Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs

Duke’s Premiere Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Program

Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs is a year-long intensive program where undergraduate students can turn ideas into action through the development of their own ventures. The program gives students the support they need — including a summer stipend, workshops, mentors and a personal connection with Melissa and Doug Bernstein — to become innovators and entrepreneurs.

This is a unique opportunity to work with the founders of Melissa & Doug,
an amazing company that has been in business for over 25 years, has over
2000 proprietary products, sells throughout the world, and has sold billions
of dollars of toys!

Melissa Bernstein '87

Melissa Bernstein graduated from Duke in 1987. After a stint at Morgan Stanley, she and her husband (then boyfriend), Doug, founded a company that sold children’s educational videotapes. That company has evolved into the toy company, now known as Melissa & Doug, with over 2,000 different toys and 200 new items each year! Melissa is passionate about helping students think differently about their ability to shape their future through entrepreneurship.

Read Our Interview with Melissa

Doug Bernstein

Doug Bernstein attended the University of Connecticut, where he was president of the student government, and graduated in 1985. In 1988, he co-founded Melissa & Doug, and together they continue to run the company.

The Melissa & Doug Anniversary Video: Celebrating 25 Years

Howie Rhee '04

Howie is the program director of Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs. He works closely with both Melissa and Doug to create and run each aspect of the Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs program, to make this the best undergraduate entrepreneurship program around! The goal for each student is to make their experience as rich as possible. Students in the program touch base with Howie on a weekly basis throughout the duration of the program.

If you want to learn more, contact Howie at We value your questions, comments, and suggestions

Tatiana Birgisson '12

Tatiana is the founder and CEO of MATI Energy, the first truly healthy, long-lasting energy drink. What began as a small dorm room business brewing small batches of tea in her Duke dorm room pasta pot quickly turned into a thriving beverage company. As an undergrad she was part of the first Summer Innovation Program (the predecessor to Melissa & Doug), won best undergraduate startup and social enterprise at the Duke Startup Challenge, was selected for the prestigious and inaugural class of SOAR (a Google-sponsored mentorship program), won the coveted $50k grant from NC Idea, won Google Demo Day, and most recently closed a $1.35M fundraising round.

Jake Stauch ‘13

Jake is the CEO and founder of Neuro+, a venture-backed startup that’s developed a brain-controlled video game to help kids with ADHD improve their attention skills. Jake also founded NeuroSpire, a company that builds software for testing advertising with EEG brain scans. He previously worked as a researcher at the Duke Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, where he investigated the neural correlates of attention processes. While an undergraduate at Duke, Jake helped found InCube, a residential accelerator program for student entrepreneurs. Jake will serve as a coach for our Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs working directly with students on a regular basis.

For more information about this program, please contact Howie Rhee, Managing Director for Student and Alumni Affairs, Duke I&E, at 919-923-7113 or email him at

The Program


​Students will be assigned a team of entrepreneur mentors for the year, attend workshops, ​have VIP access to visiting speakers, and will connect personally with Melissa and Doug Bernstein.


​In the summer, students will be provided a stipend to further their own entrepreneurial venture or intern at a startup enterprise with the full support of Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs.


​In the fall, students will reflect on their summer experiences and teach their peers about the lessons they learned.


Apply Now

2016 Student Entrepreneurs

Ismail Aijazuddin ‘18

Ismail seeks to develop physical products that will help people with chronic medical conditions. His road to entrepreneurship began when he co‐founded a cancer support charity in honor of a friend who had fought brain cancer. Quickly realizing that he didn’t want to rely on donations or grants, he developed the ZipTee, an adaptive shirt providing access to ports implanted for chemotherapy, with plans to use all sales proceeds for service to cancer patients and their families.

Francesca Davie ‘19

“To live is the rarest thing in all the world. Most people merely exist, that is all.” – Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde sums it up for Francesca. Her company, Sweetness Sans Sucre, is about living, not merely existing! Given the epidemic of chronic western diseases and their link to diet, Francesca believes that understanding nutrition is paramount. Driven by our potential to attain sustainable optimum health when given the right “ingredients,” Francesca Davie is revolutionizing the snack industry. Sweetness Sans Sucre provides nutritionally‐dense, sugar‐free, and wheat‐free snacks designed to empower individuals to be the sweetest versions of themselves – without the sugar.

Canyon Dell’Omo ‘18

Canyon is from Cary, North Carolina. He has always had a passion for building things and coming up with ideas, particularly in business and tech. His company creates intelligent, hard hat‐mounted sensory bands that monitor heat stress and worker exhaustion, and which automatically schedule work breaks on high temperature construction sites. This saves equatorial job sites thousands of dollars, along with reducing the risk of heat exhaustion and secondary injury.

