Local universities are one of our startup community’s greatest assets—not only do they educate and produce talent that feeds into the startup community but they train students to become entrepreneurs and they employ professors and researchers who develop and commercialize groundbreaking innovation. 
There’s a team of people on every campus that help to connect faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members with various programs and opportunities, all to promote innovation and economic development in the state of North Carolina.
In the third of a series of Q&As with university leaders across the state, meet some of the folks making it happen at Duke University and the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative (Duke I&E) in Durham.

Eric Toone

Director, Duke I&E

Brief overview of your job/role with the university. 

As director, I oversee all aspects of the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative, including our educational offerings, our research program, our resources to help aspiring entrepreneurs, and our programs in social entrepreneurship. Our program now offers dozens of courses at the undergraduate and graduate level that serve hundreds of students. 
Through our research efforts we are working to measure the impact of our programs, as students leave the university and begin independent lives around the world. Our angel network has funded nearly a dozen new Duke companies, including those founded by students and former students. And our programs in social entrepreneurship work with agencies around the globe to create durable, scalable solutions to social challenges through the tools of entrepreneurship.
Brief overview of your background and anything that contributes to the role in entrepreneurship programming. 
I came to Duke as an assistant professor in Chemistry in 1990. I am an organic chemist (yes… I taught orgo…), and became interested in medicinal chemistry. Those interests led to the formation of three companies from our work at Duke, including Aerie Pharmaceuticals, a publicly-traded ophthalmology company here in the Triangle, and Valanbio Therapeutics, a new company developing novel antibiotics for Gram-negative infections. 
 
From 2009 until the end of 2012, I was detailed to the US Department of Energy, helping to stand up the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy. There, I served as program director, creating the Electrofuels program, and deputy director, technology before leading the agency in 2012. So I have been involved in entrepreneurship and translation from multiple perspectives—as an entrepreneur, as a financier, and now as a resource for all those interested in using ideas to impact lives.  

What’s an extra proud moment from your time in your role?
Opening our new space—The Bullpen—at the Imperial Building in Downtown Durham was a moment that really made all that we’re doing seem real and cohesive. The project took incredible foresight, energy and luck on the part of so many people, but serves as a touchstone for all that we do.
 
Who is the most impressive entrepreneur you’ve come into contact with through your work, and why?
I have worked with so many great entrepreneurs over the years that it is hard—unfair really—to try to single one out. One I am especially amazed with right at the moment is Suhani Jalota, a student in the Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs Program here at Duke, who built a factory in the slums of Mumbai making sanitary products for women. Her drive, her energy and her passion are breathtaking, and Myna is an incredibly compelling example of the power of social entrepreneurship.
 
What’s a fun fact about yourself?
I love big boats, although it is not clear they love me.

Howie Rhee

Managing Director of Student and Alumni Affairs, Duke I&E

Brief overview of your job/role with the university. 

