Recently, Duke University President Richard Brodhead wrote in a column for The News & Observer about the university’s intentional relationship with Durham. “Duke and Durham chose each other, and our destinies are still entwined,” he wrote.
Over the last several years, Duke and Durham have continued to join forces on exciting projects that will shape the futures of both our city and our university, such as the 15-acre Durham Innovation District, already underway just west of downtown.
Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative (Duke I&E) was the second piece of the Durham Innovation District to take shape. Last August, Duke I&E moved its offices from campus to Morris Street, opening a space in the historic Imperial Building called The Bullpen, enabling students to access Durham’s startup community, and vice versa.
The Durham Innovation District is being developed by Longfellow Real Estate Partners in collaboration with Duke and Measurement Incorporated. By the time the project is complete, downtown will feature 1 million square feet of new offices and labs, providing a space for tech jobs and other startups, as well as 300,000 square feet of new residential units. The idea is to create even more startup density in the city, which is crucial for an entrepreneurial ecosystem to thrive.
Duke is also sponsoring the newest phase of the Durham Innovation District, the renovation of the Chesterfield building on South Duke Street and West Main Street, which will offer more office and lab space, as well as a central atrium where people can convene and discuss ideas.
For Duke I&E, having a space downtown has been tremendous and has only served to strengthen the connection between the Duke community and Durham’s network of entrepreneurs. From The Bullpen, we can walk to American Underground and other startups. We can walk to the same restaurants and bars that these entrepreneurs frequent, which just leads to more serendipitous connections among members of Duke and Durham’s entrepreneurial community.
Many of these entrepreneurs have also benefited from having Duke I&E downtown, from using our co-working space to catch up on calls and emails to utilizing our conference rooms for meetings.
I moved to Durham in 2001 to attend Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. At that time, entrepreneurship in Durham was very spread out, with most entrepreneurial efforts concentrated in the Research Triangle Park. Intersouth Partners, the biggest venture capital fund in the area at the time, was in Durham but not downtown.
Since then, it’s been amazing to see the trajectory of Durham and to know that Duke is playing an integral role in that growth.
Many efforts around entrepreneurship began to take shape in 2013. At Duke, the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative was born, and in Durham, the American Underground opened in American Tobacco Campus.
The partnership between these two was strong from the beginning. Duke I&E’s vice provost and director, Eric Toone, collaborated with Adam Klein, chief strategist for the American Underground. Duke provides support for American Underground, and in turn, Duke ventures can take advantage of the vibrant entrepreneurship community that exists there – such as BioMetrix, a wearable athletic training device created by Duke alumna Ivonna Dumanyan, class of ’16.
Dumanyan’s story is one of how this entrepreneurial ecosystem should work. She started her company while at Duke, developed it through our Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs program and is now working on her business in Durham, in American Underground office space owned by Duke I&E.
I work to make and foster connections between students and entrepreneurs. It’s awesome to be a part of the community and have a meaningful bond with someone – and to be able to introduce that person to others and create new bonds. It feels like we’re all building something together, and that’s a feeling I really enjoy.