Note: Currently, the Borchardt Prize is given to student entrepreneurs who are selected for the Duke Startup Showcase; at the Showcase, the Prize gives $30,000 to the top undergraduate student/team and $10,000 to the runner-up.
Written by David Cummings, April 11, 2013


Frank Borchardt photo

As a freshman at Duke I was part of a first year program where students elected to join 29 other students and study a particular topic, in our case, Computers in Society. One of my courses was Instructional Technologies, taught by Professor Frank Borchardt. Now, Frank Borchardt was a full professor in the German department, but he had a real passion for using computers for foreign language learning, and had become famous for his research in the mid 1990s.

By the end of the course we had developed great rapport and he made the side comment that if I ever was going to start a business that I should come see him. I didn’t think much of it at the time but kept the idea in the back of my mind. Come the end of my first semester junior year, I had been doing a number of entrepreneurial initiatives but hadn’t seriously focused on any one thing. Then an idea hit me. I had been building websites for campus organizations, professors, small businesses, etc for a couple years and there was no easy way to update it once it was built. It’s like saying here’s a shiny new car to a 16 year old and following it up with you can look at it but can’t drive it.

With this idea for a simple content management system, I approached Frank Borchardt to be an investor in early 2001 and he said yes on the spot. A month later I had $20,000 in the bank from Frank and I was actively recruiting friends to be summer interns and help me build SuperUpdate, our first product.

Fast forward five years and I paid Frank back double his money. Frank was in poor health so I wanted to make sure and give him a good return as quickly as possible. That next year Frank passed away and I attended his nice funeral at the Duke Gardens.

Frank had some unusual characteristics that made him stand out. Physically, he was a very large man with an energetic personality and a booming laugh that was infectious. Early in his career, he promised himself he would stop conforming to society once he became a full professor, so after achieving his goal, he wore all black and never cut his hair, resulting in a long beard and pony-tail. You could spot Frank across the campus and you’d always know it when you were in the same room together.

To say thank you for all he did for Duke, as well as for me as an entrepreneur, I’m donating $500,000 to endow the Frank Borchardt Undergraduate Prize Fund, which will provide $20,000 in grant money, every year, to the top undergraduate entrepreneurs at Duke.

Frank was a great man and I hope that his help to me will help entrepreneurs for generations to come.

Ray Liu headshot

2019 - RAY LIU

As first-year students, many students now graduating from Duke could never have predicted where their college paths would lead them. But Ray Liu ’19, a senior majoring in economics, will be continuing the work he was inspired to begin in high school—albeit on a much greater scale.

Liu is the founder and CEO of PeerKonnect, a startup that sells peer tutoring software to high schools in a way that enables them to build highly sustainable and efficient peer tutoring programs.

“Research suggests peer tutoring is one of the most cost-effective ways for students to learn,” Liu says. He first got the idea behind PeerKonnect when he tutored peers in physics during high school—and noticed how peer tutoring alleviated the competitive tension at his school for high-achieving students.

He co-founded a peer tutoring program using Google Forms. The program was successful, ultimately matching more than 20% of the students in his school to mentors. But when he considered how he might grow the program, he wasn’t sure where to begin.

“The summer after I graduated high school, I was thinking, ‘How can I help other schools?’ I had no idea how to start a business.”

Duke’s diverse offerings in innovation and entrepreneurship were part of what led Liu to apply to and choose Duke. “I recognized the I&E Certificate as something that would allow me to take classes, meet professors, get mentorship, and just meet a lot of other students with the entrepreneurial and innovative mindset,” Liu explains. “It allowed me to pursue my startup and school at the same time.”

The Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs Program, which Liu entered in his first year, helped him develop and scale his company. He credits the program not only with practical skills, but also with helping him to think of himself as a businessperson. “Before, I was even scared to call it a business. It was a big transition into thinking, ‘Okay, I’m actually an entrepreneur now.’”

Another course, the Founder’s Workshop, was highly applicable to Liu’s business. “Every week we would learn a couple of startup concepts, as well as just present on our business progress. I got to hear about the other peers in my class, and the progress on their startups, and provide some feedback, and overall just be in a very entrepreneurial setting. It’s a class that’s unlike any other that I’ve taken at Duke. Everybody’s working on their own project that they’re passionate about.”

