I’ve always been a creative thinker with a multitude of ideas. However, my typical refrain in reality has been, “Hold on, this seems too challenging; let’s revisit it later.” Surprisingly, after six months in the MMS program at Fuqua, I have evolved into someone who takes immediate action. Sometimes, prioritizing small steps toward goals proves more crucial than the pursuit of flawless outcomes.

Sharing My Entrepreneurial Spirit

The transformative moment occurred during the impactful journey of the Fuqua Startup Marketplace event in October 2023. This event aimed to be a platform for innovation, featuring 15 inspiring entrepreneurs showcasing businesses. Thanks to the supportive resources from classmates, staff, and the vibrant entrepreneurial atmosphere at Fuqua, my co-organizer Jiayi Kong and I successfully orchestrated Fuqua’s inaugural marketplace event. We conceived and executed a significant platform for highlighting businesses and fostering crucial connections within the entrepreneurial community.

Nolan Gao stands to the right of Jiayi Kong in front of a monitor citing various information of the Fuqua Startup Marketplace
Jiayi and I (right) hosting an info session on the Marketplace, September 2023

Before joining Fuqua, I’d been an entrepreneur in the design and digital marketing field for four years. Two years ago, I intended to combine my skills in design, marketing, and sales to establish a handmade press-nails brand, Digit Tag, echoing the brand philosophy of boldly be you.

After becoming part of the Fuqua family, I shared my entrepreneurial journey with classmates. To my amazement, the number of Fuqua entrepreneurs with comprehensive business plans and products surpassed my expectations. Organizing an event to provide them with a platform to showcase their businesses and products, connect with peers, and seek advice seemed intriguing.

Bringing the Marketplace to Life

As mentioned earlier, I often generate numerous ideas that, due to obstacles, tend to remain in the ideation phase. Yet, Fuqua empowered me to convert these visions into reality. My Fuqua classmates exhibited great enthusiasm for my plans, especially Jiayi Kong. She assisted in crafting the entire event roadmap, instilling the courage to discuss our event plan with MMS program director Allie McClarnon.

We received overwhelming support from the Fuqua community. When we initially met with Allie, we didn’t anticipate that, within half an hour, the event’s specific details would be firmly in place. The community swiftly provided the necessary resources and connections for the event. Without Team Fuqua, the event wouldn’t have come to fruition as seamlessly.

Signs reading "The Book: 100 Gems of elegant communication," and other startup names slated to participate in the Fuqua Startup Marketplace at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business
Signs for the startups participating in the Marketplace, October 2023

When I arrived at the Fox Center for the event, I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, my apprehensions were swiftly dispelled. Our exceptional 15 entrepreneurs drew a crowd that once again exceeded my expectations, and both classmates and staff participated in the event. I was impressed by Duke’s ability to attract talent across diverse fields, including artificial intelligence, education, and more.

My Transformation from “Dreamer” to “Doer”

My journey from a dreamer with myriad ideas to an active doer has been both transformative and inspiring. The Fuqua Startup Marketplace event served as a pivotal moment, showcasing the vibrant entrepreneurial spirit within the Fuqua and Duke communities.

People scattered at booths across the Fox Center for the Fuqua Startup Marketplace at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business
Students and staff enjoying the Marketplace, October 2023

This experience has reinforced the belief that taking small steps toward one’s goals, fueled by a supportive community, can lead to remarkable outcomes. The diverse range of entrepreneurs and their businesses showcased the boundless potential within our community, creating a foundation for future collaborations and endeavors.

As I reflect on the remarkable day of Fuqua Startup Marketplace, I am filled with gratitude for the opportunities Fuqua has provided and the incredible individuals who made this event a reality. The Fuqua Startup Marketplace stands as a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit thriving within our community and serves as a catalyst for future endeavors that will undoubtedly shape our collective journey.