Duke Innovation Studio Demo Day Spotlights Student Ventures
In its Spring 2022 virtual demo day, the Duke Innovation Studio (DIS) gave a platform to seven startups founded by Duke students to pitch their ventures to potential investors and mentors.
As Duke’s student-run accelerator, DIS sources and supports the top undergraduate, graduate, and professional founders across Duke with mentorship, education, network connections, sponsorship, and fundraising support. Working in partnership with Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship (I&E), the Pratt School of Engineering, and RevStarts, an online accelerator co-founded by Nic Meliones ’11, DIS supported student ventures in a wide range of industries this semester:
- Pickle (Marcus Deans ’23): An algorithm-based platform that thinks like a medical specialist to support PCPs in step-by-step diagnostic workups, avoiding unnecessary referrals
- AltSocial (Leo Akers ’23 and Sam Lamba ’22): A social network for users interested in NFTs, helping them find and showcase NFTs and connect with a like-minded community
- Allergood (Michelle Addison MBA’23): A trusted source for the food allergy community, bringing safety, peace of mind, and convenience to members through a data-driven ecosystem
- Holoriff (Andres Montoya and Nishanth Singaraju ’22):Technology that enables surgeons to interact with computers directly in the operating room, improving efficiency and patient outcomes
- Audiown (Will Tenpas ’23): A platform that allows artists to sell shares of their music to fans to gain financial freedom, a creative network, and ongoing support
- EZTrain (Will Maynard ’23 and Thomas Chemmanoor ’22): A software as a service platform designed for mission-critical industries to improve training compliance and readiness
- Stapoo (Aayushi Patel ’25 and Aditya Gaur ’25): Teaches low-income students in India to become independent learners on the internet by equipping them with digital literacy skills
For many of the founders, their ventures were born of personal experience.
“Allergood has been on my heart and mind for the last 2-3 years,” said Addison. “I have food allergies, my husband and kids have food allergies, and I’ve been a food allergy blogger for the past 12 years. Positively impacting this community has been a key goal of mine for some time.”
“I decided to build Pickle based on extensive feedback from my family and family friends who are practicing clinicians,” said Deans. “I learned about the systemic inefficiencies present in the system that seriously impact patient outcomes.”
Participants cite accountability and community among the benefits of DIS.
“My biggest takeaway has been the importance of constantly moving forward,” said Tenpas. “You can plan all you want, but it’s critical to actually execute to make progress. Listening to founders and other speakers, this seemed like a consistent message, and I found it to be super true.”
“We’ve been really inspired by the motivation we’ve seen from both the Duke Innovation Studio leadership team and the participating ventures,” said Amy Linnane, managing director for experiential programs at Duke I&E and a DIS advisor. “It takes a lot of work and perseverance to build a company, and these students are doing it on top of already very full and demanding schedules.”
According to Duke Innovation Studio co-founder Daniel Marshall ’23, the accelerator tries to identify ventures that are far enough along to benefit from the available resources and networks. Pickle has already run eight pilots across three hospital testing sites. EZTrain, awarded a Phase I STTR grant from the Department of Defense for $50K, already serves more than 1200 users across multiple EMS organizations, four Air Force bases, and an Army reserve unit; EZTrain has also demonstrated its product to senior ranking Air Force members including chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley. Holoriff won a $10K ACC Inventure Prize and has already begun testing with 40 Duke Health surgeons. Allergood, winner of the $10K CASE Launch Pad Prize and the Fuqua Fast Pitch Audience Choice Award, is slated for a limited launch this summer, with more than 500 users already registered.
A common theme among DIS participants is an appreciation for the wealth of Duke resources available to student founders. Maynard, whose venture EZTrain originated with a Duke course called Hacking for Defense (now Mission-Driven Startup), said being at Duke has been critical to the company’s inception and growth.
“At every step of the journey, we have turned to the Duke community and network,” Maynard said. “When seeking grant funding, we applied for an STTR grant in partnership with Duke. We have often tapped into Duke resources such as Project Phoenix, the Duke Innovation Studio, Duke professional consultants, the Duke Law legal cohort, and other Duke programs.”
Marshall said that thanks to the many alumni who have supported the Duke Innovation Studio—including weekly guest speakers—the accelerator has become “a program that provides instruction across emerging markets and technologies including blockchain, energy, and fintech.”
More broadly, Marshall is eager to continue building student interest and engagement with entrepreneurship. “We hope to build up rising leaders who will bring us towards a brighter future,” he said.