The beginning of every startup is a tentative moment: a “what if.” An innovator has a compelling thought but is not quite sure how far the idea might go — or how to get there.
The reality is that the discovery phase, where ideas are born, is too early for most private investors. No matter the path of exploration, it’s critical that an idea be supported in its earliest stages to be given a chance to grow. Because, if that happens, the idea could very well translate into a new company.
At Duke, this process is no different. Except it’s often that students are the ones engaging in exploration. That’s in part because of the array of funding opportunities and the strength of the Duke network. The Duke Angel Network uniquely supports Duke’s entrepreneurial community with capital investments. Alongside those investments, the Duke Innovation Fund gives donors opportunities to directly support Duke entrepreneurs with charitable gifts.
This support has helped grow Duke’s reputation as an innovation hub and brought entrepreneurs from all over the region to share, network and build on ideas at the first Invented at Duke celebration in October. Co-sponsored by Duke’s Office of Licensing & Ventures (OLV) and the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative (Duke I&E), the event showcased innovators who turned big ideas into even bigger businesses with help from the Duke community.
In the past fiscal year alone, OLV recorded 300 new inventions, 85 patents and 11 startups. These figures, which mark Duke’s commitment to innovation and a broader entrepreneurial community, are part of the continued success of more than $1 billion in research conducted annually at Duke.
At Invented at Duke, President Vincent E. Price remarked that Duke and its external partners have been visionary in the innovation and entrepreneurial space, which has helped Duke to realize its core mission of knowledge in the service of society.
“We provide resources to connect researchers with regional partners who have deep experience in bringing similar products to market and students with mentors in the social entrepreneurship space,” said Price.
Price added that it’s a significant time for Durham and the region as Duke helps redefine innovation for a new generation.
“We’re doubling down on that commitment with the development of the Durham Innovation District, which will provide new opportunities for collaboration and commercialization.”
PRESIDENT VINCENT E. PRICE
Among the seven teams of innovators featured at the event was Pocket Colposcope. Nimmi Ramanujam, Robert W. Carr Jr. Professor of Biomedical Engineering, and her team of faculty, students and staff at Duke University’s Global Women’s Health Technologies Center devised a cost-effective cervical screening device to provide broader access to cervical cancer screenings in low-resource communities around the world.
Also present was kēlaHealth, a software-as-a-service company that uses data analysis and machine learning to predict complications prior to and after surgery and empower surgeons to proactively intervene with preventative actions.
“Finding early investors is important because the seed funding round is the hardest round to fundraise. It is the riskiest stage of a company — with a lot of exciting potential but with key business hypotheses still to be proven out,” said Bora Chang, CEO and co-founder of kēlaHealth.
Chang added that being part of a robust entrepreneurial network like Duke’s is incredibly important in a business-to-business healthcare space where having hospital support is critical. kēlaHealth was a recipient of the Fall 2017 NC IDEA Seed Grant Awards. The total of the awards amounted to $300,000 in seed grants to six North Carolina startups.
By the session’s end, interdisciplinarity and experiential learning, two hallmarks of Duke excellence, were on full display. Robin Rasor, executive director of OLV, said Invented at Duke was an opportunity to showcase the cycle of discovery to commercialization that creates a positive impact on society.
A Philanthropic Gift to Support Early-Stage Ideas
In November, Duke I&E announced the creation of the Duke Incubation Fund, a fund that will offer awards to Duke faculty, graduate students, post-docs and medical residents and fellows to support early-stage ideas based on Duke intellectual property, market potential and societal impact.
This new fund is one of the first at Duke to support innovation and entrepreneurship in the discovery phase, the stage where innovations are still in ideation.
“We are thrilled that visionary donors have stepped up to found the Duke Incubation Fund, understanding that investment in early-stage research and testing bolsters and expands our entire entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Kip Frey, director of Duke I&E.
The donors are Jeffrey Citron and his wife Suzanne, parents of Duke sophomore Kyra Citron. Their founding gift will enable dozens of grants over the initial four-year period of the Duke Incubation Fund.
“During my career as an entrepreneur, I have recognized how new ideas sometimes need exploration before a real value proposition can be developed,” said Jeffrey Citron, a longtime philanthropist and founder of high-speed internet and broadband device company Vonage. “Our hope for the Duke Incubation Fund is that it will catalyze innovative thinking across the university and perhaps lead to new technologies that could one day disrupt an industry.”
The Duke Incubation Fund will invest more than $500,000 each year across 10 to 20 projects, with initial grants expected to average $20,000.
Leading Innovation Needs Your Continued Support
As the entrepreneurial ecosystem at Duke continues to grow, the need for support grows as well.
Duke’s Office of Licensing & Ventures and the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative look forward to partnering with you in continuing to enhance the student experience at Duke. Your support ensures the next generation of Duke innovators receive the education, research and translation they need to succeed.
Learn more about Giving & Engagement Opportunities and bring to bear Duke’s enduring theme of knowledge in service of society.