Launching a startup as a student is hard enough, but creating an organization that helps students launch companies is an even greater feat.
Last year, a group of undergraduates noticed that Duke was lacking a student-run accelerator to support the launch of student startups. To fill this gap, they created the Duke Innovation Studio, a branch of the Duke Applied Machine Learning group.
“What we’re doing is basically offering professional mentorship, structured programming, awesome connections to [Venture Capital firms], founders and mentors within and beyond the Duke community,” said junior Daniel Marshall, one of the three founding partners of the Innovation Studio.
Each fall, the Innovation Studio serves as an incubator, placing students into teams focusing on blockchain, social impact, energy, financial technology and healthcare. The Innovation Studio also matches startup teams to engineers in DAML for technical help.
In the spring, the Studio launches startups. Last spring, the Studio launched its first cohort of five student startups, ranging from artificial-intelligence insights for educators to rent payment for African tenants. One of the inaugural cohort companies, Renmo, raised $400,000 in funding.
The Innovation Studio has also worked with an external startup accelerator Rev, founded by Nick Meliones, Trinity ‘11, to guide founders through a twelve-week program on scaling, sales, networking and fundraising.
The Pratt School of Engineering and Duke’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative were particularly helpful in the launch of the Innovation Studio, Marshall said. They provided mentors including Meliones and Steve McClelland, executive in residence in the Pratt School of Engineering.
Marshall believes that the immense work required to run the Innovation Studio is also the most rewarding aspect.
“This whole thing is really a learning experience, above all else,” Marshall said.
Students at the Innovation Studio hope Duke can become a bastion for entrepreneurship.
“If you’re interested in entrepreneurship, come join our group … we’ll bring people together and form a community,” Marshall said. “And through that, we think awesome startups will come.”
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