick-off, Feb. 29, 2020.
Student Entrepreneurs Gather for Inspiration and Community at Program Launch

Students sat clustered around conference tables in the Blue Devil Tower at Wallace Wade Stadium—it was the weekend, and it was early, yet the students buzzed with energy and talked about issues they care most about and the problems they are working to solve.

The 55 students are the inaugural cohort of the Duke Student Founders Program, a university-wide activity group for those interested in launching their own ventures.

The program, a partnership of the Duke Entrepreneurship & Innovation Initiative (I&E) and Engineering Entrepreneurship (EngEn) at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, is the first at Duke to bring all student innovators, entrepreneurs, and founders under one umbrella. The program provides education, mentoring, resources and community—including an option to participate in a summer accelerator.

Program staff offered some simple advice: have fun

Kicking off the Feb. 29 event, program staff offered some simple advice: have fun.

“If you’re not having fun, there’s really no reason to do this,” said Steven McClelland, E’95, who is an executive-in-residence at the Pratt School of Engineering. He returned to Duke Engineering after founding his own companies and working for Yahoo! and Twitter.

In creating the program, the staff was inspired by student-athletes—who balance student responsibilities with practice and travel. They worked to provide entrepreneurial students throughout Duke with opportunities to realize their vision—along with a community, like an athletic team, that would provide structure, training, and inspiration.

Student Founders Program participants attend weekly practice sessions where they learn and address specific issues they’re experiencing with their ventures—but those sessions are smaller, and this was a chance to meet everyone in the program.

Samuel Fox, E'18 (center), founder of Seneca Devices, was among the Duke alumni entrepreneurs attending the kick-off event on Feb. 29 at Duke.