Melissa and Doug Entrepreneurs 2014

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*Melissa & Doug founder Melissa Bernstein is in Durham this week for Duke Entrepreneurship Week and to inspire female entrepreneurs at Friday afternoon's SOAR event. You can still sign up for that here.

Earlier this year, Melissa and Doug Bernstein (known for their beloved toy company) invited 12 promising Duke undergraduates into their year-long entrepreneurship program. Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs is a relatively new opportunity for students at the university to receive personalized mentorship from renowned experts, partake in skill-building workshops, and critically reflect on their experiences. Participants also obtain a $5,000 stipend to work on their ventures or intern at a startup over the summer.

During spring break, the selected students travelled to the Melissa & Doug headquarters in Connecticut, where they received direct advice and training from the Bernsteins. Melissa Bernstein graduated from Duke in 1987. She and her husband created the program to inspire young adults to harness their talents and passions and create meaningful impact through entrepreneurship. Students also partnered with mentors in fields related to their startup ideas.

Program Director Howie Rhee (a Fuqua 2004 graduate), who is also the managing director at the Duke Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative, describes the program as “an amazing opportunity for undergraduates to dive into the field of entrepreneurship for an entire year.” 

“We’re thrilled about how well the program has gone in its first year, and we’re looking forward to the upcoming round of applicants,” Rhee says. The applications for the 2015 class of Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs will open in December.

To see what participants thought of the program, we reached out to some of the 2014 Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs. Here’s what they had to say.

Arun Karottu Smart Metals Recycling 2014
What lesson has Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs taught you that will be useful for your future in entrepreneurship?

“I've learned a lot over this summer with the Melissa & Doug program. But one of the lessons that really stuck with me came from one of my mentors and helped my company with our hiring process. The lesson was that at an early stage company like ours, hiring the best available talent is more important than hiring for company culture. Company culture does not sustain the company, revenue does.”

-Arun Karottu of Smart Metals Recycling, a North Carolina recycler of scrap metal waste.

Joshua Miller Farmshots 2014
What do you think is the best resource the program provided for you?

“The best resource the program provided to me was the mentors. After pitching my idea, I was connected to folks at John Deere and many other companies who were able to point me in the right direction.”

-Joshua Miller of a stealth mode startup

Alex Browne SF Robotics 2014
How did the summer stipend help you work on your venture?

“The stipend didn't just help me work on my venture. It enabled me to. Without the stipend I would not have been able to work on my venture full-time and I would not have been able to make the progress I did.”

-Alex Browne of SF Robotics, which is exploring innovative ideas in the cryptocurrency space.

Rebecca Holmes elloraw 2014
Credit: Ello Raw
What is one way that you feel the program can be improved for future years?

“The Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs program was incredible—and it's hard to even think about what could be improved. Perhaps having a set location where all of the fellows would live together or in the same vicinity to be able to interact and bounce ideas off of each other. The other fellow were so incredible I think it would have been great to be able to feed off of each other more!”

-Rebecca Holmes of ello.raw, a producer of healthy, raw dessert bites using all-natural ingredients.

Jimmy Fang Clinker 2014
How would you describe your mentorship experience?

“My mentorship experience through the Melissa & Doug program has been absolutely incredible. I was connected with two long-term mentors and multiple advisors who helped refine my idea and guide my progress over the last few months. They have become a large part of my growth, and I hope to remain in contact with them in the future.”

-Jimmy Fang of Clinker, an online platform for Duke alumni to share advice and experiences.

Gary Sheng Clinker 2014
Who is someone you met through the program that has influenced you in a positive way?

“One of my mentors, Zach Abrams, who is a product lead at Square, was one of a few important thinkers that shaped the product development of this project I've been working on. This summer I realized that a good mentor is honest with you, will use their experiences to streamline yours, and will treat milestones of your growth as important successes of their own.”

-Gary Sheng of Clinker

Davis Gossage CrowdTunes 2014
Do you feel like your class of entrepreneurs was diverse, and if so, how?

"I definitely feel like our group was diverse, we had people all over the country working on really cool ventures; everything from custom drone technology for farmers to healthy vegan dessert donuts. I really enjoyed following everyone’s progress and watching these different businesses develop over the summer.” 

-Davis Gossage of CrowdTunes, a mobile platform for patrons to vote for what music they want to hear in venues, bars and restaurants.

The 12 Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs will be presenting their progress and experiences at an upcoming Demo Day on campus. Admission is free and open to the public. To find out more information about the upcoming event or ask general questions about the program, contact Howie Rhee at