I’ve always been somewhat entrepreneurial. As a kid, I was always trying to up my lemonade stand game, from selling homemade soaps and lotions to putting my brother on the corner of our street with his violin.
However, my professional journey has been more corporate, as I worked in consulting and tech before Fuqua. I decided to use my two years in business school to learn more about what it’s like to work with smaller companies—especially startups—and try my hand as a founder, experimenting in entrepreneurship. Fuqua has turned out to be the perfect place to do this and start my own venture through New Ventures courses and the Duke Student Founders program.
Fuqua offers a series of courses called New Ventures (formerly known as the Program for Entrepreneurs, or P4E) that enables students to form teams around business ideas and work on them for credit with regular larger group meetings once a week for two terms. In the first class, Discovery, we learned strategies for identifying areas of need and ideate solutions for them.
Coming into Fuqua, I knew that the idea of entrepreneurship was exciting, but I wasn’t brimming with ideas like some of my peers were, so I loved learning how to think more outside the box. The format of the class is part lecture and part team startup formation, and it begins with everyone in the class pitching a problem space they’re interested in working on. I pitched the wedding collaboration space because when I planned my own wedding with my parents and in-laws (since they were the ones paying for it), it was a stressful experience to figure out and manage everyone’s preferences.
Three awesome women joined my team and we researched the problem space. Our professor, Aaron Dinin, encouraged us to come up with many potential solutions, from simple ones to completely ridiculous. We learned that even a ridiculous solution could have some value! By the end of the course, my team and I had determined that we had a problem worth solving, and my classmate Denise Kootin-Sanwu and I decided to proceed to the Development course during our second year to try and solve it.
In Development, we called our solution Wedzio. Our professor, Jamie Jones, supplemented our experiential learning with lectures on major challenges like how to build a startup financial model and how to test your assumptions, guest speakers such as the founders of Myxx and Maziwa, and the opportunity to pitch to potential investors and advisors. After conducting customer discovery interviews and developing a prototype and landing page, we used a grant from a generous donor to the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation to run a Facebook ad campaign to test how expensive customer acquisition would be and whether we were pitching to potential customers in a way that would interest them enough to click.
We then learned how to make a pro forma financial model and create fundraising materials like an executive summary and pitch deck, and built each of these for Wedzio. The last piece of the Development class was to write a paper detailing the business plan and determine whether it was worth pursuing in the future. As we had suspected, when we made our financial model we realized that we could not avoid the difficult economics of the wedding industry and the substantial marketing dollars required to get the business off the ground and determined that Wedzio was not worth pursuing further right now.
It’s hard to let go of a business idea once you’ve put so much time into it, but although Denise and I won’t be working on it much in the future I’m hopeful that someone out there who needs our solution will still have a chance to stumble across our Wedzio landing page. In the meantime, I’ll be cheering on the businesses started by some of my classmates that have grown during our New Ventures classes.
Student Founder Program
Alongside the New Ventures courses, I participated in the Duke-wide Student Founder Program, which is essentially a support group for aspiring and current founders. Like New Ventures, it’s a way to learn about entrepreneurship through action and weekly meetings. Unlike New Ventures, it’s not a class, so there’s no academic credit or assignments. Rather, It’s a good place to be vulnerable and authentic with other like-minded students and coaches, without the pressure of getting a grade. My Student Founder Program groups have provided a fantastic opportunity to ask for advice, meet other founders, and develop skills like mind mapping. It’s a great complement to the New Ventures courses.
Takeaways from the Experience
I may never have taken the time and effort to try building something like Wedzio outside of Fuqua’s New Ventures courses and the Student Founder network, so it was worth it! These courses enhanced my ability to think about how the status quo might be improved, which I expect will help me be a more creative employee in the future. I’ve gotten to meet other awesome student founders, increased my ability to work through ambiguity, and learned how hard it is to start a business, even if you have all the resources of a great university. Additionally, since there is a smaller community of student founders at Fuqua than at some other schools, I feel like I have gotten access to a larger share of resources and made stronger connections with faculty, other founders, and alumni entrepreneurs than I might have elsewhere.
Upon graduation I’ll return to the corporate world, bringing with me a new wealth of entrepreneurship-inspired skills. On the side, I will continue advising startups trying to raise their first round of funds or apply for grants. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll be an intrapreneur!