Reflecting Back on DSV 2019

In one word, The Ronald & Carrie Ludwig Duke in Silicon Valley program was phenomenal. In late May, 24 students entered as the 2019 cohort. One month later, one family returns to Duke with unparalleled experiences, opportunities, skills, connections, memories, and friendships. 

The diversity of interests and backgrounds strengthened the uniqueness of our cohort. To give you the numbers, we have 24 students from 11 states and 3 countries pursuing 13 different majors and 12 I&E certificates. I thought participating in the program without knowing any other students would be difficult. However, almost instantaneously after arriving in Mountain View, I had become close friends with the entire group. Not only did we engage in academic activities together, we shared every aspect of our lives for a month together. From visiting the Golden Gate Bridge to conquering escape rooms, we studied, worked, traveled, ate, explored, and had fun together. 

Each of our days involved class at the Computer History Museum and a site visit. . Professor Salman Azhar taught our I&E course, and he was simply magnificent. In the first week of class, he instilled an open, honest, and inclusive classroom environment. This enabled us to have intellectual, sincere, and fun discussions. One topic that resonated with me was the importance of being authentic and vulnerable. Authenticity is imperative in order to develop meaningful relationships and have deep conversations. This program did a great job incorporating and reinforcing that concept through team-building activities and class. In addition to traditional class time, we often had guest speakers who ranged from venture capitalists to nonprofit executives. 

The topics we learned included communication techniques, decision analysis, the lean startup, the business model canvas, ethnography, situation analysis, design thinking, and much more. This breadth of topics seemed intimidating, but Salman never failed to explain each in depth while educating the class in an interactive, exciting, and memorable way.  He encouraged each of us to embrace a technologically-curious and entrepreneurial mindset. He personalized his teaching style for every individual and constantly made jokes to keep class energetic. The academic aspect of Duke in Silicon Valley was terrific. 

The site visits were a signature component of the program. There is no other program at Duke where students can receive firsthand experience and knowledge directly from well-known tech giants and promising startups. 

Kevin Hoch arranged the site visits and is a fantastic director for the program. The variety of companies he coordinated visits for consistently appealed to the majority of our cohort. At most site visits, we were able to meet with Duke alumni working at the company and learn about their journeys. Each company had different events planned: campus tours, speaker presentations, and workshops. At each site visit, there was a large amount of time for Q&A, allowing us to ask insightful questions, helping us learn more about the company and individual career paths. 

TeslaIn the first week, we visited Smartcar API, Stanford, Google, Tesla and toured the Computer History museum. It was interesting to learn about and contrast aspects of a small startup with a large corporation. The Duke alumni at both companies also provided their advice on what to do after college. 

Our cohort visited Affirm, Netflix, ThirdLove, YouTube, Apple, and Planet Labs in the second week. The wide range of industries and types of companies allowed us to familiarize ourselves with different company cultures and lifestyles. My favorite visit was to Apple’s headquarters, Apple Park, in Cupertino. The massive donut-shaped building is a mile in diameter and an architectural feat – it was completed in April 2017 and was Steve Jobs’ last project before he passed away in 2011. Netflix

The third week, we met Ron and Carrie Ludwig. We also visited Impossible Foods, Uber, LinkedIn, Hyp3r, the San Francisco Giants, Palantir, and Rothy’s. The San Francisco Giants game was the highlight of the trip for most of our cohort. We took pictures with the Giant’s three championship rings and World Series trophies. It was a tremendously fun and memorable site visit. 

In the fourth and final week, we visited Accenture, Facebook, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, Instacart, and Carbon 3D. And just like that, our one month program had concluded so quickly. We are so incredibly appreciative and grateful for this amazing opportunity. When we return to Duke in the fall, keep an eye out for all of our new startups! 

Philip Liu is a rising sophomore from Austin, TX intending to double major in Mechanical Engineering and Economics. Philip is a tour guide for the Undergraduate Admissions Office and the Pratt School of Engineering, a member on the Duke Student Alumni Board, a contributing writer to the DukEngineer Magazine, and the Co-Founder of the Duke robotics service organization. 