The culmination of his company’s progress was winning this year’s Borchardt Prize, awarded each year to a promising undergraduate startup. In 2013, David Cummings (T’02) endowed a $500,000 gift to be awarded to undergraduate entrepreneurs over the coming years. Cummings himself became an entrepreneur as an undergraduate with the help of a $20,000 prize from his professor, Frank Borchardt. To honor him, Cummings chose to name his gift the Borchardt Prize.

When he learned he’d received the Borchardt Prize, Liu says, “I was incredibly honored and humbled. I immediately thought about all of the entrepreneurs who are role models to me who won the prize before.”

As the most recent Borchardt Prize winner, PeerKonnect joins the ranks of previous winners like Fathom AI (2016) and Smart Metals Recycling (2015).

“When I created this prize in 2013, I wanted to help undergraduate entrepreneurs as Frank Borchardt had helped me,” said David Cummings. “Each year, it has been a joy to review the high-caliber undergraduate teams and choose a recipient that I feel will honor Frank’s legacy. The growth and success of past Borchardt Prize winners makes it clear that this prize has a significant impact on its recipients, just as Frank’s investment and mentorship had a profound impact on me as an entrepreneur.”

Cummings, an Atlanta-based serial tech entrepreneur, has founded 10 companies valued collectively at nearly $1B, among them Pardot, SalesLoft, and Terminus. He is also the founder of the Atlanta Tech Village, America’s fourth-largest tech hub, and the largest investor in Calendly, the most popular scheduling app in the world. Following the sale of Pardot, he was named the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year and one of the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 100 Most Influential Atlantans.

With the resources he’s found at Duke, Liu has transformed the business he started in high school. “In that first semester, my goal was to get one paying high school on board,” he says. “Now we’ve signed seven.”

When it comes to advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs, Liu’s main message is simple. “Don’t be afraid to reach out,” he says. “There are so many resources at Duke. I almost feel like my business is a culmination of all these people helping me, and I just put it together.”

Joe Lam headshot

2017 - joe lam

Each year since 2014, an undergraduate team that makes it to the final round of the Startup Challenge is chosen to receive the Borchardt Prize.
In 2013, David Cummings (T’02) endowed a $500,000 gift to be awarded to undergraduate entrepreneurs over the coming years. Cummings himself became an entrepreneur as an undergraduate, with the help of a $20,000 prize from his professor, Frank Borchardt. To honor him, Cummings chose to name his gift the Borchardt Prize.

This year, for the 18th Duke Startup Challenge, the Borchardt Prize recipient was Brainbuild, a startup founded by Joe Lam (T’17) that focuses on automating nutrition via an app that tells its user what to eat and when.
“We were honored to be selected, as all the startups this year were so impressive and all equally deserving,” Lam said. “We are beyond grateful for mentors like David who are willing to take a leap of faith to support a small dorm room startup with big dreams.”

Lam founded Brainbuild after a slew of personal experiences – training as a fencer, watching his mom struggle with acute diabetes – made him realize that it’s difficult to plan the optimal diet.

Brainbuild expects to receive $18,000 from the prize, which Lam said will be helpful as the startup focuses on growth.

As the most recent Borchardt Prize winner, Brainbuild joins some impressive ranks – the 2016 winner, Fathom AI, has raised a $1.2 million round and is in the midst of fundraising a $3 million second round, and the 2015 winner, Smart Metals Recycling, has grown to a company that employs 110 people and is planning to open its third location. Smart Metals Recycling, founded in 2014 by then-Duke students Shelly Li and Arun Karottu, is a startup that focuses on recycling electronics to reduce environmental damage caused by electronics that aren’t disposed of properly.

Li, co-founder and CEO of Smart Metals, said the Borchardt Prize money helped to fundamentally change the company and its revenue sources.

“We were so excited to have this money to go explore wild ideas,” Li said. “At that time we were still just trying to sustain cash flow, so we pretended we didn’t have this extra money and put the $10,000 toward researching different ways to upcycle.”

