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ExitEvent: 7 People to Know in Duke Entrepreneurship

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This article was published by ExitEvent here on 30 August 2016.
By Laura Baverman @laurabaverman

7 People to Know in Duke Entrepreneurship

These faculty, staff and students at Duke University connect the university ecosystem with the startup community to spur innovation and economic development.

Local universities are one of our startup community’s greatest assets—not only do they educate and produce talent that feeds into the startup community but they train students to become entrepreneurs and they employ professors and researchers who develop and commercialize groundbreaking innovation.

There’s a team of people on every campus that help to connect faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members with various programs and opportunities, all to promote innovation and economic development in the state of North Carolina.

In the third of a series of Q&As with university leaders across the state, meet some of the folks making it happen at Duke University and the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative (Duke I&E) in Durham.

Marie-Angela Della Pia
Community Director, The Bullpen
marieangela7Brief overview of your job/role with the university.
The Bullpen is I&E’s new event and flexible work space in downtown Durham. We’re creating a hub for entrepreneurship in the Duke and local community. We also feature speakers, workshops, and I&E programs and events that provide assistance to startups. In my role as director, I manage all the space here at the Bullpen, handling event management and building community partnerships.

Brief overview of your background and anything that contributes to the role in entrepreneurship programming.

I was involved in the entrepreneurship community in the Triangle while I was in graduate school. I saw the amazing things that were happening and I knew I wanted to get involved. My goal was to bridge the gap between the university and the local entrepreneurial community and make available resources to support our students, staff, and alumni as they work on their ideas. My background in student affairs and event planning has been helpful as we have developed our programs and as we operate The Bullpen.

What’s an extra proud moment from your time in your role?
A few months ago I reviewed our activity in our space and was incredibly proud of my findings: in just 8 months we hosted over 6500 visitors, 170 events, 2 classes on entrepreneurship, and had seen over 40 local and non-profit organizations utilize the space for meetings and events. All this activity has resulted in new connections and collaborations between various groups and individuals across the Durham community, local universities, and Duke’s campus…I love to see those projects and relationships come together.

Who’s the most impressive entrepreneur you’ve come into contact with through your work, and why?
A number of Duke students, alumni and local Triangle entrepreneurs come to mind. For example, each year we have a group of students who participate in our Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs program. For an entire year we work with these students and support them as they develop their ideas. I’ve been so inspired by the startups these students have created. We are surrounded by people who are actively working to solve our world’s problems through entrepreneurship and innovation and I have the privilege of working with them every day.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to found my own company when I was fourteen. It stays with me as inspiration in what I do today!

Kip Frey
Director of the Law & Entrepreneurship Program at the Law School, Senior Strategist with Duke I&E, faculty member in Law and Public Policy, and a member of the Duke Angel Network Executive Board.

Kip Frey croppedBrief overview of your background and anything that contributes to the role in entrepreneurship programming.
I’ve run seven startup companies (including my current one, Canines, Inc., was a partner in a local venture capital fund for nine years, and have taught entrepreneurship at Duke for 15 years.

What’s an extra proud moment from your time in your role?
Watching founders I’ve helped realize their dreams and create successful companies.

Who’s the most impressive entrepreneur you’ve come into contact with through your work, and why?
Ted Turner. I worked at Turner Broadcasting in the early 90s. He’s the most fearless entrepreneur I’ve ever been around.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?
I ran World Championship Wrestling for Ted during my time at Turner.

Eric Toone
Director, Duke I&E

ericheadshot1Brief overview of your job/role with the university.
As director, I oversee all aspects of the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative, including our educational offerings, our research program, our resources to help aspiring entrepreneurs, and our programs in social entrepreneurship. Our program now offers dozens of courses at the undergraduate and graduate level that serve hundreds of students.

Through our research efforts we are working to measure the impact of our programs, as students leave the university and begin independent lives around the world. Our angel network has funded nearly a dozen new Duke companies, including those founded by students and former students. And our programs in social entrepreneurship work with agencies around the globe to create durable, scalable solutions to social challenges through the tools of entrepreneurship.

Brief overview of your background and anything that contributes to the role in entrepreneurship programming.
I came to Duke as an assistant professor in Chemistry in 1990. I am an organic chemist (yes… I taught orgo…), and became interested in medicinal chemistry. Those interests led to the formation of three companies from our work at Duke, including Aerie Pharmaceuticals, a publicly-traded ophthalmology company here in the Triangle, and Valanbio Therapeutics, a new company developing novel antibiotics for Gram-negative infections.

