In The News

Students Explore Entrepreneurship Through Summer Programs

Published: 3 years ago | 0 comments

While they could have been taking vacations or just enjoying a break from school, 38 students spent their time participating in summer programs through the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative. Whether they were touring Silicon Valley startups, making a social impact in Detroit, or learning about Chicago’s arts scene, each of these students immersed themselves in innovation and entrepreneurship this summer.


A group of 21 students spent four weeks in Silicon Valley, the nation’s hub for innovation.

In the mornings, they sat in lectures and completed classwork for the course associated with the program, Building and Sustaining a Successful Enterprise.

In the afternoons, the students heard from guest speakers, met with Duke alumni, and toured different Silicon Valley companies, from startups like lingerie company ThirdLove to tech companies like Facebook and Google.

Dr. Salman Azhar, entrepreneur in residence and visiting associate professor at Duke, taught the Silicon Valley course. Although he’d taught a similar program in Silicon Valley for graduate students, this was his first summer teaching the course at the undergraduate level.

Azhar said he emphasized during the course that it was the students’ job to question him, and he sometimes intentionally made incorrect statements to be sure the students were paying attention.

These methods resulted in an interactive class where students were able to speak freely and engage in robust discussions.

Azhar used case studies as well as his own experiences to teach. He also relied on notes and activities left by his predecessor, Fuqua School of Business professor Jeremy Petranka.

Azhar said the course taught frameworks of thinking that take five minutes to understand, but a lifetime to apply.

“The course gives them a toolbox,” he said. “It’s up to them to figure out which tools to use in which situations.”

The students in the program said they benefited from living in the Silicon Valley setting for four weeks.

“I enrolled in this program with the intention of exploring Silicon Valley’s work culture,” said Alethea Toth, a sophomore who is double majoring in computer science and literature. “I really like this atmosphere of innovation, and I hope I can work here someday.”

The students also applied what they learned about innovation to broader life advice.

“I think my biggest takeaway is to not be narrow-minded,” said Brittany Williams, a senior computer science major. “I think at Duke people tend to focus on exactly what they want to do in life, and some of the jobs that will be out there in five years don’t even exist yet.”


Sixteen students traveled to Detroit this summer, ready to work with eight community partners through DukeEngage Detroit, a summer experience focused on social entrepreneurship.

The students interned at social enterprises in Detroit that work on some of the city’s most pressing social, environmental, and economic problems.

Representatives from a few of these social enterprises have been involved with the DukeEngage program for several years and say that Duke students have added tremendous value to their organizations.

Over the last few years, Duke students have worked on various projects. They’ve assisted Detroit Food Academy in building a new Small Batch program, which offers employment opportunities for academy graduates and gives them a place to sell their products. They’ve helped Build Institute, a business incubator, measure its impact by looking at how each dollar invested in the programs translates to economic impact in the community.

Although projects vary based on the community partners’ needs each summer, one important thing remains the same about the DukeEngage program every summer, said Jacob Schoenknecht, small batch director for Detroit Food Academy, a nonprofit that offers food-centric development programs to young people.

“DukeEngage students place a big emphasis on social justice and civic responsibility,” Schoenknecht said. “That civic engagement piece is key because it means the students are a great fit for our mission.”

Christianne Malone, program director at Build Institute, agreed.

“As a startup nonprofit, it’s been great to have qualified interns who can jump in right away and are eager and enthusiastic,” she said. “We’re busy and have a small staff, but our Duke students have always been competent, independent and able to make connections on their own.”

Betsy Creedon, director of entrepreneurial services at business incubator TechTown, said she’s found it useful to have Duke students as interns because they can help her figure out how to market programs to attract college students.

“All the Duke students have been fabulous,” Creedon said. “It’s an amazing relationship that has grown.”

This year, TechTown split its interns into two teams, with one team tackling diversity and inclusion initiatives and with the other team assembling an impact report for one of TechTown’s graduate companies, Street Democracy.

Street Democracy offers legal help for the homeless, Creedon said, and the project was helpful in immersing the students in the city while aligning nicely with the students’ social justice values.

“All of the students have a deep motivation that things should be better in general,” she said. “There’s a quest for righting some wrong and moving the needle. When we can find projects that will resonate with them, their energy level increases.”

Sophomore Tommaso Babucci was able to participate in a project that resonated with him this year at his placement at Detroit Food Academy.

During his time at Detroit Food Academy, Babucci and his partner helped promote the products coming out of the organization’s for-profit Small Batch program.

Babucci, an economics and psychology major who is also pursuing an I&E Certificate, helped create marketing content by shooting photo and video, two hobbies he has enjoyed for years. He also used knowledge gained in previous internships to help him establish marketing campaigns for the products.

Although he has done traditional community service before, Babucci said, his time in Detroit helped him see that there are bigger ways to make an impact by truly immersing oneself in a community.

“It was interesting to see how compact and supportive the business community was,” he said. “All these entrepreneurs really helped each other to make Detroit a better place.”

Ali Frank, a psychology major who is minoring in economics and pursuing an I&E Certificate, also used her strengths in projects she was assigned at her placement at ProsperUS Detroit, an organization that offers entrepreneurial training and small business lending.

She used her skills in writing to help with a storytelling project in which she and her partner interviewed past loan recipients about their businesses and how the loan had helped them.

But she also learned new skills on the job during a project in which she helped source data and do research to make the resources section of ProsperUS’ website more robust.


This year, seven students embarked on Duke in Chicago, a six-week, two-credit course program for students who are entrepreneurs and love the arts or who are artists and want to become entrepreneurial.

During the program, the students took classes or completed internships. They also visited theaters, news stations, museums, and galleries, hearing from Duke alumni and other artists who work in Chicago.

For their final project, the students were tasked with collaborating to create their own program, a mix of comedy, improvisation, music, and movement that they performed at the end of Duke in Chicago for a crowd of Duke alumni and other supporters.

“One of the things I love about this program is that we help students create their own entrepreneurial vision as creative makers, thinkers, artists,” said Madeleine Lambert, Duke in Chicago’s program director. “That vision is innovative, dynamic, exciting, and possible…this program helps students make their vision a reality.”

Shaina Lubliner, a sophomore who plans to study public policy and theater, said she participated in Duke in Chicago to explore opportunities for her future. While in Chicago, she had the opportunity to take classes at Second City in improv for actors and comedy film production.

“I’ve always loved performing, and I know I’m a happier person when I’m around the arts and being creative,” she said. “It can be sort of foggy when you think about how that’s going to translate into a career. I wanted to go on Duke Chicago to see arts professionals in action, to see what their jobs are like, ask them questions, and to hopefully feel inspired to do what they do. It totally happened. I feel so inspired leaving this program, and I hope to pursue an arts-related career.”

Not only did students learn how they could be entrepreneurial in the future, Lambert said, but they exercised entrepreneurial frameworks during the program.

“The students formed an ensemble and created a company and produced work, which is certainly entrepreneurial,” she said.

Stay Connected. Join our Mailing List for Duke I&E Updates.

Sign Up Now