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Duke fosters connections between students and alumni to boost entrepreneurship


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: May 17th, 2017

At Duke University, students and alumni are connecting with each other to boost entrepreneurship and innovation.

At the core of this effort is Howie Rhee, a major figure in the Duke start-up scene. Rhee serves as managing director at both Fuqua’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and at Student and Alumni Affairs for Duke I&E.

According to Rhee, the expertise and mentorship available to enterprising students has soared over the past few years. In addition, students are reaching out to alumni early on.

“One big problem we identified in 2008 was that Duke alums would say, ‘I’ve been an entrepreneur in San Francisco for 20 years and never get connected to Duke students or alumni,’” says Rhee.

Since then, Duke has created the DukeGEN network, composed of students, alumni, start-ups, investors and attorneys. Rhee says the network has made thousands of connections and helped student start-ups with funding, mentorship, and other much-needed resources.

“There’s a wide spectrum of alumni in the network, and many are very willing to help,” he comments. “I have one alumni venture capitalist who has taken practically every meeting that I’ve sent him, which is around 3-5 meetings per month.”

Duke has also hosted many entrepreneurship-related events such as the Duke Startup Challenge, which hundreds of alumni attend to judge and connect with the university’s most promising start-ups. One year, for example, an eyecare start-up was randomly assigned to a judge doing eyecare work in Europe, who then engaged with the start-up outside of the challenge.

“I often hear alumni, even super successful ones, talk about how much they learn from working with students,” says Rhee. “As a whole, the alumni-to-student relationships can be meaningful, powerful and beneficial to both sides. Really, it just involves some coaching and setting expectations on both ends.”

Source: Tassl

Posted under: Tech Transfer e-News

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