If you have an entrepreneurial itch, business school is a great time to scratch it. During my second year, I talked to several prospective students about my first-year experience in the entrepreneurial ecosystem surrounding Fuqua. I figured it was time to put some of those thoughts down on paper.
I’ll start with a disclaimer: There are many ways to explore entrepreneurship while in business school. There is one thing that everyone on this journey has in common—at some point, they make the decision to try it and just get started.
With a background in health care information technology and a passion for shaping a better health care system, I was coming to Fuqua to develop my strategy toolbox and explore health care innovation with the Health Sector Management (HSM) program. In the spring of 2017, before my program began later that fall, I started to interact with Howie Rhee after expressing interest in the Program for Entrepreneurs (P4E), an experiential learning course at Fuqua designed to help students forge companies.
I didn’t have an idea of my own, but I knew that I wanted to experience work in an early-stage startup. I told Howie my goal, and he challenged me to have 100 conversations by the end of the summer. I talked to many people in 2017, including other students with great entrepreneurial ideas, alumni and executives at startups, consultants, incubators, professors, leaders at the Duke and nearby UNC health systems, venture capitalists, chief digital health officers, and even the ‘Ninja Doc’ (yeah, from the TV show “American Ninja Warrior”). I also took a trip out to the Bay Area that October, participating in the Career Management Center’s “Week-In-Cities” events on some days and setting my own agenda to meet with startups on others. Fuqua helped me get started, but I very quickly learned how to initiate these conversations myself.
The outcome of this challenge was threefold. First, the more stories I heard, the more insights I gathered about the industry and my own personal goals. Second, I started to understand the universe of entrepreneurship—a spectrum ranging from a group trying to solve a problem to “intrapreneurship,” a form of well-funded entrepreneurship that takes place within some large companies. Third, I forged a plan on how I was going to explore that spectrum in my first year of business school.
Experiencing the Early-Stage Startup
P4E, underneath the umbrella of Duke Innovation and Entrepreneurship, is one of the many experiential learning opportunities Fuqua offers for students interested in startups. After vetting numerous ideas and learning opportunities in the Duke and Research Triangle Park communities, I partnered with another Fuqua HSM’er, Nicole, to enroll in the program for the year.
Nicole and I connected with an inventor team pitching their 3D ultrasound technology to Duke Health executives through the Duke Institute for Health Innovation (DIHI), one of the health system’s innovation arms. The inventor team was spread across the health system, Pratt School of Engineering, and Stanford University’s biodesign and computer science departments. After a successful pitch, they were happy to have us help with the business plan throughout the year.
P4E is a great experience for students motivated to put in the time. Each week, we attended a workshop, often conducted by guest speakers from venture capital firms, Duke Office of Licensing and Ventures, design firms, and startups. Nicole and I sourced a team of MBA students that contributed to the plan throughout the year, many of whom attended the course with us. However, much of the learning took place outside of the classroom. Nicole and I found ourselves helping OmniSono (the eventual name of our startup) on legal and tech transfer questions, evaluation of market opportunities, recruitment of advisors, and pitches for investors throughout the year. We went from a patented technology to a company.
Building an Entrepreneurial Skillset
Fuqua has many courses directly related to entrepreneurship. In the spring of 2018, I took Professor Manuel Adelino’s Entrepreneurial Finance course. Every week we were doing valuations, studying term sheets, and discussing cases with a financial lens. Two classes had guest lectures from the Duke Angel Network and a local biotech entrepreneur. Every class was immediately applicable to my work with OmniSono and has shaped how I think about deals in general.
I also took Decision Models, a class that helped me develop a quantitative approach to uncertainty and risk. While the class wasn’t focused on entrepreneurship or medical devices, I found myself modeling courses of action through FDA trials and other strategic decisions that I would later call upon in my work with OmniSono and in my finance class.
Finally, I also had the opportunity to represent Fuqua in the 2018 class of Flare Capital Scholars. Flare Capital Partners takes an annual class of industry and academic scholars and invites them into the firm’s network, offering the opportunity to attend pitch days, annual meetings, and other interactions with portfolio companies. As part of this program, I had the opportunity to learn how venture capital firms and strategic investors think from the inside, to observe pitches from entrepreneurs, and to develop an even stronger network of industry leaders and experts with a similar passion for innovation.
During my summer internship, I had the opportunity to work on the corporate strategy team at DaVita, one of the largest health care delivery systems in the U.S. I knew that I wanted to be closer to patient care, having been on the vendor side of the industry in my career to date. I also knew that DaVita was the type of company that thought about health care very differently.
My work over the summer included analysis on macro trends in the industry, in hopes of finding future business opportunities, as well as going deep into some specific opportunities the company was exploring. I found my toolkit and experiences at Fuqua incredibly useful. Through my team, I also found myself exposed to new technologies, care models, partnerships, ventures, and public policy.
My summer with DaVita was a great way to understand how a large company views innovation as part of its strategy, to learn additional business skills, and to gain perspective on what ideas have greatest potential to scale within the industry.
My Second Year
By the start of fall 2018, I had developed a really strong framework for what I wanted out of my next opportunity and was very selective in how I approached the process my second year. I did another Week-in-Cities of my own out to Denver and Boston to explore the ecosystem in those cities and met with several startups. I received a few large company offers for some that were really innovating in health care, evaluated many different interesting options, and in December, decided to go to one of the locomotives changing the industry.
I spent the rest of my second-year experience doubling down on strategic and quantitative skills, partnering with students and faculty to go deep into interesting topics in health care, and reflecting on my leadership style. I never stopped having conversations with interesting people, and I never will. Some call this networking—I call it exploring, asking questions, and seeking mentors.
Then in the weeks leading up to graduation, I got an unexpected and amazing opportunity as a result of one of these conversations. After a lot of thought and consideration, I called an audible at graduation and took an exciting job with a Series B startup with an office down the road from Durham in Raleigh. Here I am a month in, and I can say the journey was worth every step.
If any of this story piqued your interest, I welcome you to reach out. As someone that has been part of the Duke community since 2004, I’ve seen a major focus from the university to further develop its entrepreneurial ecosystem over the last decade. I believe that investment has paid off. If you are motivated and curious, Fuqua is a great place to get started on an entrepreneurial journey of your own.