Jim Russell judges the Duke Start-up Challenge
One of 15 judges at last week’s final round of the Duke Start-up Challenge, McKinney Chief Innovation Officer Jim Russell was a bit of an anomaly — only two other judges were also non-Duke grads. But he was happy to be there on April 11 for the Grand Finale to hear the three finalists had 8 minutes to present their ideas to the judges and 7 minutes to answer their questions. Refresh Innovations took the top prize of $50,000 for its product called the Refresh Card — a disposable contact case and a vial of solution that’s no larger than a credit card.
“The keynote speaker, David Cummings, was asked what he thought about startups in the Southeast,” recalled Jim, “and I agree with his answer: I don’t think there’s a better place right now to start a venture or startup because there are great universities, lots of talented people, and a more casual and friendly lifestyle.” Duke’s Start-up Challenge was illustrative of the vibrancy that we see in the Triangle of the startup community.
Jim was also impressed by the poise and professionalism of the presenters. “Their presentations were as solid as some of McKinney’s pitches,” he said. “Even the shorter ones were great.” Besides the three finalists, ten other teams gave very brief elevator pitches that night, including a neuromarking startup with whom McKinney has a growing partnership called NeuroSpire. They were awarded the $1,000 prize (Jim did not participate in that vote).
The Challenge was launched 14 years ago by the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business to grow the university’s entrepreneurial culture. Next year’s Challenge will be the largest so far thanks to a $500,000 donation by Grand Finale keynote speaker David Cummings. The fund will create an endowment to encourage undergraduate entrepreneurship, including $20,000 in grant funding to top undergraduate entrepreneurs each year.