What started in a tiny refurbishing room is now responsible for about $3.6 million in revenue at Smart Metals’ second location on the West Coast. And Smart Metals has transformed from a startup focused strictly on turning electronics into raw materials to a company that can use parts and components of old electronics to create new ones.

“This prize money really allowed us to climb the value chain and embrace what it means to be a startup,” Li said.

Ivonna Dumanyan (E’16), the CEO and co-founder of Fathom AI, also said the prize money was crucial to her team.

“At the time we won the prize, we had about $1,000 left in the bank and were trying to figure out how we were going to make payroll for the next month,” she said. “The Borchardt Prize was the seed injection we needed to better prepare ourselves for our first round of fundraising.”

Dumanyan founded Fathom AI, formerly known as BioMetrix, in 2014 with fellow Duke student Gabrielle Levac (T’14). The two student-athletes wanted to create a wearable device that would help athletes train better and reduce risk of injury. Their product, which was only a prototype when the company received the Borchardt Prize, is now a commercial product launching across 16 Division I teams, with 22 more teams on deck.

“When I created this prize in 2013, I wanted to help undergraduate entrepreneurs as Frank Borchardt had helped me,” said David Cummings. “Each year, it has been a joy to review the high-caliber undergraduate teams and choose a recipient that I feel will honor Frank’s legacy. The growth and success of past Borchardt Prize winners makes it clear that this prize has a significant impact on its recipients, just as Frank’s investment and mentorship had a profound impact on me as an entrepreneur.”

Cummings is a serial entrepreneur. In early 2007, he co-founded Pardot, which was recognized by Inc. magazine as the 172nd fastest growing company in 2012. Shortly thereafter Pardot was acquired by ExactTarget and then Salesforce.com. David was subsequently named the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year winner in the deal category. Most recently, Cummings founded the Atlanta Tech Village, which at 103,000 square feet is the largest technology entrepreneur center in the Southeast. Cummings has been recognized by The Atlanta Business Chronicle as one of the 100 most influential Atlantans and by Atlanta Magazine as one of the 55 Most Powerful Atlantans.

Ivonna Dumanyan headshot

2016 - Ivonna Dumanyan

Ivonna Dumanyan, was a Duke senior studying Engineering, is one of Kairos Society’s Top 50 Emerging Global Entrepreneurs 2015, Thiel Fellow 2016, Forbes Under30 in healthcare 2018, and founder of BioMetrix (now called Fathom). Fathom is a sensor enabled AI company that designs personalized recovery exercise which adapt to the athlete’s body. Their sensors replicate the capabilities of force plate and motion capture with over 98% accuracy and in-field.

Fathom is building its customer base with Professional Players Associations, NCAA programs, and Marathoners. The price paid for injury is something they want as few people as possible to experience.

Duke I&E: How has Duke helped take BioMetrix from building sensors in your dorm to being named one of Kairos Society’s top 50 emerging global entrepreneurs?
ID: Tracing back to the beginning, the Innovation Co-Lab was vital. We needed to see if we could get a sensor on somebody’s foot to detect pronation. They provided us with funding for basic materials to prototype the concept. Most importantly they offered office hours where I could learn basic skills like how to code and work with hardware.
Another influential program in this whole experience has been the Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs program. The growth, acceleration, and personal business development I’ve experienced in the fellowship program was so much greater than anything I’ve ever experienced before. Through the Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs program, we went from a cool, technologically possible idea to making it a business and making a product that is functional and sleek.

Duke I&E: How did you choose Duke, and did any of the entrepreneurship programs influence your decision to come to Duke?
ID: So this is not something that is often talked about, but I chose Duke because of financial aid. I couldn’t afford to go to any other school but Duke or the community college. I was choosing between Duke, University of Virginia, Carnegie Mellon, and Yale type institutions. Duke was in a great location and had fantastic engineering program, but it all came down to “Where could I afford to go?” and Duke was by far the best financial aid program.

Duke I&E: You are studying engineering and expected to work as an engineer after Duke. Has BioMetrix changed this plan?
ID: Oh totally! Duke offered an incredible opportunity to become more than an engineer, to become a designer, a business person, an innovator. After Duke, I’d always thought I’d become an engineer and work in some factory. I was always sad about it when I realized what engineering really is. When I graduate I want to work on BioMetrix. I want to start companies. I want to do things that are going to change the industry and shake the foundation. Duke has really helped bring that out in me.