Dylan Gambardella ‘18

Dylan was born and raised in Cortlandt Manor, New York. Before graduating as the valedictorian of his high school, Dylan co‐founded Students4Students, a college advisory firm that has helped over 60 students across three continents gain admission to their dream schools. Dylan’s current project, the Next Gen Summit, is the premier conference and resource for young entrepreneurs. The summit’s mission is to instill in young people the belief that they control their futures and that they can direct their careers and their lives in ways that are most meaningful to them. Dylan and his companies have been featured in Forbes, USA Today, FOX News, and more. On campus, Dylan is a Divisional Director of Campus Enterprises, Senator in the DSG, and a member of the Duke Basketball Practice Team.

Alex Gottwald ‘19

Alex is from Indianapolis, Indiana, and is majoring in Computer Science. He loves following innovations in the tech space and has developed a passion for building products that ease adoption for those who struggle with new technologies. This summer, Alex is setting out to offer a fresh take on tech support. Motivated by his experiences helping others with their computer troubles, Alex is building a platform to connect stumped consumers to a network of on‐demand tech experts.

Tiana Horn ‘17

Tiana is originally from East Orange, New Jersey, but grew up in Deltona, Florida. She started her first company when she was 9 years old, hand‐making clothes for teddy bears and selling the clothing to her family and friends in her neighborhood. Beyonce’s “Formation” video is her current inspiration in life. Tiana’s company, Flower Child Remedies, Inc., makes hair care products using only natural ingredients. The ingredients are so natural that they’re actually all edible. Currently, her products are focused on improving the health of curly and natural hair, but she hopes to learn how to cater to other hair types as well.

Joe Lam ‘17

Joe is a San Francisco native and Karsh Scholar at Duke University. He created his own major through Program II, studying decision science and entrepreneurship. He has been involved in many startups in the past, having participated in the 500 Startups Accelerator Program (Batch 13). He is passionate about improving human performance and is currently the Founder & CEO of Brainbuild, a nutrition consulting company that helps athletes build their most optimal eating habits. Brainbuild analyzes each athlete’s work, class, and training schedules to create a custom, calendar‐based regimen that meets their unique performance needs. He is a two‐time US National Bronze Medalist and has competed in seven Fencing World Cups.

Austin Lee ‘18

Austin is a native of Hong Kong, studying Political Science and Economics. He is profoundly passionate about debating, development economics, and entrepreneurship. He is the co‐founder of Ascent debate, an online debate tutoring platform for high school students in Asia. It connects former top debaters as tutors to students either interested in debate or seeking to win tournaments in order to join the national debate team.

Cade Netscher ‘16

Cade is a Neuroscience and Philosophy Interdepartmental Major. He is passionate about using cutting‐edge neuroscience data to improve athletic training. As a competitive runner, Cade became interested in technologies that allowed him to improve his performance. First, he helped lead the research segment of Primal 7, a startup that increases mobility, improves balance, and builds functional strength. He went on to co‐found Neurun, a company that uses virtual and augmented reality to enhance the mental component of the running experience. He hopes Neurun will allow runners to overcome mental barriers experienced during training and races.

Judy Zhu ’17

Judy Zhu is an undergraduate student at Duke University and an aspiring tech entrepreneur. Her startup, Genie, is a mobile app that allows users to find people nearby with matching help requests. Genie is set to launch at Duke in the fall of 2016. Beyond her pursuit to establish a company, Judy loves making cookies for residents in Wilson dorm, longboarding to class, and flying kites on the quad on windy days. She hopes her adventures will open up infinite opportunities to dream big, fail early, and chase feels.

2015 Student Entrepreneurs

Ibanca Anand ’17

Ibanca’s passion lies in sharing and spreading the values of compelling stories using the tools of the business world, which has led her to pursue majors in Economics and Literature. She has also received a bachelor’s degree in Kathak, a North Indian classical dance form. As a fellow, she will be working on a dance curriculum which uses art to tell powerful stories of social change, which she will teach at the Durham Arts Council this summer.

Andrew Buie ’17

Andrew, Class of 2017, is a double major in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science. He is a co-founder of FreeSpace, a company building distributed sensor networks that track room utilization and availability and relay that information in real time to mobile and web applications. This summer he will be working to finish development of the product as well as begin marketing and delivering the product to universities and office environments.

Daniel Chander ’16

Daniel Chander, Class of 2016, is from Singapore and is majoring in economics. An avid, lifelong chess player, he has travelled extensively throughout Asia, for fun and to participate in multiple public health initiatives. Daniel is currently working with a team to build tools that usher in an era of patient-centered and data-driven care. He likes to backpack to experience the world as it is, and not through the interpretation of others.

