Lessons from the Entrepreneur

“Who thinks they’re going to be an entrepreneur?” The question was posed by Mr. Thede Loder, one of the original developers behind dating site Match.com as well as co-founder of numerous startups such as Boxbe and Dognition, at one notable point during his talk- the last of the Huang Fellows summer seminars.

Through my first year at Duke, I had watched a floormate work on a personal finance application already worth several millions and a fellow member of my Chinese dance group handle marketing for Ungraded Produce, the grand prize winners of the Duke Startup Challenge. It was not long until I personally developed a passion for initiatives that aimed to streamline medical care, mostly through the use of novel technologies. First semester, I worked on a team creating software that consolidated patient electronic health records from different companies down to a single location. Second semester, I did market research analyzing competition for a company that used artificial intelligence to enhance the collection of patient data. For my Huang summer, I found a place on a project examining the pipeline of drugs being produced against pandemic-potential emerging diseases, shedding a light on the entrepreneurial process’ vital role in the literal saving of lives.

Despite this, once the question rang out, my hand was not one of the roughly six that shot up amongst the Fellows. I began to reflect on possible reasons why as I listened to a few volunteers express their interest towards forming ventures in fields as diverse and captivating as electrophysiology, neurolinguistics, and healthcare efficacy. At that moment, I might have felt too distant from the entrepreneurs of public imagination’s startup culture. Perhaps I did not see myself taking the risks, hacking it out in some basement, or putting in some hundred-hour work weeks. Perhaps my future goals were not as clear-cut as I would have liked.

Regardless of what changes of heart may occur in the future, I have come to realize in recent weeks that not everyone can, will, or even desire to involve themselves in conventional entrepreneurship and assume the risk of running a business. Even so, those individuals still go on to produce and be responsible for incredible amounts of innovation and societal advancement. However, I do believe that the impact we generate in our personal careers, whether conventional entrepreneurs or not, can be greatly advanced by taking lessons from the entrepreneurial journey and qualities from the entrepreneurial spirit.

As Fellows, many will go on to publish groundbreaking research, spearhead new science policy initiatives, and improve upon methods regarding the communication of that very knowledge. Such pursuits will not necessarily ever follow in the archetypal stages of quitting a corporate job, overseeing customer trials, or taking a company public on the stock exchange. What those tasks will still require are the abilities highlighted by Mr. Loder: Maintaining diverse interests and passions allows one to establish baseline expertise and identify current problems that nearly always span multiple disciplines. Seeking out like-minded individuals and sincerely taking their opinions into account solidifies a base for support and advice early-on. Ensuring the project’s creation of value for the greater good as well as oneself forms a worthy purpose that fuels general approval. Figuring out what skills are needed to fulfill a vision and self-learning sets goals and executes them.

Nearing the end of his talk, Mr. Loder explained how early adulthood was the perfect stage in life to explore ambitions, as it left time to both follow-up on successes or recuperate from failures. Within the seminar’s one-and-a-half-hour span, he had answered numerous questions over how to choose partnerships, approach negotiations, network effectively, and even the government’s role in creating an ecosystem conducive to innovation. On a final parting note, he mentioned how the core value of an entrepreneur is to be “comfortable with the uncomfortable”- to become used to sitting in a room without fully understanding what is being discussed, to be on the cusp of an exciting new topic or discovery without fully comprehending what it entails. But then again, isn’t that what good science is all about?

Eugene Wang, Huang Fellow ’18

Olivia LiuEugene is pursuing a major in either Economics or Public Policy Studies with minors in Biology and Global Health. He is interested in how innovation and financial analysis can be used to improve healthcare efficacy.