When I walked into Duke’s innovation center, “The Bullpen,” to participate in the Fuqua Net Impact club’s inaugural Social Impact Startup Weekend, I had no idea what to expect. Many of the participants were students from graduate schools across Duke, some were from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and others were local working professionals. We made small talk while gorging on the pizza, and we all wondered how this disjointed group of young adults from various programs and experiences were going to somehow spin our social enterprise ideas in just 36 hours.

And to my amazement…we did. In fact, we had SIX great social enterprise ideas—THREE of which are still being worked on today.

So how did we get from small talk and pizza eating to social venture-launching?

  1. A totally judgment-free, rapid-fire pitch session composed exclusively of sheets of paper, 60 seconds to explain an idea—followed by a genuine round of applause from the other participants. The environment this quick pitch session created was inclusive, exciting and inspirational—and resulted in the pitch of a number of ideas.
  2. Once all concepts were pitched, participants voted on their favorite ideas and teams were formed around the top 6 ideas—ranging from a chemical-free cleaning product, to an experiential education program focused on raising awareness about food waste.
  3. Our teams worked around the clock, using every space of whiteboard available in the building to map out how these social venture ideas could fulfill both a social and financial mission.
  4. Just 36 hours after the teams were formed, we presented our pitches to a panel of judges. It was incredible to see how far each team had come from blurting our their ideas in the rapid-fire pitch session to talking us through the financial projections and impact measurement metrics associated with their future social ventures.


several dozen students pose with signs from the social impact workshop

Though the judges did have to pick just a few winners, I think everyone in attendance would agree the experience was worth much more than the value of the prizes. Individuals who had been ruminating on a certain idea for months or even years got the chance to work with a team to build out that idea and see where it might go. The positive energy and excitement for everyone’s ideas was contagious and even though we were all on different teams, I know we’re all rooting for the success of any one of these ventures to take off and make a change in our community.

Read more about the event here