By Lopa Rahman ‘16
Duke entrepreneurs can add the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network North Carolina to the long list of resources they enjoy through the Duke Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative (Duke I&E) as they build up their startups. The Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network, which currently has branches in North Carolina and Colorado, unlocks the economic potential of various regions by linking serial entrepreneurs with high-growth companies.
Blackstone Entrepreneurs-in-Residence (EIRs) are highly connected veteran entrepreneurs who identify marketable innovations at universities in the Triangle as well as promising regional startups. The 12 EIRs at Blackstone have founded 23 companies that collectively raised $750M and boast exit values of more than $4B. The EIRs work with startups in both one-on-one and team settings, helping companies achieve business milestones and develop their business development, marketing, and financial strategies.
“The most important thing Blackstone does is pull together serial entrepreneurs to leverage their assets and power as a group,” said Kathryn James, Program Director for Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network North Carolina. “The EIRs work almost like a venture firm in identifying the greatest potential intellectual property and startups in the area and working with them to accelerate the growth of their companies. They work with companies ranging from very early-stage to revenue growth companies and identify strategic growth opportunities and provide direction for them. They also make strategic connections to both customers and other advisors and capital.”
Professor Kip Frey, a senior strategist at Duke I&E and an EIR at Blackstone, said he connects the entrepreneurial projects happening at Duke I&E with various mentorship and support opportunities at Blackstone. His involvement with both Duke I&E and Blackstone allows him to foster productive collaboration between individuals and teams at both organizations.
“If we’re working with a company to try to get it up off the ground and it’s student-run, run by a Duke alumnus, or uses Duke technology, Duke I&E tends to be involved….Blackstone is good at providing mentors using the networks of the EIRs to help companies,” Frey said.
Blackstone Fellows are another source of support for Duke companies. Fellows are selected through recommendations from the professional schools of Blackstone’s four university partners: Duke, UNC Chapel Hill, NC State University, and NC Central University. Fellows assist with numerous aspects of company development including financial modeling, market research, and competitive analysis. James said a number of Blackstone Fellows are working with Valanbio Therapeutics, an early-stage anti-infectives company founded by Duke faculty.
“The Fellows have done market research projects and other types of business projects for Valanbio,” James said. “Right now they’re working on investor presentations—both short summaries and more in-depth business pitches for raising funding.”
In addition to making connections between companies involved in Duke I&E and Blackstone, Frey is actively helping align the Duke Angel Network with Blackstone. The Duke Angel Network, which supports the global Duke entrepreneurial community and operates within Duke I&E, includes Duke-affiliated angel investors who invest in U.S.-based Duke deals. Companies seeking investments through the Duke Angel Network must have a founder or executive who is a Duke alumnus, faculty, staff, student, or parent and be raising seed or Series A equity capital of $300,000 to $3M or syndicating later-stage equity financings with an existing institutional lead investor. James said EIRs have helped Duke companies prepare for their pitch meetings with Duke Angel Network investors.
“As the Duke Angel Network does investments in these early-stage deals I try to find opportunities to incorporate what Blackstone does into whatever is going on with those companies,” Frey said. “Duke I&E is also working on creating an even larger angel network in the Triangle and wants to formally align Blackstone with this larger network of angel investors.”
Blackstone is a key player in the Triangle’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, and companies involved with Duke I&E have reaped the rewards of Duke I&E’s connection to BEN.
“As we introduce Duke-affiliated companies to the Duke Angel Network and they raise money from the angels, we have an interest in making sure those companies are as successful as possible,” Frey said. “To that end, we find ways to make sure BEN gets involved to the extent that it can with how the newly funded company is going to go forward, how it’s going to acquire new talent, how it’s going to deal with technology issues. Enlisting Blackstone EIRs and Fellows has really helped with those things.”