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Eric Toone to step down as director of Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative, join Breakthrough Energy Coalition

Eric Toone lab in LSRC
Eric Toone lab in LSRC

Eric Toone, vice provost and director of the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative, will leave Duke to join Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the University announced Monday.

Breakthrough Energy Ventures is an investor-led fund created by Breakthrough Energy Coalition, which billionaire Bill Gates established to develop new energy technology. The coalition includes some of the world's wealthiest and most influential individuals and has a fund worth more than one billion dollars.

Toone said that he first became interested in energy when he took a leave of absence from 2009 to 2012 to work for the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy, which promotes the development of new technologies. He served as program director and deputy director for technology at the department.

"That was where I first really worked in energy and fell in love with energy," he said. "They warned me that energy gets under your skin."

He noted that the Breakthrough Energy Coalition is a unique group, which made it an easy decision to join.

In his new role as executive managing director and science lead for BEV, Toone will work with investors and entrepreneurs as part of the BEV Leadership Group. He was one of the first employees hired on the BEV science team when the fund launched in December.

During his time as director of the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative, Toone has led the construction and opening of the Bullpen—the Initiative’s home in downtown Durham. The Initiative's team has also expanded from eight to 28 employees under his leadership.

Toone said that he is proud of his work in creating the undergraduate Innovation & Entrepreneurship Certificate.

"We structured it so it doesn't appeal to just people who want to start a business, but hopefully a broader group of students who are interested in using ideas to impact people's lives," he said. 

Another one of his favorite accomplishments was developing the Duke Angel Network, which connects Duke investors with Duke-affiliated companies.

Kip Frey, director of the law and entrepreneurship program at the Law School, will be the interim director for the I&E Initiative while Duke searches for a permanent replacement.

"I think that's a spectacular appointment. Kip is a fantastic guy," Toone said. "He has tremendous background and experience."

A former venture capitalist, Frey has taught at Duke since 1994 and currently instructs courses on entrepreneurship and intellectual property while also working as an independent entrepreneur.

Despite Toone's excitement for his new job, he noted that he will miss the Duke community.

"The students are what keep you young," he said. "They have incredible enthusiasm."


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