With Duke alumni founders behind enterprises ranging from social innovations like the Myna Mahila Foundation and Inmates to Entrepreneurs to unicorn companies like Coinbase, Airtable, Cameo, and Plaid, many current students are at work on what they hope will be the next wave of ventures that change the world.
At the recent annual Matchmaker event hosted by Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship, students from across Duke gathered to listen to pitches by entrepreneurs hoping for feedback, advice, and team members to join their projects.
The ideas pitched spanned a wide range of spaces—from medical technology, to feminine hygiene, to web-based training—and stage, with some students in the ideation phase and others having already undertaken customer discovery and idea validation.
For many students, Matchmaker was not only a place to find teammates, but also a low-stakes avenue to practice their pitches in front of a large audience.
“[This event] was a great opportunity to share my initial startup idea in a safe environment,” said Naomi Michali, an MBA exchange student from HEC Paris. “I really enjoyed some students coming to me afterwards to ask me questions, give me feedback, challenge some ideas, and bring new ones. I’m glad I pushed myself a bit outside my comfort zone to pitch, as it was definitely a rewarding experience!”
Meet the “Pitchers”
Youni (Naomi Michali): 100% natural, plant-based, eco-friendly period products backed by a caring community
Himayat (Arya Diwase): A digital benefits platform for maids and their employers, beginning with India’s large domestic workforce
Fast Fashion (Durga Sreenivasan): Raising awareness of the harmful effects of fast fashion, including unsustainability and exploitative labor practices, and promoting secondhand shopping
Ethnic Treasure (Pranjala Gurushanth Siddanagowdru): Bamboo products made by tribal and rural women in India to achieve financial independence
Meditune (John Xu): A treatment for tinnitus based in notched musical therapy
Board Games (Toya Wallace): Board games that teach the true story of Black history, hip hop, and content for children with special needs
Venzur (Zach Stevenson): Platform that allows high school students to network, pitch business ideas, and team up to change the world
EZTrain (William Maynard): Web app that increases training efficiency and workforce understanding for more prepared, efficient armed services and emergency responders
Symptom Monitoring for Autoimmune Diseases (Sarah Gillman): App that empowers patients to identify patterns and symptom triggers, provides doctors and pharmaceutical companies with better data, and facilitates medical research
Takeaways: Discovering Duke’s Entrepreneurship Community
“It was great meeting so many students who are also interested in entrepreneurship,” said Master of Arts & Liberal Studies student Toya Wallace ’23. “It feels absolutely magnificent being an entrepreneur at Duke because of all the support systems that are available for students. [Duke makes] the dream of being a successful entrepreneur seems attainable.”
Arya Diwase, ’24, a dual MBA and MPP student, pitched her social enterprise, Himayat, to find potential team members. “The opportunity to interact with students from all schools across Duke helped me tremendously, as we are so often stuck to student communities within our own professional programs,” Diwase said. “By interacting with students who have skillsets vastly different from mine, I was able to identify gaps in my product but also heard about innovative ways in which they could help add value to it. The diversity of the participants helped me recognize new potential market opportunities, and this was a game changer. Most importantly, the event made me feel like I had a community of entrepreneurs and mentors that I can always lean on as I navigate the challenging start-up journey.”