Duke - The Fuqua School of Business

News Release

Getting Down to Business

Start-Up Challenge: "It’s more than a mock drill"

September 11, 2008

Students at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business aren’t just talking about entrepreneurship – they’re living it.


The Duke Start-Up Challenge, now in its ninth year, is a student-run competition that invites students to plan and launch their own business ventures, with a chance to win start-up capital to fund the venture. The Start-Up Challenge offers students access to experienced professionals who can provide feedback on the business plans and can pair students with people from across Duke whose skills and expertise can help convert an idea into a profitable business. Along the way, educational seminars provide insights into virtually all aspects of starting a business.  

The competition takes place from September to April, covering an entire academic year. The format includes three phases, each requiring one or more deliverables with multiple teams winning cash and prizes for the best submissions throughout the competition. Prizes are awarded for the best plan/presentation and best submission in each of several categories (e.g., High-Tech/IT, Healthcare/Lifesciences, Consumer Products/Services, Social Enterprise). At the end of each phase, teams are provided with feedback from a panel of expert judges so that submissions can be fine tuned for success.

“With a total of $100,000 being awarded to competitors, the Duke Start-Up Challenge is a genuine opportunity to take a concept from the brainstorm stage all the way through to launch,” said Seth Dickson, media and communications director for the competition. “For the winning proposals, the prize money can serve as seed funding for the business. It’s more than a mock drill.”    

The contest has strict confidentiality measures in place to ensure that all ideas and business concepts remain the intellectual property of their originators, and eligibility requirements prevent existing companies from submitting entries. Each team must have at least one participating, current full-time Duke student.

Jonathan Gindes (Class of 2003), is one of the judges in this year’s competition and is founder of Affinergy, Inc., a Durham, North Carolina, company that develops coatings and medical devices for orthopedic and cardiovascular markets. “The Duke Start-Up Challenge is a great forum for participants to go through the process of developing, communicating and refining a business plan in a ‘safe’ and constructive environment,” said Gindes. “In entrepreneurship, there is no substitute for hands-on experience.”

One of this year’s participants, Sarah Kate Fishback (Class of 2009), is working with her husband Luke to launch Visible Energy, which aims to help homeowners reduce their energy consumption and lower utility bills through providing real time consumption data. Visible Energy won the top prize of $5,000 in the Consumer Products track. “The competition has been incredibly helpful with regard to putting some structure on starting the business, as well as getting good feedback and making contacts,” said Fishback.

The 2008 Duke Start-Up Challenge winners were named in April after the teams presented their business plan proposals to a panel of judges:

Overall Grand Prize Winner $25,000 & Health Care Track
Cerene Biomedics
Heidi Koschwanez (PhD candidate, BME), Christina Li (PhD student, BME), Carolyn
Nohejl (BME, ‘08), Vivek Sasikumar (Fuqua, ‘08), John Stroncek (PhD student,

Overall Runner Up $10,000

Naman Shah, Saket Vora, Joel Thomas, J.E. (Win) Bassett IV, Kari Leech, Will
Patrick (Trinity, ‘10)

People’s Choice Trade Show Winner $1,000
Game Everything

Ferol Vernon (Fuqua, ‘09), Mausam Bhatt (Fuqua, ‘09)

High-Tech Track Award $5,000
A-B-Sea Research

Al Basilico, John Galetsky, Jennifer Artabane (Fuqua, ‘08)

Consumer Products Track Award $5,000
Visible Energy

Luke Fishback (MEM, ‘03), Sarah Kate Fishback (Fuqua, ‘09)

Social Track Award $5,000

Naman Shah, Saket Vora, Joel Thomas, J.E. (Win) Bassett IV, Kari Leech, Will
Patrick (Trinity, ‘10)

For more information about the Duke Start-Up Challenge, visit www.dukestartupchallenge.org .