Some of my MBA classmates have a traditional career path in mind, and others are passionate about creating their own business or organization. The Program for Entrepreneurs (P4E) provides those students with a programmatic opportunity to develop their ideas into a reality. I connected with two of my classmates, Jack Beuttell and David Nicola to learn more about what they’ve been up to with P4E—and it’s been pretty intriguing.

mba student
David Nicola (Daytime ’13)
mba student
Jack Beuttell (Daytime ’14)

Via email, they provided the following joint responses to my questions:

1. In 3 words, describe the entrepreneurial community at Fuqua/Duke.

Duke is active, stimulating, advancing.

2. What is P4E and why did you decide to participate in it?

P4E is a curriculum-based program that facilitates the launch of new ventures. The program features three classes that begin with identifying opportunities and progress through business model development and operating plan development. We were going to be working on our entrepreneurial project regardless of other classwork, and P4E gave us some space to really focus on the project, while getting some valuable input from the professor, guest speakers, and our peers.

3. Describe how you started your P4E project. How did you two link up to create your venture?

We met at a social entrepreneurship event in 2012, and realized we had common interests in sustainable agriculture, conservation, finance, and real estate. We met for several months to brainstorm ideas and test the waters before teaming up officially in the beginning of 2013. We developed an idea to launch and support beginning organic farmers in the North Carolina region. Our business— VentureFarming— is a for-profit incubator for organic farmers who are just starting out.

4. How has P4E helped shape your entrepreneurial pursuits?

P4E provides structure for the development of a new venture. A lot of students come in looking for a formula, but there is none for starting a new business, and you won’t find one in P4E. What you will find is a framework for thinking about the key issues that new ventures face and how to attack them. More importantly, you are held accountable to certain deadlines and deliverables, which force thought and discussion on important topics. That always yields progress.

5. What has most surprised you in trying to create a new business?

Every business is unique, and every sector operates differently. For example, one investor may be an expert in biotechnology, but have difficulty understanding web technology. We face this problem all the time, since very few investors understand the agriculture space. As a result, some conversations are more challenging than we expect them to be. This highlights the importance of domain expertise, for both the entrepreneur and his/her investors. In order to have a real shot at starting a new business, you have to know that industry forwards and backwards, and you should align yourself with other entrepreneurs and investors that think the same way—otherwise you may be wasting your time.

6. What has been the most fun part of P4E?

The most fun part of P4E is when we practice our pitches. We watch our classmates pitch, and we pretend to be potential investors. During the role play, we ask hard questions and act like we know what we’re talking about. The real treat is seeing how our peers react to difficult questions, and we pick up tricks on how to respond to a difficult question or how to win the investor over through persuasive tactics. It’s a tactical and practical activity.

7. Would you recommend P4E to other students?

Absolutely. P4E has been very helpful for us. It may not be for everyone, but for the person that is starting a new venture and needs to allocate some class time to adequately explore the opportunity, P4E is a great alternative.

8. List and briefly describe the entrepreneurial activities/opportunities that you’ve participated in or taken advantage of at Fuqua/Duke.

In the last two years, we have participated in a variety of entrepreneurship-related activities. We held cabinet positions on:

We’ve also taken classes at Fuqua with an entrepreneurial focus, on top of the MBA core courses and electives.

It’s been pretty busy from a pitch perspective. We pitched our business idea in the Grand Finale of the Duke Start-up Challenge’s Business Plan and Elevator Pitch competitions. We presented at a Duke Colloquium event—the Social Entrepreneurship Dynamo with famed Kiva founder, Jessica Jackley (learn more about Jessica). The event was a learning opportunity where students could not only be inspired by a social entrepreneur, but also get her feedback on how to proceed with an entrepreneurial venture. See some photos and videos of the event. Duke Colloquium events like this one, are opportunities to bring humanities into the professions and are useful to us in better communicating our entrepreneurial ideas.

We were also clients of the Duke Start-Up Ventures Law Clinic. We won the 2012 CASE Seed Prize for social entrepreneurs. We represented Duke at Walmart’s Better Living Business Plan Challenge, and we also helped found DukeENVENT, a pan-university initiative on environmental entrepreneurship.

There are also dozens of other entrepreneurship-related events we have attended to learn and to network, and probably more events and opportunities that we have had to turn down as a function of capacity.