Duke I&E: Do you have any advice for other undergraduate students who are looking to pursue their own ventures?
ID: Just get started. One thing I’ve seen is people have an idea, then immediately start to go after money. It’s not good. You have to iterate, you have to try, you have to test and work through it. The Innovation Co-Lab gave me an incredible venue to actually try a ton of things. I tried over 120 iterations of the design. I tested it with university athletes, casual users, professional athletes – all through the Duke network. That was the best way to find the best solution. It’s about meeting somebody’s need. And if you are meeting somebody’s need and you are passionate about the idea, just go after it.

By Liz Colavita ’16

Shelly Li and Arun Karottu photo

2015 - Arun Karottu and Shelly Li

From $0 to $9M In Two Years: Dukies Change Face of E-Waste Recycling

As co-founders of Smart Metals Recycling just outside Charlotte, former Duke students Shelly Li and Arun Karottu are tackling e-waste head on.
By Ibanca Anand, @IbancaAnand

Ibanca Anand is a second-year student at Duke University studying Economics, Literature, and Innovation & Entrepreneurship. This article originally appeared in ExitEvent in the August 5, 2015 issue.

At the end of their sophomore year of college, Duke students Shelly Li and Arun Karottu made an observation that would change the course of their lives. As the semester came to a close, they noticed their friends throwing away end-of-life electronics in the dumpster. Among piles of empty ramen noodle containers and stacks of discarded class notes laid cell phones, laptops, cameras, and speakers that, too, were destined for the landfill.

This moment was just a glimpse for Li and Karottu into the larger problem of electronic waste recycling in the United States. Out of the roughly 384 million electronic devices disposed nationwide in 2014, only 19% were recycled.

Environmentalists at heart, Li and Karottu were determined to intervene.
Over the past couple of years, the pair have gone from being friends to co-founders of a multi-million dollar company, Smart Metals Recycling. By collecting reusable metals and plastics from undesired electronics and sourcing them back to producers, Li and Karottu are becoming important figures in e-waste recycling, a global industry set to cross $40 billion by the end of 2019.

They’ve been recognized nationally for their efforts too. Business Insider named them among “18 Incredibly Impressive Students at Duke” last spring, and they received the Borchardt Prize for best undergraduate startup at Duke for 2015.

Their Individual Journeys
Before arriving at Duke University, Karottu, a computer science major, was drawn to the idea of entrepreneurship. He wrote his college application essay on a green venture idea, and joined the campus’s entrepreneurial living community, The Cube, his freshman year. As one of the few students from his high school in Kerala, India to go to college abroad, dreaming big had always been a part of Karottu’s lifestyle.

Li, from Omaha, Nebraska, was a published science-fiction author pursuing an economics/philosophy double-major. Through her time at Duke, she has moved in and out of summer stints to find a venture that inspired her—the Obama for America campaign, an investment banking internship at Morgan Stanley, as well as a summer business analyst position with McKinsey & Co. However, nothing excited her more than the near-future possibilities she once wrote about in her short stories.

The two met through theUniversity Scholars Program, a scholarship that awards full academic tuition to promising students pursuing interdisciplinary study.

Despite differing academic interests, Li and Karottu both shared a desire to become change agents in the world. When their moment of inspiration hit in their second year, they came together, each with their own distinct set of skills, to create something of value.

THE SMART METALS JOURNEYIn the initial stages of the endeavor, the pair reached out to large recyclers all over North Carolina, asking if they were looking for responsible and financially viable ways to dispose of end-of-life electronics.

After conducting research on the local recycling industry and securing the interest of enough companies looking to get rid of their waste, Li and Karottu became confident that Smart Metals would be a necessary and feasible business. With the help of several Duke resources, including Melissa & Doug Entrepreneursand DUhatch, Li and Karottu developed solutions to promote responsible recycling.

Originally, they purchased recyclable materials from those early clients in North Carolina and brokered to end consumers domestically or overseas—to anyone who would provide more back-end value.

