DukeENVENT Aims to Unlock the Potential of Aspiring Entrepreneurs

February 9, 2014

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

DURHAM, N.C. – For many people, the term “entrepreneur” calls to mind an elite group of visionaries, born with business savvy, blessed with brilliant ideas, and guided by unerring instinct for recognizing an opportunity and seizing it.

DukeENVENT, a new student-led group out of the Nicholas School of the Environment, aims to dispel this misperception.

Its goal is to show that anyone with a promising idea and a lot of determination can be an entrepreneur – just by doing. You don’t have to be the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg.

The new group, which is open to all Duke students, faculty and staff, will hold its first meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 25, in room A158 at the Levine Science Research Center.

“We want to lower the barriers to entry for people who are interested in entrepreneurship, but don’t think they have that grand-slam idea or the resources to take it to the next level,” says DukeENVENT’s president Jack Beuttell (MEM/MBA ’14). “Part of our goal is to persuade people that being an entrepreneur is not a skill you’re born with or a badge you earn at your first funding event. It’s more about doing – acting on an idea – and the process of personal and institutional development that follows.”

Beuttell and four fellow student entrepreneurs from the Nicholas School and the Fuqua School of Business formed DukeENVENT last spring with $1,500 in seed funding from the Nicholas School’s Dean’s Office. Since then, more than 50 other students, staff members and faculty members have expressed interest in taking part.

“Existing courses and clubs at Duke address many of an aspiring entrepreneur’s needs, but not all of them. We’re looking to fill the gaps with an emphasis on peer-support and social activities like networking sessions,” Beuttell explains.

A centerpiece of the group’s outreach will be informal “ideation” sessions where anyone with an idea – or even the seed of an idea – can come and make a one-minute pitch to a panel of 10 peer evaluators.

“These are ‘spitballing sessions’ where the evaluators are other faculty and students who provide immediate feedback that helps refine an idea and get up the curve faster,” Beuttell says. “This process builds confidence, commitment and momentum.”

Throughout the year, DukeENVENT will work closely with the Nicholas School’s Environmental Innovation and Entrepreneurship (EIE) Center to co-host talks by visiting experts and entrepreneurs, and to hold networking opportunities where students can learn about internships or job openings at local start-ups.

“DukeENVENT is a community of entrepreneurs who share an interest in addressing environmental and social problems, so our primary emphasis is fostering environmental entrepreneurship. But people whose ideas have no over connection to the environment may find inspiration in our community, and we welcome them,” Beuttell notes. “This is about cultivating a mindset and culture where everyone can be entrepreneurial, and providing a framework and venue for people to express that characteristic.”

Jesko von Windheim, professor of the practice of environmental innovation and entrepreneurship and director of the Nicholas School’s Environmental Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, is DukeENVENT’s faculty advisor.

In addition to serving as DukeENVENT’s president, Beuttell is co-founder of the sustainable agriculture start-up AgImpact Capital, which addresses the financial challenges of small and medium-sized farmers.

The group’s vice-presidents are Dan Chow, MEM/MBA ’15 and cofounder of the student startup Refrackt; Rachel Lichte, MEM/MBA ’14 and cofounder of the student startup The Clarity Project; Josh Seidenfeld, MEM/MBA ’15 and cofounder of the student startup Energy Medic; and Isaac Hacerola, MEM ’15 from the Nicholas School and MBA ’15 from the UNC Kenan-Flagler School of Business.

NOTE: Jack Beuttell is available for additional comment at (713) 443-2747 or jack.beuttell@fuqua.duke.edu.