Ivonna Dumanyan ’16

Ivonna is a junior from southern New Jersey who is majoring in Mechanical Engineering. A dedicated, lifelong athlete, her passions are fitness, good food, and good health. She and her partner are both former NCAA athletes, and they recognized gaps and deficiencies in the training of competitive athletes. They’re currently working to develop solutions to enhance performance and physical well-being. When she’s not sifting through data, she enjoys hiking, biking, and gardening.

Alex Elsea ’17

A native of Chattanooga, Tennessee, Alex was the first employee of Bellhops, a startup in the moving industry which has its roots in the rapidly growing sharing economy. Alex has held several positions with the firm in launching and scaling the firm, which has expanded to include operations in 130 cities. Alex has also served as a consultant and advisor to FlyLady Inc. as they transition from an email-based service to a mobile application-based service.

Stephanie Engle '16

Stephanie Engle, Class of 2016, is studying Public Policy and Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Duke. As the granddaughter of Intel’s co-founder, she grew up immersed in the entrepreneurial culture of the Bay Area and gained a particular fascination with design and social innovation. At the age of 11, she launched a photography company which found a successful niche, and once in high school the success of that business helped her found a nonprofit supporting Guatemalan orphans. At Duke, she is currently the CEO of Duke’s largest and oldest student-run company, Campus Enterprises, which was founded in 1994. This summer she will be a Product Design Intern at Facebook, and she intends to embark on a career as a designer and start another company.

Raffi Garnighian ’15

Raffi Garnighian is a Trinity Senior majoring in Economics. After starting several ventures in his early years at Duke, including a successful breakfast delivery company, Raffi used his experience to launch Pinion Pins, a consumer product company built around a magnetic pinning device which he co-invented with his mother. This summer, he plans to work with a local Durham product development firm to further expand the business.

Suhani Jalota '16

Suhani, Class of 2016, is an international student from Mumbai, India, with a double major in Economics and Global Health. She is inspired by women’s stories and finds fascination in change and dynamic structures. Suhani spent four years working in urban slum areas and rural communities on projects that involved adolescent girl’s health, water and sanitation, and social protection policy, and these experiences led to her goal of creating a large women’s network in India in concert with local individuals. Her gift is using discernment to connect others’ talents with opportunity. She says, “It may be a seemingly impossible task to create a world with less poverty and more beauty, but that’s what dreams are all about.”

Kasper Kubica ’17

Kasper Kubica, Class of 2017, was born in Canada and raised in Utah. The son of Polish immigrants, he found success running a small DJ business in high school, and learned some useful lessons in an attempt start a DJ lighting company as a college freshman. Now, he’s giving his all to Clutch Lotion, an anti-perspirant hand lotion company currently in an early manufacturing and marketing stage, and after that, he hopes to work in the emerging spaces of artificial intelligence and new space startups. Kasper is always focused on what the next few decades will bring, and wants to be right at the forefront of change – to him, that’s where the excitement is.

Adhar Maheshwari ’17

Adhar Maheshwari, Class of 2017, is from New Delhi, India, and is majoring in Visual Media Studies as he pursues a C​ertificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. He is the co-founder of Healthy U and Me, a preventive health nonprofit in India, and is also a musician, visual artist and writer. Adhar seeks to create a venture which integrates his passions for art, entrepreneurship, and technology.

Michael Mann ’16

Entrepreneur Michael Mann comes to Duke from Castle Rock, Colorado. He’s a redshirt sophomore playing for the Duke football team. He’s currently the CEO and co-founder of Double Doggie innovative pet products, and has developed a dual dog leash with a patented, tangle-free, Y-shaped swivel joint that allows dog lovers to walk or run two dogs with ease.

Logan Rooper ’17

Logan is an Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and Computer Science (CS) double major from Portland, Oregon, who is passionate about startups and building extraordinary products. He spent nearly two years as a software engineer at Autodesk, has had multiple technical internships at other companies and continues to be engaged in the creation and development of multiple startups. In mid-2014 Logan launched the engineering side of a currently stealth-mode startup in Oregon. This summer he’s building FreeSpace, a networked room occupancy platform that delivers real-time data to students and actionable usage metrics to administrators.

Tapiwa Sondayi ’17

Tapiwa, Class of 2017, is double majoring in Public Policy and Political Science and pursuing a minor in Economics. Born and raised in Zimbabwe, Tapiwa is exploring entrepreneurship on the African continent in the belief that the region has numerous untapped opportunities. He is the co-founder of Savana Online Mart, an internet-based grocery delivery service in Nairobi, Kenya. During the summer, Tapiwa will be focused on Savana, seeking a better understanding of the Kenyan consumer market and developing a logistics model for distributing goods in Nairobi. When he’s not working, Tapiwa loves playing basketball, reading, watching movies and exploring new experiences (such as performing in a play this semester).

