Friday, April 02, 2010

Program for Entrepreneurs: Embracing the Entrepreneurial Spirit at Duke

Nice article written by Evan McCormick


Program for Entrepreneurs: Embracing the Entrepreneurial Spirit at Duke

Entrepreneurship has been the lifeblood of American innovation.  As the country recovers from the financial crisis and stubbornly high unemployment, the need for innovation has never been greater.  Fortunately, Duke has recently accelerated its efforts in entrepreneurship, spearheaded by the Program for Entrepreneurs ("P4E").  Established two years ago, the program enables students to earn class credit while attempting to launch a start-up company.  Furthermore, P4E provides valuable resources to students such as business and faculty advisors to help guide the projects and provide real-world insight.  Led by Jon Fjeld (Fuqua '90) and Howie Rhee (Fuqua '04), the Program for Entrepreneurs boasts 13 start-up projects and 64 students from across all academic programs.   

Inspired by MIT's Media Lab and the concept of creating successful businesses from a combination of cutting-edge academic research and a pool of creative students, P4E was established to take advantage of the abundance of both factors at Duke.  Joe Knight, a first year at Fuqua and active member in the Duke Entrepreneurial community, has high praise for his experience at Duke, "This is an incredible place for young entrepreneurs to learn the skills, and gain the expertise, to help make the innovation of tomorrow a reality."

The Program for Entrepreneurs is also deeply involved in other entrepreneurial endeavors on campus such as the Duke Start-Up Challenge and the Duke Entrepreneurial Education Series (DEES).  The combination of these programs provides an outlet for all Duke students to test the entrepreneurial waters.  "We want entrepreneurship to live along side scholarship," notes Professor Fjeld.

One example of how P4E encompasses the broad Duke community is Biogenic Medical Devices, a venture in the Program for Entrepreneurs that is seeking to transform the medical device industry by coating cardiovascular devices with patients' own cells to reduce the risk of implant failure.  The concept was originated by Dr. Hardean Achneck, a general surgeon at Duke.  Recalling his eureka moment, Dr. Achneck comments, "I have always been pondering ways to improve the biocompatibility of cardiovascular implants.  It suddenly hit me: since our native blood cells are designed by nature to be anti-thrombotic and anti-inflammatory—then why not seed the metal surfaces of vascular implants with our own endothelial cells?"  After favorable results in the lab, Dr. Achneck wrote and won the one million dollar "Obama Challenge Grant" from the NIH – a grant designed to provide stimulus money to the economy and awarded to 200 out of over 22,000 competitors.  Dr. Achneck reached out to P4E to assemble a team of students to write a business plan and identify which market to target initially.

First year business students Garrett Muramoto, Bao Li, and Evan McCormick jumped at the opportunity to work on this exciting technology.  Mr. Muramoto recalls his initial impression, "As a cellular therapy research scientist prior to coming to business school, I was immediately intrigued by the idea. This project would allow me to combine my expertise as a biologist with the business skills I'll be gaining at Fuqua."

After in-depth research, frequently leveraging the expertise of the Duke Medical community, the team has decided to focus on stents for the treatment of peripheral vascular disease.  "Unfortunately, current stent technology remains inadequate, however, we've seen that cell seeding technology can reduce blood clot initiation by up to 10,000-fold in vitro, so we believe that the technology will significantly improve the efficacy of stents," states team leader Mr. Muramoto.  The team believes they have identified an $850 million opportunity and recently won the Elevator Pitch segment of the Duke Start-Up Challenge.

Another project leveraging the wider Duke community is 25th Hour Media, which is seeking to provide personalized podcasts derived from newspaper articles, blogs, and websites.  Led by first year Fuqua students Nick Sehn and Simon Li, the team recently reached out to the Chronicle to launch a beta version of their product offering.  Thanks to the efforts of Online Editor Alex Klein and Lead Developer Dean Chen, along with the support of the columnists, readers can now listen to audiocasts of the top news stories, Opinion columns, and Editorials.  25th Hour Media will analyze the adoption by Chronicle readers to refine their go-to-market strategy.  

As Mr. Sehn articulates, "P4E provides a framework for thinking about the complex and unbounded problem of launching a new business.  It's an environment that allows us to take risks without the fear of failure and learn from both our successes and mistakes."  These comments echo one of the ultimate benefits of engaging on entrepreneurial activities while in an academic setting—it provides an opportunity to "learn in a risk-free environment," says Professor Fjeld.

Given the unique blend of business, law, engineering, medicine, and undergraduates, Duke provides an ideal ecosystem for innovation.  Furthermore, the Research Triangle is blessed with a budding entrepreneurial spirit.  "The Program for Entrepreneurs has given our team access to invaluable academic and industrial expertise that would not have been available to us otherwise.  We also have great mentors who have helped up develop this venture.  Being in an environment surrounded by other entrepreneurs really inspires your passion and creative energy," notes Garrett Muramoto.

Jon Fjeld and Howie Rhee are very excited about the future of entrepreneurship at Duke.  "We want Duke to be viewed as a hub of entrepreneurship," notes Professor Fjeld.  It will take time, but the University is committed to ultimately rivaling Stanford and MIT in terms of academically-inspired innovation.  Any member of the Duke community is encouraged to participate in P4E, gaining invaluable experience and earning class credit along the way.  If you are interested in joining a team or submitting your business idea, contact Howie Rhee at or visit the website at

Howie Rhee, MBA
Managing Director, Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
Fuqua School of Business, Duke University
Office A236
919-617-1123 mobile

Learn more about Entrepreneurship at Duke -
and read our Duke Entrepreneurship Manual -
Twitter: @EshipAtDuke

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