Class of 2014
"Duke's joint degree program allowed me to marry my passion for entrepreneurship with my desire to work on and in the natural world. There are only a handful of programs in the country that offer anything similar, and Duke had something special."
I grew up on Florida's Treasure Coast. My family was in the citrus business for 30 years, and some of my fondest memories as a kid are playing in the endless rows of grapefruit trees on my grandmother's property. We also had close family friends in the ranching business, and as a young boy an excursion on the ranch was tantamount to an Indiana Jones adventure. There were snakes, alligators, feral pigs, and all manner of wildlife to observe. Kicking around in my little cowboy boots, picking tangerines, and swimming in artesian wells were formative moments.
After college, I ended up working for a real estate investment firm in Houston. I stayed with the company for 7 years and learned a lot along the way, but reached a point when I realized my heart was not where it belonged. I had entrepreneurial ideas, but no sense for what to do with them. And I wanted to spend more time outside.
So I applied to Duke's joint degree program in business and environment, left my job, and went to work as a ranch hand on an 87,000-acre cattle ranch in Colorado. The next 4 months put everything in proper perspective.
I emerged from that experience with the conviction that whatever path I would take would have to involve a deep and authentic connection to the natural world. Part of this is an acknowledgment of my family legacy and a desire to perpetuate it. Part of it was coming to terms with the importance of the land base for the sustainability of our way of life. Both gave me a sense of purpose I had lacked in my previous job, and Kunoa Cattle Company, which I co-founded, is a reflection of this conviction.
Why I Chose Fuqua
Duke's joint degree program allowed me to marry my passion for entrepreneurship with my desire to work on and in the natural world. There are only a handful of programs in the country that offer anything similar, and Duke had something special. On the Fuqua side of the fence, I observed a unique emphasis on collaboration. The culture of the institution is self-competitive, but not inter-competitive, which appealed to my instincts and my functional interests. As an entrepreneur, I needed a place where I could lean on my classmates and professors to get me through the straits of the start-up phase.
The university's entrepreneurship ecosystem was fairly well developed when I started in 2011, but I had reservations in terms of how it compared with competitive institutions and the cities they inhabited. Durham isn't Silicon Valley, right? Well, it's not, but I was overwhelmed by the number and quality of opportunities afforded me by Fuqua, Duke, and Durham. Even if I wanted more, I couldn't find a way to fit it into my life. I was up to my ears in entrepreneurship, and it was exactly what I was looking for. Read more about my experiences in this blog post.
To illustrate the point, in the 2013 Spring semester, I co-founded Duke ENVENT; co-chaired Fuqua's Venture Capital Investment Competition; participated in five business plan competitions (two as semi-finalist, two as finalist); pitched to Jessica Jackley, co-founder of Kiva, at a social entrepreneurship event; participated in Investors' Circle's 2013 MBA Fellows program; received three entrepreneurship grants from Fuqua, the Nicholas School, and Bull City Forward; participated in several organizing meetings held by the Innovation Co-lab and the Duke Student Initiative on Social Entrepreneurship; and completed four entrepreneurship classes, including the second module in the Program for Entrepreneurs.
Leadership Attribute: Entrepreneurial
Different people have different definitions for entrepreneurship. The classical definition implies risk-taking, but I suppose I'm fonder of the angle taken by Nicholas School Professor of the Practice for Environmental Innovation & Entrepreneurship Jesko von Windheim, who emphasizes, "voting with your feet." In other words, entrepreneurship is doing.
I came to graduate school with the goal of launching a business before graduation—an ambitious goal that has its origins in a gene I inherited from my parents, who come from a long line of entrepreneurs. So, I didn't waste any time when I arrived on campus. In my first year, I pitched in the Duke Start-up Challenge Elevator Pitch Contest, finishing in the top 10 among 100 participants. I then applied for and won Fuqua's 2012 Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship Seed Prize with Dave Nicola (Fuqua 2013), my now business partner. We were later selected as finalists in the 2012 International Impact Investing Challenge and had the privilege of pitching before more than a dozen impact investors in San Francisco. As a result of this momentum, we decided to forego the traditional summer internship route in order to test the entrepreneurial waters. We decided it was time to do.
By the end of the summer we had a solid concept and had been selected as a client for Duke's Start-up and Environmental Law Clinics, a rare cross-training opportunity. And in January 2013, we recruited an all-star, multidisciplinary team to attack the second stage of Fuqua's Program for Entrepreneurs, bringing us one step closer to viability.
Five Random Things about Me
- For my fourth birthday I was given a baby pig by a one-armed man named Sam. Many years later I learned that Ms. Piggy ended up as breakfast bacon at the hand of my nanny, Bertha.
- I love to travel. I made my first trip abroad to Mexico in 1993, and prior to graduate school, I had added 23 countries on 6 continents to the list. My second year at Duke took me to Peru, Brazil, Argentina, India, and Nepal.
- When I graduated college in 2003, I decided to pursue a career in songwriting in Nashville. That predictably didn't last long, but I haven't given up on the dream. In 2012, I had a song published on Duke's Small Town Records label, and FuquaJam helped kindle the fire.
- For my last two years at Duke, I lived rent-free on a 40-acre "hippie commune" in Bahama, about 13 miles north of Durham. My rent was a small contribution to maintaining the home, the garden, the chicken coop, and the orchard, from which I have the privilege of eating.
- My last name is a variation on the German word for purse, so apparently I come from a long line of pursemakers. Man purses. Which are making a comeback.
What I Love About Durham
I'm a country boy at heart, so naturally I loved how easy it is to access the countryside from Durham. Within 15 minutes north or west, you're well into farm country, which is scenic year-round. During my first year at Duke I would drive 3 times per week to the Eno River State Park, which is less than 10 miles northwest of Fuqua. There are dozens of trails that wind along the Eno River, which eventually makes its way to Falls Lake, east of Durham. Depending on the season, you'll spot water snakes, deer, wild lilies, old gristmills, and small, family cemeteries, among other things.
Fortunately, Durham hasn't abandoned its agricultural heritage, which is rich in tobacco. In fact, much of the Duke Forest, which was cobbled together from private land donations through the years, is forest that has grown up through century-old tobacco furrows. You also see it in the architecture of Durham, where dozens of tobacco warehouses have been converted into residential and office condos.
This agricultural history is partly responsible for Durham's reputation as a foodie town and a hub for sustainable food systems. It's a city with an authentic story and people that value the same. There's no veneer, no pretense—it's raw, honest, and progressive American South. This whole theme of outdoor access, real foods, and salt-of-the-earth people might well be summarized with the tagline of popular T-shirt sold at a local smoke shop: "Keep it Dirty, Durham."
The Impact of Team Fuqua
On January 4, 2013, 10 Duke students and I from Duke's BOLD club made a summit attempt on Nevado Chachani, a 19,872-foot mountain in Southern Peru. After months of physical and mental preparation, we came within 600 vertical feet of the summit before turning around due to high winds. The decision the group made before our retreat was incredibly complex and is an invaluable case study in leadership, decision making, group dynamics, goal setting, communication, risk management, and adaptiveness. It was the kind of thing B-school cases are written about and is probably the most important leadership lesson I have had in my life. I was so moved by the experience, that I applied for a leadership position with BOLD and served as president the following year. That winter we trained two teams to take on Ecuador's Cotopaxi (19,347) and Mexico's Pico de Orizaba (18,491).