2014 Student Entrepreneurs

Alex Browne '14

Alex is a double major in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. He has a few years of experience with technology and entrepreneurship. He will be moving out to the bay area with his two co-founders to work on our startup full-time after graduation. They are SF Robotics, and they are developing 3D-printed robots at a price point that is more accessible to consumers. They are also building software tools to make it easier for developers to make robotics applications.

Jimmy Fang '16

Jimmy Fang is from Great Falls, VA and is studying Computer Science at Duke. His interest in the psychological foundation of motivation led to the conception of Trajectory, a platform which allows users to track, record, and share their own “effort” in a visual manner. He hopes this will help others generate and maintain motivation in the aspects of their lives they feel most passionate about. This summer he hopes to work with his partner Gary Sheng and turn their idea into a functional and beautiful product. Outside of school he enjoys playing tennis, basketball, and exploring new places.

Davis Gossage '16

Davis Gossage is a student in the Pratt School of Engineering planning to major in Electrical/Computer Engineering and Computer Science. He is a co-founder of CrowdTunes, a cloud-based jukebox mobile application. CrowdTunes is available on the App Store now, and is being used by several bars in the Durham area. Davis hopes to spend the summer learning more about managing the technical side of a business. Outside of school he enjoys playing baseball and working on various tech projects.

Rebecca Holmes '15

Becky Holmes is from Lancaster, Pennsylvania and is studying Dance, Markets & Management and Education. She is passionate about the arts, social entrepreneurship and personal development. In her free time, Rebecca enjoys cooking, dancing and learning new things. She hopes to spend the summer working on a venture that will allow her to pursue what she loves and add value to the world.

Arun Karottu '15

Arun Karottu, is from Kerala, India and is studying Computer Science. He is working on a startup, Smart Metals Recycling, which recycles electronic wastes and scrap metal. Over this summer he hopes to create a recycling drive initiative that runs through school campuses picking up recyclable material and educating students about the benefits of recycling. He enjoys music, dancing and soccer.

Morgan Krey '15

Morgan Krey is from Lake Forest, Illinois and is a Biomedical Engineering and Computer Science double major. He has worked at startups in both the medical device and consumer technology spaces, and hopes someday to start a company that unites the two spheres to create medical technology accessible in the home. When not in school, he plays lacrosse for the Duke club team and spends as much time as he can outdoors.

Taylor Mavrakos '15

Taylor Mavrakos is from Tarpon Springs, FL and is majoring in visual and media studies, minoring in economics, and pursuing the markets and management certificate. After working at summer camps for several years, Taylor created a company called Four Smart Kids LLC which is an economical “camp-in-a-box” kit for camps looking to improve their marketing, efficiency, and profit margins. This summer, Taylor is hoping to start creating a client base. Outside of school, she enjoys running outside, playing piano, and cooking.

Josh Miller '16

Joshua Miller is from Coral Springs, Florida and is currently majoring in electrical engineering and computer science. His passion for great web design led him to create his first web design company, SkillGrabber, which served small businesses throughout Durham. This summer, Josh is hopes to learn more about hardware, agriculture, and finance in preparation for launching his next product.

Alan Ni '15

Alan Ni is from Columbia, Missouri and is majoring in computer science and minoring in economics and statistics. He has interned in technical positions at three startups, most recently as a Software Engineering Intern at Redfin. This summer, Alan will be part of the KPCB Fellows program and interning as a software engineer at Coursera. He is interested in technology, education, and social entrepreneurship. Alan is also an avid reader, amateur poker player, and passionate basketball fan.

Ashley Qian '15

Ashley Qian, Class of 2015, is dual majoring in Computer Science and Visual Arts with a minor in Women’s Studies. She’s passionate about alleviating social inequality through technology and art. Over the summer, she’ll be taking the time to explore the socio-economic gap in Silicon Valley and learning more about what can be done to address the gap and create sustainable solutions.

Janvi Shah '15

Janvi Shah is from Fremont, CA and is majoring in Neuroscience with a minor in Finance and certificate in Markets & Management Studies. Realizing that few startup companies visited Duke to hire students, she worked with a team from across the University to create Duke’s first startup-focused career fair, StartupConnect. Last summer, she participated in the inaugural Duke in Silicon Valley class, and this summer, she will be exploring the digital health space by interning in San Francisco at Rock Health, a full-service seed fund that supports healthcare entrepreneurs. In her spare time, she likes to paint, take photos, drink coffee, and cook (spicy) vegetarian food.

Gary Sheng '15

Gary Sheng is from Aurora, IL and is currently majoring in Computer Science at the Trinity College. The conception of the platform he hopes to work on with Jimmy Fang called Trajectory is rooted in his personal endeavor to stay motivated in the various facets of his life. He is fascinated with the convergence of behavioral economics and psychology with user interaction, and wishes he had more time to play basketball, read books, choreograph hip hop, and explore the world through his camera lens.

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