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NURTURING and supporting innovators and entrepreneurs dedicated to creating impact through startup ventures

While many of our alumni will experience great success with startups they found while at Duke, the experience of launching a venture is valuable regardless of outcome, helping students gain inimitable practical experience in a low-stakes, structured environment. I&E provides hands-on, personalized coaching and support for students who are committed to bringing their own ventures to life—this year ranging from blockchain startups, to innovative social support networks, to educational resources for historically underrepresented populations. With 360-degree support, we connect innovators with the resources, funding, and intensive mentorship to support their ventures.

We also support impactful innovators outside of Duke via our strategic partnerships, such as the groundbreaking Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator, resulting in not only gains for these innovators and their important work, but also opportunities for involvement by students and others in the Duke community.

In 2021, student founders from across Duke also had the opportunity to participate in a summer accelerator run by I&E. Over the course of nine weeks, nine teams were provided education, mentors, and stipends as they worked intensively on their ventures.

The Student Founder Program

The Student Founder Program supports all students across Duke who are interested in testing their creative ideas, inventing a product or service, or someday launching their own venture—whether commercial, social, artistic, or beyond. Students in the program gain experiential education, mentoring, a tight-knit community, and resources including small prototyping grants. Students attend weekly tailored small-group coaching sessions, work with mentors, and collaborate with teams via activities and virtual communication channels. The program leverages the experience of alumni who have previously participated in our programs to coach and support our current student founders. All students and teams with a successful pilot are eligible for the Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs program, which confers additional funding and opportunities.

In its second year, the program brought together a diverse group of students working on ventures, as well as students seeking to learn and gain inspiration. Now in its second year, the program has grown to serve more than 260 students and has engaged 30 coaches and 18 mentors from a wide range of industries.

Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs

Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs, our flagship, invitation-only program for students and young alumni who are ready to launch companies, continues to provide an exceptional experience for a select group of founders farther along the path with their startups. In 2021, our cohort made remarkable progress despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Social Innovation Programming

I&E’s focus on social impact fits squarely within Duke’s broader strategic priorities: to empower the brightest and boldest thinkers to solve the world’s most pressing challenges, to transform teaching and discovery for the 21st century, and to engage a global network to advance humankind. Duke joined the University Global Coalition in Summer 2021, becoming part of its network of universities dedicated to advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals in their research, teaching, and engagement. As an Ashoka Changemaker Campus, Duke is committed to making the educational experience synonymous with a world-changing experience. Through cultivation and outreach, I&E works to identify students interested in social innovation and supports them in launching ventures and competing in programs geared toward social innovators, including the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge—where Student Founder Program students Philile Shongwe and Patrick Pierson-Prah were finalists this year—D-Prize, Hult Prize, Clinton Global Initiative University, and others.

The Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator

Duke brings our many decades of social entrepreneurship expertise to the Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator, a partnership between Duke and UNICEF that works to increase the effectiveness, sustainability, and scale of promising solutions to critical challenges facing the world’s children. This program helps social entrepreneurs acquire the knowledge, tools, and networks needed to improve the lives of children around the world.

Teams accepted into the Accelerator receive funding, mentorship, and other capacity building support from Duke University staff, faculty, students, and global networks, benefiting from Duke’s proven success supporting social entrepreneurs on the front lines of social change. In 2021, the second cohort of the Accelerator was comprised of innovators working on sanitation and hygiene enterprises in Africa. Together with the Accelerator’s first cohort, the program included 13 innovator teams operating in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Tanzania.

The Accelerator provides additional opportunities for Duke students to work with the innovators and gain international social innovation client experience, as well as opportunities to engage Duke faculty and alumni as mentors. This past year, the Accelerator matched innovators with 66 mentors and engaged 83 students via guest speaking sessions, experiential projects, the Student Advisory Committee, and pitch coaching.

With its annual virtual forum on social innovation, the Accelerator brings together voices and insights from academics, INGOs, businesses, and social enterprises around the globe to deepen the conversation around social innovation and the SDGs.

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