Sterly Wilder ’83, associate vice president for alumni affairs, talks with Matt Koidin M.B.A. ’05, co-chair of DukeGEN and chief technology officer of Pocket.
SW: How has Duke become more interested in entrepreneurship?
MK: I think Duke has always had an entrepreneurial spirit, but the launch of the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative has placed the efforts front and center. The core idea is that all students can benefit from this type of training—it’s not exclusive to starting a company.
SW: What are the characteristics of an entrepreneur that would carry over to other areas?
MK: We’re talking about the ability to identify problems, find solutions, and nurture a team that will work through those problems. You need to be quick on your feet and to be decisive. You need passion, drive, and a willingness to take ownership and run with something. Entrepreneurs really exist on a spectrum. On one end, you have these incredibly creative and innovative people who have that spark, who come up with the ideas. On the other end, you have people who are insanely great operators, who are really good at taking a small company and making it a little bigger and managing it through all those stages.
SW: When did you first become an entrepreneur?
MK: I was the neighborhood computer kid who went around and helped people get their computers up and running—so I guess I was always doing something entrepreneurial. It didn’t really hit home that I would go the start-up path until I took a class at Stanford; that took me down that route, and I did a couple of start-
ups before I came to Fuqua. I had a strong technology background, but my experiences taught me that being a leader at a startup was more than writing code. So Fuqua for me was learning about marketing, finance, and other areas that would round out my education and better prepare me for my next entrepreneurial endeavor—which it did!
SW: Talk a bit about the work of DukeGEN.
MK: In some respects, it’s a classic entrepreneurship story, in the sense that DukeGEN started as a small grassroots effort and grew from there. Howie [Rhee] and Michael [Cann] saw a need to connect Duke entrepreneurs and set about to make it happen. We’re interested in how we can help this community of entrepreneurial Dukies find each other in their own locations, but also he we can build ties back to Duke. We started a number of programs—for example, the annual pitch event, which is about connecting Duke investors with Duke entrepreneurs who are at the early stages with their companies. That’s led to financing in some cases, but the bigger idea is to provide an avenue for offering advice and feedback. Then through our Summer Innovation Program, we’ve brought a number of Duke students out to the Bay Area. Half of them worked at start-ups, and half of them have worked on their own ideas at an incubator called RocketSpace. Once a week we got everyone together to hear from the successful entrepreneurs and investors.
SW: How are we doing in getting out Duke’s name in the Bay area?
MK: The community is great out here and it grows bigger and tighter every day. Every time I go to a different event, I meet new people, and it reinforces the idea that the university is working hard to connect us. And those connections are critical, because with entrepreneurship, in particular, there’s a lot that happens through connections. More information: dukegen.com and getpocket.com.