Entrepreneurship Capstone

I&E499 – Innovation & Entrepreneurship Capstone – Spring 2019

The I&E Capstone course is the final class all seniors must complete at the end of the I&E program. In this class, we learn about a variety of topics related to starting an entrepreneurial venture, and we simulate creating a start up as well. For example, we learn about identifying unmet needs, testing hypothesizes, rapid prototyping, and pitching. My favorite element of this class is the guest speakers; every week a new guest speaker comes to lecture to discuss his/her experiences as an entrepreneur or innovator. As soon-to-graduate seniors, I found these discussions invaluable to learn from the experience of these successful Duke-affiliated speakers.

The Big Takeaways

My group and I decided to pursue “dirty white shoes” as an unmet need.

Essentially, the issue we are targeting is that people buy white shoes because they are fashionable. But they deteriorate and stain rapidly. This results in people throwing away their shoes prematurely and buying more shoes. This contributes to environmental waste and cost to the consumer.

At first, this seems like a bit of a random problem to tackle. I had my doubts, but after diving into the market research and user interviews, I found that there is a lot of potential in this space.

This issue could potentially be address because there is a huge environmental impact, the market size suggests a sustainable business model, fashion trends result in more white shoes, and existing solutions of cleaning or protecting white shoes do not work.

The professors in the I&E department often advocate for us to pursue and address global issues that we are passionate about. Instead of making startup unicorns purely for financial reasons, we should try to use our education and skills to have an impact in the community.

Albeit helping people keep their white shoes clean is not something I plan to pursue in the future, understanding that there are problems in the community and the world that need to be addressed is something important to identify. In this project, for example, shoe waste is a major environmental concern.

Realizing that there is a problem in the world, or an unmet need in the market is easy, but bringing an idea to life is difficult. However, with a team of dedicated, passionate, and hard-working individuals, creating a venture that addresses these needs can be done.

One of our ideas to address the problem of “dirty white shoes” was to just hide the dirt. For example, we could provide customers with a “shoe design kit” where they can paint and stencil cool designs over their dirty shoes. Thereby encouraging people to keep their shoes instead of throwing them away.

Learning from the many speakers who came to our class was also hugely beneficial. Many of these successful entrepreneurs repeated the same bits of advice to us: Always do something you are passionate about. Be willing to rely on friends and mentors for help. Remember that life and your career is about the journey, not the destination. This is not something we talk about in my engineering classes! I really took these bits of advice to heart, and will try to keep this in mind as I graduate from the I&E program and begin to pursue a career after Duke.


(The artifact I would like to showcase is our final presentation on the market opportunity my group discovered. We have not yet finished the class, and I will post our final presentation at the end of the semester. As a placeholder, this is our midterm presentation where we presented the problem)

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