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Innovation@Duke

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

Virtual Durham SOUP Brings Together Durham-Area Community Members and Entrepreneurs

When Ajay Menon ‘21 and Sofia Nieto ’21 were in Detroit for the DukeEngage program in summer of 2018, they attended Detroit SOUP, the original iteration of SOUP—a now-widespread model that brings together community members over dinner to listen to entrepreneurs pitch their community-oriented ideas, with one entrepreneur winning the event’s proceeds by popular vote at the end of the evening.

Inspired, Menon and Nieto started Durham SOUP, holding the first event in April 2019 as part of their Social Innovation Practicum course. They’ve since grown the program, which is designed to forge connections among entrepreneurs and community members and generate conversations about ideas. Unlike in traditional grant funding programs, the money comes with no stipulations and is intended to support the entrepreneur in their project in any capacity.

In order to ensure the event continues and gathers momentum, Menon and Nieto have focused on transitioning leadership to Duke students Arjun Bakshi ’22, Bryn Wilson ’22, Elizabeth Berenguer ’24, and Keena Gao ’24. They’ve also partnered with North Carolina Central University and ReCity Network in order to grow Durham SOUP from a Duke initiative to one owned by the broader community.

Attendees at the inaugural Durham SOUP in April 2019

SOUP Goes Virtual

In March Durham SOUP went online, welcoming more than 100 attendees. In adapting the event for a virtual platform, the organizers used a tool called Poll Everywhere, as well as Google Jamboard as an interactive whiteboard. Breakout rooms allowed attendees to meet and network as they would at a live event, and a QR code on screen facilitated donations.

“Our first priority in shifting the event to an online format was keeping community networking and feedback at the center of SOUP,” said organizer Bryn Wilson ’18. “We did our best to incorporate this by randomly assigning attendees to breakout rooms and by using a virtual editable whiteboard so that community members could leave feedback for entrepreneurs.”

Like all SOUP events, this one had four entrepreneurs competing for votes:

  • Lauren Sheridan, Henrith Homestead | Educating the community on sustainable horticulture and feeding neighbors through a home-grown produce exchange
  • Antoinetta Mosley, I Follow the Leader | A leadership consulting firm specializing in diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy initiatives and education
  • Charryse Fredrick, Rope Skillz | Essential life skills instruction through the sport of jump rope
  • Erim Akpan, Virtual Escape Rooms | An hour as a secret agent saving the world, an explorer hunting lost treasure, or rescuers tracking a lost group of travelers in the Arctic tundra

The Community Chooses a Winner

The crowd reacts to Erim Akpan’s win

Erim Akpan, a 2018 graduate of North Carolina Central University, was voted the winner for her idea for virtual escape rooms that would allow users to step into a movie adventure with riddles, puzzles, and live actors. In terms of its impact on the community, this project would enable Akpan to partner with museums, theaters, and local arts venues, and in doing so support the recovery of Durham’s art community.

Akpan received a $2,543 microgrant comprised of community donations and a $1K gift from NC IDEA, the largest prize Durham SOUP has awarded thus far. She plans to use the funds to build out a prototype.

Those interested in helping Akpan with testing her virtual escape room platform, sharing resources, or staying informed about the project’s progress can fill out this form.

To learn of future Durham SOUP events, follow their Facebook page and subscribe to I&E’s newsletter and social channels.

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