My goal is to support students and alumni, wherever they are located and whatever endeavors they are taking on. To that end, I meet with about 20-25 students and alumni per week. We talk about their careers and if they are starting a company, their companies as well. Often times their startup ideas are a manifestation of their career goals, so we discuss their careers holistically. I’m open to meeting any member of the Duke community, which include undergraduates, Fuqua Business School, Law, Medicine and grad students of all backgrounds. 
I spend time talking to many alumni each week, whether they’ve graduated a year ago or 20 years prior. I strongly believe that Duke’s role is to provide lifelong support to our students and alumni, through an approachable community and very customized mentorship and education. My two main programs at Duke are Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs (with the support of Melissa Bernstein ’87 and her husband Doug), which is the premiere program for Duke undergraduates interested in entrepreneurship; and the Program for Entrepreneurs (with Jon Fjeld, a professor at Fuqua Business School), which is a sequence of structured courses that allows students across Duke to work on a startup while receiving course credit. 
In addition, I run several different programs including the Duke Startup Challenge, Duke Global Entrepreneurship Network (DukeGEN) with T. Reid Lewis and Matt Koidin, and StartupConnect with Brandon Sassouni. I also spend a lot of time advising and supporting clubs and student organizations including The Cube, HackDuke and the Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Club. I focus on reaching into student communities as much as possible and making myself available to any student who wants to have a conversation. 
Across these efforts, we run about 30 events a year, and have a couple of active social media groups that include several thousand Duke students and alumni. On the research side, while I am not a researcher myself, I do my best to support the research efforts that my colleagues have in studying entrepreneurship at a deeper level. 
Brief overview of your background and anything that contributes to the role in entrepreneurship programming. 
As an undergraduate at MIT, I was very interested in entrepreneurship but I felt too intimidated and confused to figure out who in the administration at MIT I could reach out to for support. To give a sense of my level of interest, I started a company while I was a junior and actually left school for a year to move to New York City and focus on my company. For whatever reason, I didn’t know how to take advantage of entrepreneurship resources beyond the classes that were offered at MIT, even though there were ample resources. 
Now I make it a priority to put myself out there for the students and alumni at Duke. We have a LinkedIn Group with 7,000 members, a mailing list with 10,000 members, and various listservs with about 2,500 current students—I’m always happy to chat and help in whatever way I can, often by making introductions to potential mentors and resources. 
For example, George Northup is a Duke alum who has had a very successful career in Silicon Valley and sold four companies. I probably connect him with a new Duke student each week and there are many other alumni like George who have graciously donated their time in this way. I am always happy to connect students with alumni mentors to further their thinking about their careers and their entrepreneurial aspirations. I can reached at [email protected], 919-923-7113, or scheduled directly at http://calendly.com/howrhee
What’s an extra proud moment from your time in your role?
I used to think that my proudest moments were building big events. But over time I started to realize the most impactful things were either making connections (you connected me to my business partner and now we’ve worked together a decade!) or having a strong one-on-one conversation with a student. The events, while still great, are catalysts for both the connections and the conversations. So, my proudest moments, now, are when a student says “you helped me raise funding” or “you helped me find a job” or “our conversation really changed my life”. Those are private moments in which I take pride. The sum of them, and helping to create and nurture a culture of that kind of giving, is my proudest “moment”. 
Who is the most impressive entrepreneur you’ve come into contact with through your work, and why?
Wow, that’s a difficult question. There are hundreds of Duke founders (many of them can be found on this great list by AngelList) and they have so many different dimensions, it’d be hard to choose one. Some of my favorite Duke alum entrepreneurs are: 
Melissa Bernstein (co-founder and co-CEO of Melissa & Doug) 
Josh Felser (sold two companies, Spinner for $300 million, and Crackle for $60 million, now investing) 
George Northup (successfully exited four companies as CEO) 
Bill Hawkins (former CEO of Medtronic) 
T. Reid Lewis (co-founder of GroupLogic, acquired by Acronis) 
Rich West (co-founder Advanced Liquid Logic, acquired for $100 million) 
David Cummings (co-founder of Pardot, acquired for $100 million, founded Atlanta Tech Village) 
Brooks Bell and Jesse Lipson (Brooks runs Brooks Bell, Jesse ran ShareFile which was acquired by Citrix, both founded HQ Raleigh and Thinkhouse) 
Lawrence Lenihan (founded Resonance) 
Matt Koidin (CTO at Pocket) 
Howie Lerman (Founder of Yext) 
Max Hodak (Founder of Transcriptic) 
Kathryn Minshew (co-founder of The Muse) 
Basil Enan (co-founder of Discors and Coverhound) 
Chuck Ghoorah (co-founder of Cvent, IPO’ed and recently acquired for $1 billion) 
Jim Scheinman (been a part of four billion-dollar companies including Cruise, which sold for $1 billion to GM) 
Aaron Patzer (founded Mint.com, sold for $170 million to Intuit) 
The list goes on and on. And an amazing thing about all those people I mentioned, is they are all committed to Duke and have tangibly contributed to Duke regularly, mostly in the form of mentoring the next generation. I introduce them to students regularly, and they are so committed to helping. 
What’s a fun fact about yourself?
My family (the kids are 10, 7 and 2) is really big into the Hamilton musical. This summer we did a trip to visit a lot of sites mentioned including Mt. Vernon, the Schuyler house in Albany, Hamilton Grange in Harlem, Fraunces Tavern near Battery Park and their graves at Trinity Church. We have listened to, and sung along to, the music quite a bit. My wife and I met as sophomores in college singing together in an a cappella group, so singing is an important part of our family.