DSV Week Four: Making the Connections

IMG_3364On the fourth and final week of Duke in Silicon Valley, our group continued with visits to Accenture, Facebook, Goodby Silverstein and Partners, Instacart, and Carbon 3D. It’s baffling that in spite of the multiple visits and class sessions preceding this week, we are still learning something new. Many times the advice and guidance we hear from the alumni and guest lecturers go hand-in-hand with much of our class discussions. While visiting Accenture, we had a chance to perform sales pitches that would serve as practice for presenting our final projects later in the week. When speaking with Pamela Hawley of UniversalGiving, her career was uplifted from a passion she had when she was only twelve, an idea discussed frequently in past visits. It’s amazing to notice the patterns and similarities in so many great entrepreneurs that have ultimately laid the foundation for their successful companies today.IMG_3360

The companies that really attracted my attention were those that were immersive, and Accenture was one such corporation. The business itself is a global Fortune 500 company that provides services in strategy, consulting, digital, technology and operation. Our group visited the consulting firm, where we were able to learn about some of the work the business accomplishes on a day-to-day basis. The reason that I say day-to-day rather than monthly or yearly basis is that the firm is typically looking to take on a new challenge each day. Our class was challenged to solve health coverage for different personas, and this is where the immersive experience was in full effect. Rather than the speakers lecturing us on how their team would maneuver through the process, our group would try to solve the problems first and then be provided with feedback and guidance. I wish there was more time so we could have attempted other cases.

One of the visits that many of the students were looking forward to the most was Facebook, and it certainly did not disappoint. I am still baffled by the fact that a college student working in his dorm room nearly fifteen years ago could turn an idea into one of the largest social media platforms in the world. When reflecting on Mark Zuckerberg’s experience, however, it should not come as a surprise. Zuckerberg found a problem that millions of people wanted to be solved: a way to connect with friends in a simple manner, and this could be achieved as tech was escalating. Zuckerberg scaled the start-up into a successful enterprise by meeting people’s needs and by surrounding himself with other aspiring workers. One such partner was Deborah Liu, who is the current vice president of Facebook’s Marketplace. Marketplace is a convenient destination on Facebook to discover, buy and sell items with people in your community. Facebook is about to launch their new cryptocurrency product, Libra, that will allow users to complete online transactions through the ‘Libra Wallet’. This new form of cryptocurrency was announced recently, and as can be expected with a large company, it received some backlash. When speaking with Deborah about this problem in particular, she emphasized the importance of always growing through how you take feedback. She said, “You can’t let negative comments crush you, and sometimes it’s actually what you need”. I think it’s fair to say that everyone has received negativity in one form or another in their life, but what separates the successful from the unsuccessful is what you do with it.

I chose to participate in the Duke in Silicon Valley program because I wanted to gain a better insight on Entrepreneurship not only through a classroom setting but also through our visits and guest speakers. In a typical class, there is so much information given that sometimes you don’t know which parts to take away from the experience. It was through the site visits where I noticed the similarities in what the alumni emphasized and the units we covered in class. I will take these connections with me and will know what points to draw back to in the near future. There are many people to thank for this one-of- a-kind journey, and I think I can speak for all my DSV peers when I say that I will be moving forward in my career with a new, ambitious head on my shoulders.


Ryan is a rising junior pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, a minor in Mathematics, and a certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Ryan anticipates gaining a vast amount of business insight from the companies in Silicon Valley that will supplement the Engineering degree he is working towards at Duke.



  1. “Accenture.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 21 June 2019,
  2. “Marketplace.” Buy and Sell Stuff Locally | Facebook Marketplace,

DSV Week Three: Innovation is Everywhere

Week three of Duke in Silicon Valley found our group of innovators and entrepreneurs visiting companies around the Bay Area, learning about tech companies, ranging from Uber and LinkedIn, to industries like venture capital. In addition, we continued to be mesmerized by Professor Salman Azar and the way in which he allows us to learn through his entrepreneurial experiences and the successes and failures behind them. A large theme that has continually been brought up is the question, “Is failure or success more beneficial?” Through our discussions with Prof. Azar and the speakers at our site visits, we have learned that there truly is not a distinct answer, but that there are benefits to both. We were also able to have breakfast with Duke alum Ron Ludwig and his wife, Carrie, and were able to hear about their own experiences in the industry.

