In the senior capstone, interdisciplinary teams of students rely on the skillsets they have built at Duke to try to tackle a real world problem. Our class partnered with the school of nursing in order to identify and solve problems that the nursing school faces. In addition to working on projects throughout the semester, a variety of guest speakers visited our class to share their own journeys and important lessons for young entrepreneurs.
Reflection – 3 Key takeaways
1) The power of sales
Everyone is a sales person. You may not be going door to door selling a physical product, but you are always selling something. You need to sell yourself and your ideas if you want to build traction in the business world. At the beginning of college, I saw sales people as the soldiers on the ground at the bottom rung of a company. I now realize that the higher you rise in a corporation the more important selling becomes. A companies CEO is the most important sales person at the company.
I do not believe that schools prioritize sales as they should. This also means that sales can be a great way to distinguish oneself. The project I worked on throughout the semester revolved around my ability to market and attract users to an existing product. The biggest sales tip I learned throughout the semester is to tailor all of your messages to your audience. Nobody buys something because you really want to sell it, they buy something because they want it. Rather than focusing on what you want and what you are selling, you must understand what your buyer wants. Only then can you effectively explain to a person how you can deliver them value, allowing you to close the sale.
2) You can’t innovate without entrepreneurship
I joined the innovation and entrepreneurship certificate primarily as an aspiring innovator. Initially I did not have a clear understanding of what entrepreneurship was and frankly I couldn’t even spell it. To me, entrepreneurship was all about logistical business headaches, and successful entrepreneurship was driven primarily by innovation. The certificate, and the capstone in particular, completely transformed my perception of what it means to be an entrepreneur and to run a business. Having a good product turns out to be only a small component of what it takes to launch a venture. The relationships you form, the money you need to raise, the marketing you need to do, are all as important as the product itself. Entrepreneurship drives innovations as much as innovation drives entrepreneurship.
3) Opportunities will come from unexpected places
Throughout my semester I sent over 100 emails setting up meetings with faculty and staff from all over campus. I was surprised to find that the most helpful meetings were often times not the ones I would have anticipated; and some of the meetings I thought would be the most critical often amounted to very little. While this may mean that my radar for identifying useful contacts may have room for improvement, I think the bigger takeaway is that I must cast a wide net. I must continue to connect with as many people as time permits so that I can tap into these unexpected sources of help.
Artifact – Marketing MUSER
My team and I spent the semester trying to solve the problem of effectively connecting students to research positions at Duke. MUSER is a platform that allows research labs to list opportunities for students and creates a streamlined way for students to find and apply for positions that interest them. While we believe MUSER has a lot of potential, currently there are very few people using it.
We partnered with MUSER’s creator, Dr. Sheila Patek, in order to figure out how to market MUSER, seeking to efficiently and equitably connect students to research. Our vision is to create a single and centralize platform that will make it a lot easier for students to find positions they are interested in, and to help labs find qualified undergraduates.
MUSER has been operating in a beta version for the past few years and is now being professionally revamped. In order for the platform to be successful it needs to attract both undergraduate students and labs as users. While in the capstone, my team chose to focus our efforts on figuring out how to best position the website to attract new students. Our plan is to create a sustainable and specific roadmap for how to best advertise the new platform to freshmen. Each year, a new group of freshmen will be introduced to the school and, ideally, these freshmen will be integrated into the system one year at a time.
My team spent the semester connecting with faculty and staff from all over campus to figure out the best way to adopt new student users. We considered the journey freshmen go through from the moment they are accepted to the school until they complete their first year. Ultimately, we presented Dr. Patek with a practical blueprint for when and where to position the website in order to attract as many freshmen as possible.