In March 2014, however, the company had the chance to change directions. Li and Karottu were surprised to receive an investment offer from L. Gordon Iron & Metal Company —a 98-year-old family-owned metal recycler based in NC. The two co-founders saw the potential partnership as a way to disrupt a very mature industry, typically resistant to change. The partnership also gave them access to massive warehouses outside of Charlotte, infrastructure-heavy equipment for processing e-waste themselves, a fleet to solve any logistical challenges, and an array of new clients.

After recognizing that Smart Metals was about to take a rapid turn towards growth, Li decided to take a temporary leave from Duke to work full-time as CEO. Karottu graduated this past spring and serves as the Vice President of Sales.

Now, Smart Metals handles over 100,000 pounds of scrap metal per day and earns $9 million in annual revenue. Li and Karottu have hired 28 employees to join them full-time in the business (most of whom are based in Charlotte). They continue to expand their services in North Carolina and are exploring the possibility of a second location on the West Coast.

But an end goal, according to the team, is not just to recycle electronic material, but to help corporations design new products or services such that they leave no trace on the environment at the end of their lives. Stay tuned for more details on those plans.

“Believe me, it is a very rare thing to drive home from the office with just highway lamp lights guiding the way, exhausted from the day’s battles and stressed about plotting for the day after… and not ever, for even one second, consider any life different than this one,” says Li.
Link to Original Article

Fabio Berger, Alex Browne, and Soroush Pour photo

2014 - Fabio Berger, Alex Browne, and Soroush Pour

Duke Undergraduate Entrepreneurs Win Inaugural $10,000 Borchardt Prize

Durham, NC – Three undergraduate entrepreneurs from the Duke graduating Class of 2014 have been awarded the inaugural Frank Borchardt Undergraduate Prize, endowed by Duke alumnus and serial entrepreneur David Cummings (Trinity ’02). The prize awards $10,000 in grant money to an undergraduate team to kickstart their venture which applies recent advances in machine learning algorithms to problems in the recycling and manufacturing industries, with a focus on solving problems and boosting productivity for local North Carolina business owners.

The three awardees are computer science major Fabio Berger (Trinity ’14), electrical and computer engineering and computer science double major Alex Browne (Pratt ’14) and mechanical engineering major Soroush Pour (Pratt ’14).

During their time as undergraduates, the trio worked on a number of companies. Fabio is the co-founder of ShelfRelief.com, an online textbook marketplace for students. Fabio and Soroush took a leave of absence in their junior year to work full-time on another venture, WealthLift.com, a financial education platform for beginning investors to develop essential financial skills, which they sold in December 2013. The pair have also worked on numerous web and mobile applications since then, including a mobile SDK for iPhone developers to integrate live chat customer support into their mobile apps. Alex is the founder of CrowdCourse, an online platform for collaborative instruction of academic courses, as well as Turnout, which provided automatic algorithmic customer targeting and segmentation for e-commerce companies.

All three were part of Duke’s Summer Innovation Program Incubator Track in Silicon Valley in Summer 2013, in which students have an opportunity to work on their companies while receiving mentoring from Duke alumni entrepreneurs and visiting technology companies in Silicon Valley.
David endowed the Frank Borchardt Undergraduate Prize Fund in 2013 to honor the original $20,000 investment that Professor Borchardt made in his own company when he was a Duke student.

A native of Tallahassee, Florida, David Cummings earned his bachelor of science degree in economics from Duke University. David has been an entrepreneur since college. In 2001, David founded Hannon Hill, which was recognized as the 247th fastest growing company in the U.S. by Inc. magazine as part of the Inc. 500 awards. In early 2007, David co-founded Pardot, which was recognized by the Atlanta Business Chronicle as the fastest growing technology company in 2010. Pardot was named to the Inc. 500 in 2012 coming in at number 172, and shortly thereafter Pardot was acquired by ExactTarget in one of the largest SaaS acquisitions ever of a bootstrapped company. David was subsequently named the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year winner in the deal category. Most recently, David founded the Atlanta Tech Village, which at 103,000 sq. ft is the largest technology entrepreneur center in the Southeast.