On Tuesday, we visited Uber, where we spoke to Matt Alston, an Associate Product Manager who graduated from Duke in 2017, and Matthew Mengerink, Vice President of Core Infrastructure Engineering. In our discussions, we learned a great amount about product management and its unique features at Uber. We were also fortunate enough to learn about Matthew Mengerink’s path to Uber and his daily responsibilities at such a large and innovative company. Speaking with Matt, we gained insight into the benefits of working at such a large company in comparison to a start up and how his role has been affected. After our visit to Uber, we became intrigued by all the products that we would be able to work on if we were lucky enough to work at Uber.

On our final stop of the day, we visited LinkedIn and met with an array of former Duke students. LinkedInSpeaking to Kara, Alex, Raven, Pranshu, Logan, and Dhru allowed us to dig deep into their experiences in innovation and why they chose LinkedIn. This group were extremely authentic  – even to the point where we found out that Dhru owns more than 90 pairs of shoes! The roles of this group ranged from data science to product strategy and business operations, allowing each of us to gain a greater understanding of our passions. Through our tour of LinkedIn, we appreciated the sense of community there and how every worker came up to us excited to hear about our stories and why we were there. All in all, the opportunity to tour and speak to former Duke students from LinkedIn was phenomenal and truly encapsulated innovation in the workplace.

Overall, the information that we learn from speakers, site visits, and Professor Azhar has continued to be extraordinary as we gain an abundance of knowledge, thanks to being in Silicon Valley. The immersion of living in the Valley continues to be remarkable in how there is innovation at every moment in time. The room for innovation is only increasing and thanks to DSV, we are realizing how we will be able to enhance the world.


Nick is a rising sophomore pursuing a major in Electrical and Computer Engineering, Computer Science, and a certificate in Innovation & Entrepreneurship. During his first year, Nick was involved in Special Olympics, the Investment Club, and intramural sports. He chose to participate in the Duke in Silicon Valley program in order to speak to professionals in the technology industry and venture out to the beautiful west coast. In his free time, he loves to play basketball, read, and hang out with friends. He is interested in technology, entrepreneurship, and data science, searching for a career that can combine all three into his own company.

DSV Week Three: The Power of Mission & Vision


This week, we continued our visits to tech companies including Uber, LinkedIn, Palantir, and innovative start-ups, including Impossible Foods and Rothy’s. The common thread that I found between these companies is their mission-driven culture to solve critical problems.

Uber aims to bring smarter transportation to the world, LinkedIn connects the world’s professionals to make them more successful, Palantir helps institutions solve the most challenging and impactful problems, Impossible Foods produces plant-based meat to combat global warming, and Rothy’s creates fashionable and comfortable shoes for women to reduce waste by using plastic water bottles and 3D knitting technologies. Employees we met at these companies may work in different functions, such as engineering, marketing, operations, but they all are motivated by the company mission and are excited to create and improve products to solve problems that they care about. This left me with a deep impression and made me reflect on what a fulfilling job as an entrepreneurial problem-solver means.

Besides company visits, this week’s highlights were inspiring guest speakers and our visit to the San Francisco Giants Game. photo2

The first speaker we had was Sanj Goyle, a serial entrepreneur and the CEO at Finxera. He spent almost ten years building his latest venture Finxera and shared with us his experience pivoting the product use case before a successful exit. Another speaker we met at the Giants game was Bill Schlough, the Senior VP & CIO of SF Giants. Different from most people in the Valley who jump from one company to another, he has been with the Giants for almost twenty years and he oversees all technologies that are used for the operation of the Giants. The last speaker was Nick Zaldastani, a serial entrepreneur and an investor. He discussed his opinions on what makes Silicon Valley special, execution versus intention, the importance of integrity and transparency and more. Interestingly, although these three speakers talked to us on three separate days, all of them touched upon the topic of passion and had insightful perspectives.

