Duke Startup Challenge to Offer $10,000 Prize for Best Environmental Startup

November 24, 2013

Tim Lucas, 919-613-8084, tdlucas@duke.edu

DURHAM, N.C. – The Duke Startup Challenge will offer a new prize in 2014.

The $10,000 Nicholas School Prize for the Environment will be awarded to the student-led startup that shows the greatest promise for addressing environmental issues and promoting sustainable use of Earth’s resources.

“We consider this an investment in the future,” said William L. Chameides, dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment, who announced the new award today.

“Our mission as educators is to produce leaders who have the knowledge to understand the complexities of today’s environmental challenges; the practical skills to devise solutions; and the real-world acumen to use markets, and public-private partnerships, as well as non-profit enterprises, to achieve the desired outcomes. Sponsoring this prize is one way to further that mission,” he said.

Student-led teams from all schools at Duke, not just the Nicholas School, will be eligible for the prize, Chameides stressed.

“Great ideas come from all fields of study. The environment is an interdisciplinary concern; the best environmental solutions usually are, too,” he said.

Some of the most promising student-led environmental startups in recent years have evolved from interdisciplinary efforts, noted Howie Rhee, lead advisor to the Duke Startup Challenge and managing director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Fuqua School of Business.

Base Trace, a start-up that has created a synthetic DNA-based tracer for fracking fluids, is led by students or recent alumni of the Nicholas School, Pratt School of Engineering, the School of Law and the Fuqua School, Rhee noted. Other interdisciplinary startups include: Refrackd, which has invented a vacuum membrane distillation system that treats water from fracking sites so it can be reused; The Clarity Project, which markets conflict-free gemstones and reinvests profits back into poor mining communities; Venture Farming, a scalable incubator that uses risk diversification to launch and sustain beginning organic farmers; and Energy Medic, a revenue-based model to deliver reliable electricity to hospitals in the world’s poorest regions.

The Duke Start-Up Challenge (www.dukestartupchallenge.com) was founded in 1999 to help Duke's entrepreneurial community flourish. All students, faculty and staff can enter the competition. The overall winner receives $50,000. A variety of track prizes are also awarded, including a $10,000 Clean Energy Prize, sponsored by the Duke Energy Initiative.

The deadline for entering the 2014 challenge was October 30. Teams will present their three-minute “elevator pitches” to judges on Feb. 19. Ten semi-finalists will be given stipends to help them refine their ideas through a Summer Innovation Program. Winners will be announced at summer’s end.