By Katie Jansen
Members of DukeGEN – or Duke Global Entrepreneurship Network – often stay in touch with each other via a Facebook and LinkedIn group, sharing articles and updates about their businesses.
DukeGEN was born in 2008 in an attempt to make productive connections among Duke alumni who are interested in startups, said Howie Rhee, who oversees DukeGEN as well as many Duke I&E programs for students and alumni.
Online, members can share resources that range from finding jobs to finding funding.
But DukeGEN is also an active in-person network. Since its inception, volunteers have helped put on more than 300 networking events in various cities.
Recently in New York City, DukeGEN members convened for the Startup Showcase, where nine Duke alumni-led startups pitch to a panel of Duke alumni judges and a Duke alumni audience.
The most recent Startup Showcase, the 15th showcase and the 7th one in New York City, was held at Yext, whose CEO, Howard Lerman, is a Duke alumnus.
In four minute pitches, the alums who are now founders and CEOs tell the crowd about their companies. It’s a way to spread the word about their ventures, as well as receive feedback about their companies or pitches.
The companies presenting at the Startup Showcase represented a wide range of markets and products, from a wedding-planning communications platform called Otterplan to Pippa, which presented a new way to share podcasts.
A panel of seven judges chose Ello Raw, a raw healthy snack food company, as the winner of the pitch competition. Becky Holmes, founder and CEO of Ello Raw, is a 2015 Duke graduate.
“It was an awesome experience to be a part of in any way and an honor to have won,” Holmes said.
She added that she was blown away by all the other companies that pitched.
“The Duke alumni base is incredible and so supportive, and you’re surrounded by talented people doing amazing things,” she said.
Ello Raw is currently in the process of raising capital, and Holmes said the Startup Showcase led to conversations that may eventually lead to potential investments.
RateFrame, a company that allows users to select snippets of videos to share rather than watching the whole video, was the runner up, while Broadway Plus, a company that creates VIP behind-the-scenes packages for Broadway musicals, took home an honorable mention.
Other companies that pitched were:
- Debitize, which aimed to make the credit card experience more user-friendly;
- Lucky Diem, which allows businesses to build customer loyalty through a game-like experience;
- Vamoose, a service that allows the user to order and pay on their smartphones at fast casual restaurants;
- Focusmate, an anti-procrastination tool that partners users up to hold them accountable for their tasks.