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DUHatch: Don’t Wait – INNOVATE!

By: Aditya Murthy – MEng, ’14

Duke University has always been strongly committed to innovation and entrepreneurship. Being located in the Research Triangle area, there is no paucity of bright minds and path breaking ideas. All it needs is a resource to nurture these ideas and help them flourish. DUHatch is this resource.


Available to all Duke Students, our business incubator can do a lot more than providing you with a wonderful office space that you can run your idea from. It connects enterprising students having viable, innovative business ideas, with mentors from faculty and industry. It is an opportunity to give your new venture a launching platform.

Professor Jim Mundell, the Director of DUHatch, is a seasoned industry expert with executive level business experience in the medical device, semiconductor, thermoelectric, and electronic systems markets.  He most recently held the position of COO and Co-Founder at Nextreme Thermal Solutions, where he raised over $30M in venture and strategic partner funding before selling the company.  Professor Mundell has also held key executive positions at three other successful early stage companies such as Volumetrics Medical Imaging, Trivirix International, and CBA.  During Professor Mundell’s first 18 years he held senior executive positions with General Electric, Harris, SCI Systems, and CTS.  Professor Mundell has worked internationally in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan and Ireland. He holds an MBA from Purdue University’s Krannert Graduate School of Management and a BS in EET from Purdue University. Professor Mundell possesses a wealth of industry expertise and is a great person to talk to as your idea evolves from its nascent stages into a revenue generating business model.  He also teaches two business related courses in the MENG and MEM programs.

Along with our in-house expert, we can also put you in direct contact with experts from all areas of a business including legal, finance, accounting, marketing, sales, engineering, and manufacturing.  We call this our ‘Coaches-On-Call’ service.  At the start of every semester, we make a list of these experts available to all our teams. These are people with decades of experience behind them. They are willing to provide assistance with issues ranging from raising capital, intellectual property, and incorporating your company to general business and marketing strategy.  When a company is in its formative stages, money is invariably a major consideration. The opportunity to have an office space, lawyers willing to help you on a pro-bono basis, and experienced mentors to turn to for advice is invaluable.

A huge part of the success of any business is the ability to raise initial capital. To this effect, DUHatch presents the registered businesses with the unique opportunity to pitch their idea directly to potential angel investors and venture capitalist. The experience of standing in front of these investors is a huge reality check for many. It helps teams reassess their position and make the relevant modifications to their business plan in order to be able to deliver a stronger pitch the next time. At the same time, if your pitch manages to catch the guest angel or VC’s attention, you may have just found your seed funding!

DUHatch is also involved in the Summer Innovation Program. This program provides undergraduate and graduate students with the opportunity to receive hands-on exposure to entrepreneurship, business, and emerging technologies. It is an opportunity for teams to propel their existing start-ups into the next stage of operation. At the end of the Spring semester, a panel of judges is brought to pick one out of the various business ideas. This team is then given a stipend of $5000 to work on their idea over the course of the Summer break. Teams outside the center are also eligible and encouraged to participate, allowing for a wider range of ideas.

One of Duke’s biggest entrepreneur-centric events is the Duke Startup Challenge. Before the deadline of the 1st round, DUHatch conducts a critiquing session with Professor Mundell and a guest expert. This fall we were lucky to have Poornima Vijayashanker, also a serial entrepreneur, Professor at Duke, and founder/co-founder of BizeeBee, Femgineer, and Mint.com work with Professor Mundell. She was terrific.  This was a chance for teams to receive some validation as well as constructive criticism on their application before submitting it to the start-up challenge!

However, our biggest assets are the teams that are affiliated with the center. The myriad of bright ideas are what fuels the center. We house ideas related to Biomaterials, Hydraulic Fracking, E-Recycling, and Sports Apps to name a few. We currently have 7 participating teams: BioArt, Foam Finger, Refract, Deos LLC., Luxano Biomedical, Runner Over and Smart Metals. All these ideas have the potential to be ‘the next big thing’. We at DUHatch hope to help them realize their potential.

My role as the Student Manager of DUHatch entails communicating with the teams as well as our mentors. I work closely with the teams to understand what resources they will require and make them available to them. This includes providing them with contacts that might help them with a particular problem or scheduling a meeting with one of our coaches or Professor Mundell. My immediate goal, however, is to increase DUHatch’s visibility in the social media space. A future goal is to build University Relations with incubation centers in Silicon Valley, providing our teams with a route to bigger opportunities. This position is going to be an incredible learning curve for me and I intend to make the most of it!

Creating A Guidebook for Chinese Students

By Bridget Fletcher, Assistant Director of Student Services

In my job I see lots of students adjust to life at Duke very quickly and also see large groups of students struggle with the adjustment and never quite get to the point of comfort.  In my experience, one of the groups that seems to have the toughest time acclimating is our Chinese population. This makes sense. The language and culture are different, but not different in the way that people from the UK say “lift” instead of elevator. Different in the sense that the concepts of things like success, happiness, and family mean fundamentally different things in China. I spent lots of time trying to figure out how to better help these students and decided that a little research was in order.

I did a lot of reading about China. I read about the history, the culture, the educational system, and pretty much anything I could get my hands on. I learned a lot. For example, I had no idea that math works differently in China. The way you talk about and explain numbers is completely unlike the way we do it in the US. (Some say this is why China is better at math than the US – go figure!) I also learned a lot about the educational system. The Gaokao (college entrance exam) is something so unparalleled in the level of importance it plays in a young Chinese students life, that it’s hard to find a comparable topic for discussion that would make sense to an American. Basically, China and the US operate in ways so vastly different that most people (and universities) have not really even attempted to talk about it. It’s hard to know where to begin, let alone what a reasonable outcome might be. I am generally fairly comfortable in the realm of uncomfortable and decided this issue was one I would like to tackle.

bridget book

I took what I knew through my experiences in working with Chinese students, what I had learned through my research, and decided to create a project that would allow me to better understand something that had not been thoroughly researched yet – the gap between Chinese student expectations about their experience in the US and the realities of their actual experiences.  After lots of interviews, a few trips to China, and several servings of xiao long bao, I had a decent idea of what might actually be helpful for our Chinese students – a book they could read before coming to the US. Something that would help them understand what to expect in terms of language barriers, new classroom expectations, and general cultural differences.

I created From Jiao Shi to Classroom to address these very issues and to give students some ideas for ways they might prepare for their trip to the US. Things like ways to practice critical thinking, which is something that would not be expected in a Chinese classroom. The book also includes tips for making it through the first few weeks of classes. For example, write down a few comments and questions ahead of time so you aren’t caught off guard if participation is expected. The book also covers a lot of general cultural differences to expect. Things like ordering in a restaurant, the American custom of hugging, and why “how’s it going?” isn’t really a question. (This was my favorite part to write because I experienced these cultural differences on the other side of the spectrum, while I was in China.) No book can ever really prepare you for cultural differences as vast as those between the US and China, but my hope is that From Jiao Shi to Classroom gives Chinese students preparing to come to the US a head start.

Visit iTunes to download From Jiao Shi to Classroom for free on your iPad