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“We ran out of burritos pretty fast,” said Amy Linnane, Managing Director for Experiential Programs at Duke I&E, with a rueful smile. “But thankfully, the students were mostly hungry for connections.”

Linnane, who led planning efforts for the inaugural Startup Fest—an event run by Duke I&E in partnership with The Cube LLC and the Christensen Family Center for Innovation—shared that with more than 400 registrants, the event’s demand had thrilled her and colleagues.

“We designed Startup Fest to bring together founders and others at Duke interested in startups so they could build community and forge connections,” Linnane explained. “We know how much of entrepreneurship depends on those sparks that fly in conversations between people with common passions.”

During the event, students grouped together based on industries of interest—education, health, climate, food, and travel—to identify a specific problem and technology and propose and pitch a radical solution. Connecting over areas of interest is also the foundation of the Student Startup Directory being built by Duke I&E, which connects students at work on ventures with potential teammates.

“Duke I&E events bring students out of their silos and into the community,” said Tiana Elame MEM ’24, founder of Environmental Answers (EnvAns). “The energy was positive and inspiring—I left the event with some great ideas and tools to employ in my startup.”

Students at Startup Fest work together on an ideation challenge

The event also allowed students to better understand Duke’s rich entrepreneurial ecosystem and how they could get involved via not just Duke I&E, but also The Cube LLC—a residential living and learning community—and the Christensen Family Center for Innovation (CFCI).

Members of The Cube live together while pursuing personal ventures, with access to resources and in community with like-minded, driven peers. Former members—many of them also members of Duke I&E’s Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs accelerator—have built companies like Sprout (Arun Karottu ’15), Carpe (Kasper Kubica ’17), FarmShots (Joshua Miller ’16), and MATI (Tatiana Birgisson ’12), among others; the founders of HackDuke, Duke Impact Investing Group, and Project EDGE were all Cube members.

Students interested in building software products, or finding a team to build software, can gain support from The Christensen Family Center for Innovation (CFCI). Through the Product Management Course, and CFCI’s Product Lab, student teams can work on real-world projects building products through two-week sprints for which they are paid.

“We are excited to help students connect with industry partners and internal projects as they learn the skills needed to be a part of a product team to launch innovations that have the potential to make huge impact in their respective fields, “ Adria Dunbar, CFCI’s managing director, said after seeing the large number of students interested in creating and joining Duke student-led start-ups. “We are ready to lead and mentor students as they transform ideas into innovative technology and eventually revolutionary products ready to go to market.”

“Together with CFCI, The Cube, and other organizations on campus, Duke I&E is committed to supporting entrepreneurial students via a rich and collaborative ecosystem,” Linnane said. “So whether that’s with funding—such as the $110,000 we’ll be giving away at the spring Startup Showcase—knowledge-building programs, classes, mentorship, community, or connections, students can get what they need to move their ventures forward.”

“I really enjoyed hearing from fellow student entrepreneurs about the products they’re developing and the Duke resources that supported them,” said Casey Goldstein ’24, founder of College to Climate. “After the event, I ended up staying for an extra 45 minutes to meet super-interesting innovators and walked out of the room with all sorts of new connections to develop this semester.”