Vidhan Agrawal
Duke University
Class of 2012
Majors: Biomedical Engineering and Economics

Vidhan Agrawal (left) presenting at the Duke Start-Up Challenge. Photo by Howie Ree.

When I first came to Duke University in the Fall semester of 2008, I wasn’t sure where life was going to take me. I did know this though: at some point in time, I was going to start my own company. Growing up in New Delhi, India, a pulsating entrepreneurial city, and coming from a family filled with entrepreneurs, this was in my blood. At Duke, I majored in biomedical engineering and economics, and when I graduated in May 2012, I began working on a medical device start-up in Memphis, Tenn.

At Duke, when I arrived, entrepreneurship was just beginning to create a buzz. Duke has a long history of successful entrepreneurs, and thus it is no surprise that the current generation of Duke students also wanted to make their mark on the world. Despite this history, at the start of this buzz, it seemed there were limited ways for Duke students to engage in entrepreneurship. Though I did not immediately realize this, it was indeed a fortunate time for me to come to Duke.

My entrepreneurial story started at Duke at the end of my freshman year, when my first company was founded. Three friends and I decided to come together to provide underprivileged children with a method to obtain quality private tutoring for free. The company was called Nutty Tutoring, and the spinoff design company was called Nutty Designs. Nutty Tutoring would provide a website and a software-as-a-service to connect these kids to students at top universities and non-profit organizations. This concept got us involved in the Duke Start-Up Challenge.

The Duke Start-Up Challenge is Duke University’s premier entrepreneurship event. It is one of the few completely cross-campus organizations, spanning the business school, medical school, graduate school, engineering school, arts college and divinity school.

Two of us from the Nutty Tutoring team got involved with organizing the competition, and both later served as co-presidents of the organization. At the start of my junior year, I took up the role of co-president, making me the sole undergraduate co-president of the organization. The most important task we focused on was inspiring and educating people about an entrepreneurial life and career. We did this by bringing in speakers and teachers, and hosting panel discussions and case competitions. All this was in addition to the elevator pitch competition and business plan competitions. This resulted in increased participation and a very successful branding effort. Soon the Duke Start-Up Challenge brand was very recognized and there was a buzz around the campus.

Also in my junior year, we saw an opportunity in the undergraduate community surrounding venture capital, and thus the Duke Venture Capital Club was born. Through this, we focused on providing students with engagement, exposure and education to the VC community.

Vidhan Agrawal

As my senior year rolled around, I moved on to raising funds for the Duke Start-Up Challenge, and engaged in what was possibly the greatest challenge of my Duke entrepreneurship career: The Duke Entrepreneur (TDE), the university’s undergraduate entrepreneurship club.

Though it had a storied past, TDE had fallen into a state of disarray. TDE’s mission is to promote and encourage entrepreneurship, and there were multiple ways to achieve this goal. We did this by bringing temporal sustainability to the organization, the first element of success. Then we sought out new events and differentiating factors that would make the club attractive. I’m happy to say these initiatives are being carried on after my graduation.

There are a number of unique things about Duke’s entrepreneurship scene. The highlight of this is by far, the ubiquity with which entrepreneurship appears now. Students truly are entrepreneurial and in some way want to live entrepreneurially. There are also a number of academic resources that we can turn to, across departments and faculties. Everyone is extremely open and encouraging. I would also like to highlight the Duke Global Entrepreneurship Network, DukeGEN. An initiative of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Fuqua School of Business, it seeks to unite all the Duke people around the world interested in entrepreneurship. This is a huge way for Duke students to gain not only exposure but also contacts and funding.

As I reflect back on my four years at Duke, I can’t help feel a sense of pride at what we were able to do. I am truly happy to have played a small part in encouraging and inspiring students to start companies and succeed entrepreneurially.

Duke Start-Up Challenge: dukestartupchallenge.org
The Duke Entrepreneur: thedukeentrepreneur.com
Duke Global Entrepreneurship Network: dukegen.com

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