From 2009 until the end of 2012, I was detailed to the US Department of Energy, helping to stand up the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy. There, I served as program director, creating the Electrofuels program, and deputy director, technology before leading the agency in 2012. So I have been involved in entrepreneurship and translation from multiple perspectives—as an entrepreneur, as a financier, and now as a resource for all those interested in using ideas to impact lives.

What’s an extra proud moment from your time in your role?
Opening our new space—The Bullpen—at the Imperial Building in Downtown Durham was a moment that really made all that we’re doing seem real and cohesive. The project took incredible foresight, energy and luck on the part of so many people, but serves as a touchstone for all that we do.

Who is the most impressive entrepreneur you’ve come into contact with through your work, and why?
I have worked with so many great entrepreneurs over the years that it is hard—unfair really—to try to single one out. One I am especially amazed with right at the moment is Suhani Jalota, a student in the Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs Program here at Duke, who built a factory in the slums of Mumbai making sanitary products for women. Her drive, her energy and her passion are breathtaking, and Myna is an incredibly compelling example of the power of social entrepreneurship.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I love big boats, although it is not clear they love me.

Matt Nash
Managing Director for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Duke I&E

matt_nash Brief overview of your job/role with the university.
I collaborate with colleagues across the campus and community to inspire, prepare and support entrepreneurial leaders—whether students, faculty, administrators, alumni, or practitioners—to pursue innovative, sustainable solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. I divide my time between teaching classes and workshops on social innovation, coaching student and alumni changemakers in our Design to Impact social innovation incubator and in various campus and global competitions; advising relevant clubs and activities; managing our social I&E programs such as DukeEngage in Detroit; and engaging with the social entrepreneurship movement in the community and around the world.

I serve as Duke’s liaison to Ashoka, the global network of leading social entrepreneurs, as part of our membership in the Changemaker Campus Consortium. I also undertake a variety of roles in speaking, training, and writing to help advance public awareness of the fields of social innovation and social entrepreneurship.

Brief overview of your background and anything that contributes to the role in entrepreneurship programming.
I have always had an interest in social impact work, both domestically and overseas. In college, I did a lot of community service work with youth in the inner city, and I continue to volunteer with and consult to nonprofits in the Triangle. One of my most formative experiences was serving in the Peace Corps in Romania in the mid-1990s shortly after the fall of communism there. Working in a country that had witnessed the disappearance of philanthropy and the social sector for four decades made me realize how important nonprofits and social enterprises are to a thriving civil society.

After pursuing my MBA, I spent nearly six years consulting to nonprofits, public agencies, and corporations in the areas of strategy, change management, performance measurement, leadership development, and governance. At Duke, I have been creating and managing social innovation and entrepreneurship programs at since 2005, when I first came to work with my colleague and mentor, the late Prof. Greg Dees, recognized around the world as the father of the academic field of social entrepreneurship. Prior to joining the Duke I&E team, I served as the executive director of the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at the Fuqua School of Business, and as the founding center director of the Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator at Duke.

What’s an extra proud moment from your time in your role?
Looking back to collaborations with colleagues across Duke, I am especially proud of when the Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator at Duke (SEAD) was selected by the U.S. Agency for International Development as one of eight winners from among nearly 500 applications received from universities around the world. We received $10 million to scan the world for social entrepreneurs with proven innovations in global health, and to work with them intensively to help their innovations become more effective and scalable, and to achieve greater scale of impact.

When we received that grant from USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network, I was honored to represent Duke at the White House and in a meeting with Secretary Hillary Clinton at the State Department, and later to accept on Duke’s behalf the Cordes Award for Innovation in Social Entrepreneurship Education from Ashoka and the Cordes Foundation.

Who is the most impressive entrepreneur you’ve come into contact with through your work, and why?
I deeply admire Muhammad Yunus, the pioneer of microfinance and founder of the Grameen Bank and the Yunus Centre, who served as Duke’s commencement speaker a few years ago. Among our alumni, I am inspired by the dedication to serving youth in poverty around the world of Maya Ajmera, founder of the Global Fund for Children, as well as by the commitment to finding and supporting innovative approaches to conservation and development of Alex Dehgan, former chief scientist of USAID and founder of Conservation X Labs, who is now serving as Duke I&E’s Chanler Innovator in Residence.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?
These days, I’m always kept on my toes at home by my own budding changemakers, Miles (nearly seven years old) and Mairenn (almost five), who are full of challenging questions about the world around them and their own roles in it. My wife Nicole and I hope to inspire them to “be the change!”

