A B C It’s Easy As 1 2 3. Is Entrepreneurship? Week One with Duke in Silicon Valley

Abigail Grubbs/ May 21, 2024/ 2024

Welcome to Duke in Silicon Valley! Here, in the heart of innovation, we are embarking on a journey to not only learn about entrepreneurship – but to experience the vibrant environment that is Silicon Valley. From the classrooms to the exciting startup culture that surrounds us, every moment is an opportunity to question, explore, and create. And I’m going to walk you through our first week.


 This first week, we dove headfirst into the root of entrepreneurial thinking. Our class lessons revolved around the power of habitual questioning—a fundamental skill for any aspiring entrepreneur. By reverting back to our toddler tendencies of constantly asking “why,” we learn to see the world through a lens of opportunities that could be transformed into profitable ventures.

For example, we considered the question “Why are school buses yellow?” It’s all about visibility. “School bus yellow” is the last color to fade in low light, making it crucial for safety.

Another example: why is toilet paper white? What’s the first thought that comes to mind? Yes, that one. Don’t overthink it. Toilet paper’s role is to check for cleanliness so it would not make sense for it to be any color other than white.

These questions, while seemingly trivial, illuminate the deeper principle that every product is designed to fulfill a specific need or “job”. Understanding these needs is the first cornerstone of successful entrepreneurship.


We then shifted our focus to the financial mechanics behind business decisions. It’s not enough to find a great market opportunity; understanding the economic forces at play is equally critical. To help us grasp this, we used the question: “How does this make money?”

Professor Aaron Dinin exemplified this question with a case study on Duke’s vending machines.  Estimating about 200 buildings with vending machines, an average purchase price of $2.50, an average of 80 purchases per day, vending machines generate $5 million in annual revenue. This example underscores the intricate web of costs and profits every entrepreneur must navigate to build a successful business.


With these two questions covered, we investigated the third: “How did we start using this?” Humans are creatures of habit, often using products without questioning why. However, behind every decision we make lies a carefully crafted marketing strategy. By recognizing the subtle influences on our choices, we can better understand how to reach and engage our own target audiences. We explored the fine balance between inbound and outbound marketing, understanding that neither is inherently superior. The key lies in striking the right balance. This nuanced approach is essential for creating a robust business model.

Site Visit to Y Combinator

It’s Easy as 1 2 3?

There’s no calculated formula for entrepreneurship. What works for one business might cause the downfall of another. Each venture is a unique adventure, shaped by market conditions, timing, consumer behavior, and unexpected circumstances. However, at the heart of every successful venture is a questioning mindset. This mindset drives entrepreneurs to dig deeper, look beyond the obvious, and challenge the norm. By continually asking the three questions—Why does this make sense? How does this make money? How did we start using this? —we can uncover opportunities that others might overlook. It’s this relentless pursuit of understanding that enables entrepreneurs to navigate the complex and dynamic world of innovation with confidence and clarity.

BAT Improv Class

We Escaped! Team Building at an Escape Room

While the lessons we learned this week were invaluable, it wasn’t all sitting in a classroom here at Duke in Silicon Valley. We’ve also been soaking up the vibrant tech world with enlightening guest speakers, site visits to industry giants like Nvidia, alumni dinners, and even a two-hour improv lesson that had us all knocked out during the drive back to the hotel. The program has been an exciting blend of learning and fun with amazing people who were just strangers one week ago. Stay tuned for more blogs as we explore, innovate, and transform our entrepreneurial journey together!

Site Visit to NVIDIA

Sara is a rising sophomore from Fairfax, VA. She plans to major in Biomedical Engineering while pursuing a certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. At Duke, she dances with two groups, Devils en Pointe and Defining Movement, provides pro bono consulting to healthcare startups on Duke BioByte’s healthcare consulting team, and gives campus tours to prospective students. Outside of classes, she loves dancing, video editing, and spending time with family and friends. She is so excited to take part in the Duke in Silicon Valley program this summer and looks forward to meeting incredible people while gaining invaluable entrepreneurial skills.

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