Being a student-entrepreneur in college can be a daunting challenge, especially at Duke. 

In an environment of academic competition, social obligations and fierce resume-building, choosing to dedicate a large chunk of one’s time to a venture that may very well fail is a decision not many opt for. Luckily, for those that wish to journey into the field of entrepreneurship during their undergraduate years despite the noise, Duke offers an opportunity like no other: The Cube.

Similar to most colleges, Duke’s social landscape includes fraternities and sororities. But a unique aspect of Duke’s social scene are Selective Living Groups (SLGs), communities that are usually co-ed and are often associated with a particular theme or interest, such as civic engagement and arts appreciation. Like Greek life, all SLGs organize rush processes to recruit new members during the spring semester.

The Cube was officially formalized as Duke’s entrepreneurship SLG in 2011, when a group of students working on companies felt the need for a peer support system. As it has grown over the years, more than 40 students have been affiliated and lived in The Cube’s apartment-style residential community, bouncing ideas off of each other and turning them to action. 

Besides participating in fun group events like night kayaking, go-karting and Nerf gun wars, members of The Cube attend weekly workshop meetings where they discuss progress on their ventures, whether they be in ideation phase or seeking investment. They also receive access to valuable resources—an extensive alumni network and startup internship opportunities.

While entrepreneurship is the core string that ties all members together, a diverse array of interests are represented. Members’ majors range from economics to computer science to visual arts to literature to biology. Current projects and companies run by Cube members include a healthy protein powder, a nonprofit aimed at raising awareness about global gender issues, an antiperspirant hand lotion, drone technology for farmers, an online fashion blog and a platform for budding artists to print and share their work.

Senior Ben Schwab, for example, is working with his team (comprised of two fellow engineers, Alan Ni and Jay Wang) on SMSmart, an Android application that extends access to the Internet by sending data through text messages instead of expensive and restricted 3G/4G networks (and winner of last month’s ACC Startup Madness). Schwab says that SMSmart has seen large adoption in its first couple weeks, primarily after it was featured in the popular Internet blog, Lifehacker (read the article here).

Arun Karottu, also a senior, co-founded an e-waste recycling company, Smart Metals Recycling, with his colleague, Shelly Li. The company partnered with Statesville, N.C.-based L. Gordon Iron & Metal Co. this past August and is already making profit.

Senior Ashley Qian was featured in ExitEvent this past fall when she was working on a software platform for homeless shelters to organize their client data and manage tasks. This summer, she’ll take a software engineering job at DIY, a company that offers creative educational opportunities for kids using technology.

Cube alumni Tatiana Birgisson of Mati Energy and Jake Stauch of NEURO+ are currently members of Durham’s American Underground. Both have raised venture capital and are successfully selling products (energy drinks for Mati and brain training exercises for kids with ADHD for NEURO+) in the market. Earlier this month, Birgisson made national news for winning Google Demo Day in Silicon Valley and receiving a $100K investment from AOL co-founder Steve Case.

After four intense weeks of interviews, applications and events, The Cube invited five freshman members to join the living community. They include Adam Tache (Computer Science), Harini Sridhar (Arts and Health), Helen Lu (Economics and Chemistry), Ade Okunyade (Economics and Math) and Arjun Devarajan (Electrical and Computer Engineering/Computer Science).

Says Devarajan about the decision to join: “Entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation drive our world. When I heard about the student group on campus that revolves around these three components, I had to get involved. Limitless in its scope for opportunities, ideas and motivation, The Cube is something I am proud and excited to be a part of for the upcoming three years.”

Many come into The Cube with several interests and a desire to realize them in the form of a company. After four years, Cube members have experienced some level of success with entrepreneurship and are equipped to enter the space more formally upon graduation. We look forward to seeing what Adam, Harini, Helen, Ade, and Arjun bring to Duke and Triangle entrepreneurship in the next couple of years.

Pictured above from left to right: Harini Sridhar, Ade Okunyade, Helen Lu, Arjun Devarajan, Adam Tache.