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SCALING a distinctly Duke approach to entrepreneurial education 

Today, virtually all leading institutions of higher education offer programs in innovation and entrepreneurship, responding to the world’s need for innovators who will solve pressing challenges as well as the demand by students for curriculum that prepares them for an ever-changing world. Yet many of these programs are siloed in business and engineering schools, their benefits confined to subsets of students who already conceive of themselves as innovators.

With I&E, Duke stands apart for our interdisciplinary approach to entrepreneurship education. By being a vehicle for interdisciplinary collaboration, we enable students and faculty to leverage their strengths and learn from diverse teams, thereby achieving more comprehensive, more cumulative, more transformative learning. Through proactive partnerships, we work to bring together the expertise within Trinity, Pratt, Fuqua, Nicholas, Sanford, the Medical School, and other schools and units.

In this way we reach a wider and more diverse audience, supporting students across a spectrum of interests and goals: to bring an invention or reimagined process to fruition; to join or help build a startup; to spark meaningful change and make a positive impact; or simply to succeed and innovate within any career path they pursue.

In order to meet increased demand for our programs, I&E has focused efforts on scaling those programs in a way that ensures they retain the foundational aspects of our approach.

Design, Ethics, and Impact

I&E’s approach is grounded in evaluating solutions within an ethical framework, designing solutions with a deep understanding of those they serve, and innovating for impact. This approach helps students develop an entrepreneurial mindset rooted in a bias toward action, empathy, and the ability to pivot with courage and confidence. Students gain the necessary skills to solve pressing problems by developing a deep understanding of the people they are serving and having a vested interest in the outcome for these people to maximize impact.

Through a cycle of communication, understanding, evaluation, and creation, students are empowered to think boldly and creatively in the face of uncertainty. Convening the Design at Duke community, we draw together members of the university, including colleagues from Duke Law, the Pratt School of Engineering, and Duke Learning Innovation, who are building this vital foundation of innovation into their programming. In particular, Duke I&E partners with the Pratt School of Engineering on the Design Health program, where diverse student teams from across the university identify unmet, underserved, and unarticulated needs in healthcare and then design real-world solutions to meet these needs.

Ethical concepts and frameworks play a critical role in entrepreneurial action by empowering innovators with the needed tools to face challenges with courage, confidence, and resilience. By teaching character, values, principles, goals, and consequences, we can help tomorrow’s innovators become skilled and thoughtful agents of change. Duke I&E collaborates with the Kenan Institute for Ethics to address the incorporation of ethics into entrepreneurship programming at Duke and build tools and resources to bring these concepts to students. In partnership with Professor Tom Byers at Stanford University and Professor Laura Dunham of the University of St. Thomas, we are creating an international community of entrepreneurship educators to advance principled entrepreneurship by applying ethics to entrepreneurial action.

Our ultimate goal in equipping our students with an entrepreneurial mindset and skills is to enable them to create impact—to help them solve problems facing people around the world. I&E convenes leaders across the university, including colleagues from Fuqua’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship, the Duke Global Health Institute, the Sanford School of Public Policy, and the Office of Civic Engagement, to build on Duke’s expertise in innovating for impact and embed these values into the learning experiences of Duke innovators. With a long history in social entrepreneurship education and research and a deep commitment to civic engagement, we have a unique opportunity, and perhaps an obligation, to bring these vast intellectual resources together to cultivate approaches and responses to society’s most complex social issues.

The Duke Model for Entrepreneurial Action

Model for Entrepreneurial Action logo. Discover, Develop, Deliver

Drawing on these foundational concepts of open design, ethics, and social impact, as well as a broad range of disciplines, the Duke Model for Entrepreneurial Action provides a rigorous framework for discussing and teaching innovation and entrepreneurship that helps increase the quality of our educational offerings and enables us to scale our unique approach.

I&E is committed to sharing an intellectual foundation and resources for entrepreneurship education with faculty across Duke and beyond. This strong intellectual foundation is key to optimizing and refining programming based on the most up-to date research and best practices in innovation and entrepreneurship.

Our ultimate goal is to build upon the scaffolded resource we have created to make tools and content associated with our approach available to entrepreneurship educators around the world.

Working to Help Make Entrepreneurship Education More Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive

Duke I&E values and is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as essential bedrocks of innovation and entrepreneurship. We work to deliberately build a community that includes, embraces, and appreciates diverse cultures, backgrounds, identities, and views. Moreover, we are dedicated to nurturing a culture of belonging, respect, and reciprocity such that every individual feels safe, welcome, and valued. In doing so, we not only generate better ideas and solutions to address complex issues, we also dismantle barriers and empower individuals to realize their agency in acting upon ideas and creating change.

To this end, Duke I&E established the Supporting Underrepresented Groups in Entrepreneurship (“SURGE”) working group to develop and support the implementation of a strategy to advance our DEI goals. This strategy includes recommendations to cultivate a community of belonging among staff members; build faculty and staff capacity to engage in sustained discourse related to DEI; establish transparent and specific accountability mechanisms; engage in systematic audits of core policies, procedures, and strategy; evaluate and update communication and outreach; develop mutually beneficial partnerships; and review programming and instruction to be more responsive, inclusive, and affirming in teaching and learning experiences. In 2021, we began shifting this work from the SURGE working group to the broader organization and individual teams, supported by an external facilitator.

In the coming year we will continue this work, as well as supporting and partnering on programs that promote conversation and progress related to DEI issues in entrepreneurship, such as the Equity Matters virtual symposium co-hosted last spring with the North Carolina Central University School of Business and the Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the Fuqua School of Business.

Looking Ahead

As we enter the next phase of the I&E Initiative, we plan to further integrate I&E education with traditional academic disciplines, enabling us to reach more students and better tailor our curricula to their areas of study while still conveying the benefits of interdisciplinary, experiential programming.

We will continue working to establish and leverage external partnerships that align with our programmatic objectives and guiding principles to support Duke’s community engagement objectives and to provide students with meaningful opportunities for learning. This can take the form of building out infrastructure for student participation in Duke initiatives already underway (e.g., the Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator), as well as seeking out collaborations that support relevant and important community engagement (e.g., the Equity Matters conference and pitch competition for young Black entrepreneurs held in partnership with the Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the Fuqua School of Business and the North Carolina Central University School of Business).

The core goal of I&E programming is to affect the long-term disposition and success of our students. A methodology has not yet been developed that reliably measures programs against this objective, presenting a challenge to assessing the success of I&E programs. Working with colleagues at other institutions, we are investigating how we might craft measures that allow us to ascertain the effectiveness of programming against its core objective.

Simultaneously with those efforts, we will continue tracking student participation, satisfaction, and demographics, as well as startup success, to develop and scale our programs, endeavoring to provide as many Duke students as possible with interdisciplinary, experiential education in entrepreneurship.

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