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The latest news and stories from Duke’s innovation and entrepreneurship community

Students Pitch Solutions to Duke Problems, Opportunities

Do you feel like you could use more friends? Are you often frustrated by a lack of available library seating? Not sure where to find out about Duke’s seemingly infinite events and resources?

You’re not alone—in a recent innovation sprint hosted by the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative (I&E), teams of first-year students led by upper-level mentors pitched solutions to problems and opportunities they’d observed in campus life.

These teams were working to generate creative, entrepreneurial, thoughtful, impactful solutions with potential for real-world implementation. The event was also designed to help students explore an interest in the I&E Undergraduate Certificate program.

Students presented solutions including:

  • Blend: A friend matchmaking app specific to Duke that would pair people to eat meals together. Long-term, the app could be used to match people for a gym session at Brodie, board games at CoffeeHouse, rock climbing at Wilson, or walking in Duke Gardens.
  • An app that would consolidate and filter all the available events for students.
  • Wayfinder, a platform that would synthesize all available resources at Duke.
  • DukeSpace, an app to help students find available study space in libraries and other work environments.
  • Blue Devil Booty, which would also help students find space to study or work.
  • Party Pantry, a campus costume rental shop.
  • DukeCARES, a customized care package delivery service.

“I think the Make a Blue Devil Difference theme really spoke to first-years, because they have a unique perspective on how resources at Duke can be improved and modified to be more accessible,” said Ashna Ram ’23, who coordinated the event with Lara Bamberger ’23. “Our turnout for the competition completely exceeded my expectations, and I was so impressed by the work every team put in during the weekend programming.”

“The first-year students really pushed themselves to work together and think creatively and innovatively on how they could best make Duke’s campus life even better,” Bamberger said. “We hope this will become an annual program where students can use their voices and make a difference right from their first semester.”

Event Takeaways

“The First-Year Innovation Sprint was a great opportunity for us to think creatively and organize our ideas into a comprehensive business plan in a very short period of time. Having limited experience in entrepreneurship, it was great to get my feet wet and try something new.”

—George Fang ’25

“I usually do not categorize myself as an entrepreneur, but the innovation sprint reminded me that the origin of innovation itself is a creative mindset. The beauty of witnessing each team member bring a unique skill set to fuel successful collaboration excites me for future competitions.”

—Lilyana Ziemba ’25

“For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur; however, I never had many avenues to explore that interest. Participating in the First-Year Innovation Sprint permitted me to understand the basics of starting businesses/the process of pitching them, and has made me fall even more in love with the entrepreneurial sector. I also loved the opportunity to grow closer to similarly motivated and interested students through our projects!”

—Gabriela Pereda ’25

“The Innovation Sprint was an amazing opportunity to collaborate with fellow first-years to creatively solve problems around campus. Being willing to critically think, adapt, and contribute to each other’s ideas while brainstorming and iterating on concepts was extremely helpful. We learned the importance of communicating effectively, which allowed us to best combine each team member’s skillset.”

—Aditya Guar ’25

“I had a great time coming up with ideas to solve real problems and using my skills and the skills of my team to develop a real, feasible idea.”

—Jonah Jacobs ’25

“The competition was a blast for me. I thoroughly enjoyed working with my team members to evaluate a problem, design a solution, and have fun while innovating. I was forced to challenge my thinking and really understand what the problem was before jumping into solutions. It was amazing to learn about the creative ideas that my peers had developed. Overall, I loved the challenge of trying to better Duke, while enjoying the time spent with my friends.”

—Naveen Siva ’25

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