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Exploring Entrepreneurship and Social Impact as a New Venture Fellow

NOTE: This article first appeared on the Duke Daytime MBA Student Blog.

by Lily Schoen

Throughout my two years as a Daytime MBA student, the most common question I received was: What is the most impactful experience you have had at Fuqua? This is somewhat of a trick question—a view I believe my fellow classmates will agree with—as there is an abundance of opportunities at your fingertips. These opportunities push you to think differently and meet new people who will expand your perspective, and, ultimately, impact the way you craft your career plans post-graduation. That being said, as I reflect on my last two years at Duke, there was one experience that changed the way I approached academics, recruiting, and extracurricular involvement: working as a New Venture Fellow with Duke’s Office for Translation & Commercialization (OTC). OTC supports Duke inventors along the entire innovation journey, from ideation support to intellectual property management to technology licensing and beyond.

The fellowship with the New Ventures group is an experiential learning opportunity that aims to connect Fuqua MBA students with Duke’s startup ecosystem. Each fellow is responsible for assisting a venture spinning out of Duke with a strategic marketing project. The program also connects each student to a mentor in residence, a seasoned entrepreneur involved in supporting Duke ventures, who provides guidance throughout the program.

Working as a New Venture Fellow

I began my fellowship in my first year at Fuqua assisting Dr. Sujay Kansagra, the director of Duke’s Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program, and Richard Hunt, a mentor in residence, on the development of a new consumer product that would help parents effectively sleep train their young children. The company, Lullabee, was preparing to launch its flagship product: a crib mattress that temporarily leverages technology to teach infants to sleep independently. I came into Fuqua with an undeniable itch to make a more meaningful impact through my work, and I was excited for the opportunity to leverage my business knowledge to assist a company focused on improving pediatric health.

For this project, my main objective was to determine a feasible and sustainable price point for this new flagship product. This optimal go-to-market pricing strategy would be informed by competitive landscape and cost analyses. In addition, I planned to conduct interviews with target customers (new and/or expecting parents) to support my recommendation.

Not only was I successful in the activities mentioned above, but I also gained substantial knowledge in the pediatric sleep health space. Sleep training is a known challenge for parents, as up to 50% of children have difficulty sleeping. As a result, many parents depend on short-sighted solutions to help their kids sleep, which create unsustainable and unhealthy sleep patterns long term. As one might expect, these behaviors negatively affect the child’s health. However, a less known result, is the unfortunate domino effect these circumstances have on the family’s health, most notably the parent’s mental health. To me, this was such a clear example of how circular the health care system is and demonstrated the importance future leaders must place on holistic and whole-family care. This experience undeniably expanded my perspective on how one can merge business and social impact.

Tapping Into an Entrepreneurial Community

Outside of my project work, OTC introduced me to an entire community at Duke focused on innovation and entrepreneurship. I knew I wanted to continue to learn from this network after my fellowship. Consequently, I became the co-president of the New Venture Fellows program during my second year, where I worked closely with the OTC to recruit and guide subsequent NVF classes. In addition, I joined the Entrepreneurship Leadership Network (ELN) as a newly graduated MBA of the Class of 2023. The ELN is a growing community of Duke alumni who prioritize technology and business as a means to positively impact society. It was immensely important to me to stay connected to this group of individuals post-graduation.

Lily Schoen, a member of the Daytime MBA Class of 2023, standing in front of the Duke logo at Cameron Indoor Stadium in her cap and gown on graduation day in May 2023

So many of my experiences at Fuqua shaped my personal and professional goals—which is why I continue to struggle to answer which specific opportunity had the most impact. What I do know is this: the New Venture Fellows program was the catalyst that sparked my interest in looking at commercial ventures through a social lens. Going forward, I’m excited to find new ways to integrate these types of opportunities into my career and to continue evolving my perspective on how business can prioritize positive social change.

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