Michelle Chen
Co-director of HackDuke, VP of finance of Duke Association for Business-Oriented Women

57c461d45985b6dc077b780c-1472487892155Brief overview of your job/role with the university.
I am a rising junior majoring in computer science and minoring in economics and history; I co-direct HackDuke, the nation’s largest collegiate hackathon addressing social good, with my partner Yixin. We bring in engineers and high impact non-profits and sponsors to create innovative products and projects and put on various initiatives throughout the year that directly impact the Duke developer community. I’m also heavily involved in the Duke Association for Business Oriented Women, a women’s pre-professional organization, where I serve as the VP of Finance.

Brief overview of your background and anything that contributes to the role in entrepreneurship programming.
I’ve always been interested in the synthesis between business, social good, and technology. To that end, I’ve participated in and helped with other hackathons across the country, interned at Morgan Stanley as a business analyst in the technology division, and have had the opportunity to focus on exploring technology’s role in bettering all industries as an Interact fellow. I believe that cross-disciplinary focus combined with engagement with the community is central to effective entrepreneurship programming.

What’s an extra proud moment from your time in your role?
Our sponsorship team was able to raise over $100,000 in sponsorship in just a couple of months to not only fund the hackathon but also several other initiatives for the year. I was really proud of the teamwork and determination shown by members of the team who creatively and relentlessly worked secured new sponsorships for our organization!

Who is the most impressive entrepreneur you’ve come into contact with through your work, and why?
Ivonna Dumanyan comes to mind—I heard her speak freshman year about her company, BioMetrix, that develops the next generation of motion capture wearable sensors to keep athletes on the field longer. She’s a Thiel Fellow as well and I was especially impressed by both her eloquence and her passion for her product.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?
I’ve visited four continents before the age of 18 and I hope to visit my fifth (Australia) this year!

Yixin Lin
Co-director of HackDuke, Founding Partner of Contrary Capital
57c461df5985b6dc077b780e-1472487903184Brief overview of your job/role with the university.
I’m a rising junior majoring in computer science and math; I also help lead HackDuke with my co-director Michelle. It’s the premier collegiate social good hackathon, where we bring students from all over the country to build incredible projects aimed at alleviating social issues. It’s also become much more than that, with several initiatives to help educate and bond the tech/entrepreneurship community at Duke. I’m also a founding student partner of Contrary Capital, which is a nationwide network of student venture capitalists who source, investigate, and invest in college entrepreneurs.

Brief overview of your background and anything that contributes to the role in entrepreneurship programming.
I’ve been interested in technology as a force of change for a while now, and I think technology entrepreneurship is one of the most efficient ways to realize that change. Earlier in college, I flew around the country participating in hackathons, participated in the Duke Startup Challenge, and worked on a few ideas of my own; I’ve also gotten a chance to work at a fast-growing startup as part of the KPCB Fellows program. Getting a chance to interact with the community helps immensely from an events programming perspective.

What’s an extra proud moment from your time in your role?
Ideate, Duke’s first design thinking & innovation conference during the spring of 2016, was amazing and surreal experience. I’m extremely proud of the HackDuke team who worked incredibly hard to bring something new to the Duke community.

Who is the most impressive entrepreneur you’ve come into contact with through your work, and why?
Yuzhou Lee, who left big shoes to fill as a previous director of HackDuke, also co-founded Farmshots during college, a successful technology startup which utilizes computer vision to bring agriculture to the modern age. He’s not only impressive for his engineering, product, and management skills, but also as a person who gives back to his community.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?
I love art and wanted to be an artist as a kid. I still spend time drawing and especially love graphite art and digital animation!

Howie Rhee
Managing Director of Student and Alumni Affairs, Duke I&E

57c5ccca5985b6dc077ba225-1472580810744Brief overview of your job/role with the university.
My goal is to support students and alumni, wherever they are located and whatever endeavors they are taking on. To that end, I meet with about 20-25 students and alumni per week. We talk about their careers and if they are starting a company, their companies as well. Often times their startup ideas are a manifestation of their career goals, so we discuss their careers holistically. I’m open to meeting any member of the Duke community, which include undergraduates, Fuqua Business School, Law, Medicine and grad students of all backgrounds.

I spend time talking to many alumni each week, whether they’ve graduated a year ago or 20 years prior. I strongly believe that Duke’s role is to provide lifelong support to our students and alumni, through an approachable community and very customized mentorship and education. My two main programs at Duke are Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs (with the support of Melissa Bernstein ’87 and her husband Doug), which is the premiere program for Duke undergraduates interested in entrepreneurship; and the Program for Entrepreneurs (with Jon Fjeld, a professor at Fuqua Business School), which is a sequence of structured courses that allows students across Duke to work on a startup while receiving course credit.

