Duke Student Entrepreneurs To Compete for Start Up Funds

April 18, 2006

Physicians who have struggled for years to monitor and treat the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa could soon have a low-cost solution thanks to a team of students at Duke University. These students, and others with unique ideas to improve health care technology in developing countries, are vying for the top prize in a Duke University business plan competition Saturday.

The student business named Global ImmunoDiagnostics has developed what its organizers believe is a low-cost solution enabling physicians in sub-Saharan Africa to monitor the effects of anti-retroviral therapy on HIV/AIDS infected patients—an assessment process that is currently cost-prohibitive for most hospitals in developing world countries.

Global ImmunoDiagnostics will compete against other student teams with business ideas for affordably treating neonatal jaundice, and manufacturing a $25 electrocardiogram device. All teams will find out Saturday just how sustainable and realistic their ideas are at the Competition for Underserved and Resource-Poor Economies (CUREs), hosted in partnership with the Duke Start-Up Challenge.

"This is a uniquely challenging competition requiring students to use their passion and creativity to develop sustainable businesses that impact developing-world countries," said Robert Malkin, a professor in the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke and founder of CUREs.

Saturday's awards ceremony will feature three teams competing for the CUREs top prize of $100,000 of funding and a year of incubation in Duke's Pratt School of Engineering, awarded to the most compelling non-profit enterprise.

Also on Saturday, running concurrent with the CUREs competition, the 7th annual Duke Start-Up Challenge will award $70,000 in prizes in four categories: 1) Healthcare/Life Sciences, 2) High Tech, 3) Non-intellectual Property Based or Service-Based and 4) Social Ventures. The team that creates the best business idea will win $25,000.

The Duke Start-up Challenge is traditionally a for-profit competition and encompasses all aspects of building a start-up business, including assembling a management team, formulating a business plan and developing core product technology.

"More than 40 teams entered the competition, with the final stage whittled down to seven," said Mark Rice, organizing committee member of the Duke Start-Up Challenge, which is also entirely student-run. "We have some very promising businesses in the competition."

Duke University is renowned for creating an environment where entrepreneurship is not only fostered but rewarded. The 7th annual Duke Start-Up Challenge awards ceremony is being hosted in cooperation with the inaugural CUREs competition to highlight these programs which tout students' entrepreneurial leadership.

The CUREs competition was launched through Duke University's Engineering World Health (Duke-EWH), a non-profit with the mission to improve health care technology in underserved nations. Through CUREs, Duke-EWH conducts research and rewards students for developing sustainable business ideas that improve health care in developing countries.

"Students have dedicated their time and energy to create non-profit business ideas that can truly improve health care technology in countries that need it most," said Jessica Thomas, director of CUREs.

Malkin's student teams learned that modern equipment that is often taken for granted in U.S. hospitals is in short supply in developing-world hospitals. He points out CUREs competitors have created business ideas with technologies that are appropriate solutions to these hospitals' problems—not necessarily the best-of-breed approach.

"These businesses could revolutionize health care technology for millions of people in poor countries," said Malkin.