In addition, I run several different programs including the Duke Startup Challenge, Duke Global Entrepreneurship Network (DukeGEN) with T. Reid Lewis and Matt Koidin, and StartupConnect with Brandon Sassouni. I also spend a lot of time advising and supporting clubs and student organizations including The Cube, HackDuke and the Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Club. I focus on reaching into student communities as much as possible and making myself available to any student who wants to have a conversation.

Across these efforts, we run about 30 events a year, and have a couple of active social media groups that include several thousand Duke students and alumni. On the research side, while I am not a researcher myself, I do my best to support the research efforts that my colleagues have in studying entrepreneurship at a deeper level.

Brief overview of your background and anything that contributes to the role in entrepreneurship programming.
As an undergraduate at MIT, I was very interested in entrepreneurship but I felt too intimidated and confused to figure out who in the administration at MIT I could reach out to for support. To give a sense of my level of interest, I started a company while I was a junior and actually left school for a year to move to New York City and focus on my company. For whatever reason, I didn’t know how to take advantage of entrepreneurship resources beyond the classes that were offered at MIT, even though there were ample resources.

Now I make it a priority to put myself out there for the students and alumni at Duke. We have a LinkedIn Group with 7,000 members, a mailing list with 10,000 members, and various listservs with about 2,500 current students—I’m always happy to chat and help in whatever way I can, often by making introductions to potential mentors and resources.

For example, George Northup is a Duke alum who has had a very successful career in Silicon Valley and sold four companies. I probably connect him with a new Duke student each week and there are many other alumni like George who have graciously donated their time in this way. I am always happy to connect students with alumni mentors to further their thinking about their careers and their entrepreneurial aspirations. I can reached at, 919-923-7113, or scheduled directly at

What’s an extra proud moment from your time in your role?
I used to think that my proudest moments were building big events. But over time I started to realize the most impactful things were either making connections (you connected me to my business partner and now we’ve worked together a decade!) or having a strong one-on-one conversation with a student. The events, while still great, are catalysts for both the connections and the conversations. So, my proudest moments, now, are when a student says “you helped me raise funding” or “you helped me find a job” or “our conversation really changed my life”. Those are private moments in which I take pride. The sum of them, and helping to create and nurture a culture of that kind of giving, is my proudest “moment”.

Who is the most impressive entrepreneur you’ve come into contact with through your work, and why?
Wow, that’s a difficult question. There are hundreds of Duke founders (many of them can be found on this great list by AngelList) and they have so many different dimensions, it’d be hard to choose one. Some of my favorite Duke alum entrepreneurs are:

  • Melissa Bernstein (co-founder and co-CEO of Melissa & Doug)
  • Josh Felser (sold two companies, Spinner for $300 million, and Crackle for $60 million, now investing)
  • George Northup (successfully exited four companies as CEO)
  • Bill Hawkins (former CEO of Medtronic)
  • T. Reid Lewis (co-founder of GroupLogic, acquired by Acronis)
  • Rich West (co-founder Advanced Liquid Logic, acquired for $100 million)
  • David Cummings (co-founder of Pardot, acquired for $100 million, founded Atlanta Tech Village)
  • Brooks Bell and Jesse Lipson (Brooks runs Brooks Bell, Jesse ran ShareFile which was acquired by Citrix, both founded HQ Raleigh and Thinkhouse)
  • Lawrence Lenihan (founded Resonance)
  • Matt Koidin (CTO at Pocket)
  • Howie Lerman (Founder of Yext)
  • Max Hodak (Founder of Transcriptic)
  • Kathryn Minshew (co-founder of The Muse)
  • Basil Enan (co-founder of Discors and Coverhound)
  • Chuck Ghoorah (co-founder of Cvent, IPO’ed and recently acquired for $1 billion)
  • Jim Scheinman (been a part of four billion-dollar companies including Cruise, which sold for $1 billion to GM)
  • Aaron Patzer (founded, sold for $170 million to Intuit)

The list goes on and on. And an amazing thing about all those people I mentioned, is they are all committed to Duke and have tangibly contributed to Duke regularly, mostly in the form of mentoring the next generation. I introduce them to students regularly, and they are so committed to helping.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?
My family (the kids are 10, 7 and 2) is really big into the Hamilton musical. This summer we did a trip to visit a lot of sites mentioned including Mt. Vernon, the Schuyler house in Albany, Hamilton Grange in Harlem, Fraunces Tavern near Battery Park and their graves at Trinity Church. We have listened to, and sung along to, the music quite a bit. My wife and I met as sophomores in college singing together in an a cappella group, so singing is an important part of our family.

This article was published by ExitEvent and can be read in its original form on ExitEvent’s website here.

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