We often hear people say “do what you are passionate about”. As cliche as it may sound, after hearing from all speakers, I believe it’s a piece of advice that’s worth following. Sanj suggested that not everyone’s success is related to passion and used enterprise software companies as a counterexample, saying that entrepreneurs who are working on enterprise software are not necessarily passionate about enterprise software. They are still successful because they are working on projects that they are good at. Instead of following the passion, he argued that we should leverage our strength and focus on solving the problem. Bill on the other hand, used his personal experience to demonstrate the value of “do what you are passionate about”. He is a huge fan of all types of sports and has always been fascinated by the athletic spirit. He played three types of sports at Duke and always wanted to combine his true passion and his work, so he found his job at Giants perfect. To him, there’s no so-called “work-life balance” because his work is part of this life: he loves being at the Ballpark, he takes his kids to games often, and he even uses his spare time to participate in Olympic organizing activities. Similarly, Nick also emphasizes the importance of passion by using the comparison between the word “drive” and the word “passion”: “drive” is external and “passion” is internal. People who are driven can be successful, but they are not necessarily happy. Passion is critical to what we do because it is the reason why we do it.


Lin is a rising senior at Duke University pursuing a double major in Statistical Science and Computer Science. She grew up in Shanghai and is very excited to visit Silicon Valley for the first time. She also enjoys reading, traveling, good food and spending time with friends and family.


DSV Week Two: Unconventional Journeys to Disruptive Innovation

We continued our second week by visiting YouTube’s main offices in San Bruno. YouTube is the world’s largest video-sharing website founded in 2005. YouTube innovated quickly and grew larger than even Google’s own video streaming service, so Google acquired the company in 2006. Under Google, the company has been growing continuously and is now being used by millions of people worldwide. It was very inspiring to have a glimpse into how YouTube delivers their service and innovates on new products. 

After a tour of the offices, we met and talked with a panel of Duke alumni working in a variety of roles in YouTube, ranging from product management to data science. I found the journey of Tom Price (’06), a product manager for YouTube’s growth platform, to be particularly interesting. Unlike most Duke graduates we met so far working in the tech industry in Silicon Valley, Tom did not graduate college with a technical background. Instead, he studied French at Duke and worked as a paralegal in Paris for a few years after college. He then worked at an advertising company that was eventually acquired by Google, where he stayed since. I found Tom’s story to be inspiring, as it shows an unconventional career path in the tech industry. There is no single, prescriptive path to technology or innovation; instead, we should all seek to forge our own unique paths. As students, we should always try to keep an open mind, and seek out the opportunities that are most interesting to us. 


Next, we had the opportunity to visit Apple Park, Apple’s recently built headquarters in Cupertino. After immersing ourselves in the campus’ grand architecture that deeply reflects Apple’s design philosophy of simplicity, we met with Eddy Cue (T ’86). He joined Apple in 1989, and is now Senior VP of Internet Software and Services. He spoke to us regarding how Apple was able to grow and become the successful and innovative company it is today. In particular, he talked about how Apple was always able to focus on quality, not quantity. Unlike most competitors, Apple focuses on delivering the highest quality products, not the highest number of products. That philosophy, combined with Apple’s track record of seizing the right opportunities at the right times, helped propel the company to success.

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After sharing his experiences working at Apple (especially during the period when Steve Jobs was fired and then later brought back as CEO), Eddy also touched upon the importance of leadership. Without the right leaders in place, an organization can quickly become stagnant and fail as incompetence can quickly permeate throughout a company. On the other hand, the best leaders for a company are needed to steer it in the right direction. Lastly, Eddy shared with us his vision for the future: he foresees an increase in wearable devices, and connected services that integrate personal health and consumer technology. 

Our last stop of the week was Planet Labs, an Earth imaging company that operates one of the largest constellations of imaging satellites to date. The company is able to capture images of the entire Earth at incredible resolution, once every day. It then sells its data and insights to clients who may use the data to improve land usage, serve humanitarian missions, achieve civil/defense goals, or aid academic research. At Planet Labs, we spoke to Emmanuel Lim, a Duke mechanical engineering graduate who originally planned to go into academia but pivoted into spacecraft design engineering at Planet Labs instead. He introduced us to the idea of agile development in the space industry, which involves bringing the fast-paced nature of software development that is already deeply ingrained in Silicon Valley culture to developing spacecraft. This idea is especially refreshing and innovative in a field that is traditionally dominated by government and immensely expensive, multi-year projects. Seeing the development and testing of satellites in-house was very impressive, and it shows that great ideas can quickly disrupt traditional modes of thinking and drive innovation. 

This week has been a great learning experience, as we not only continued to explore companies working at the forefront of their respective industries, but also met with Duke alumni who spoke to us about their own personal experiences and careers. I am looking forward to next week, as we continue to learn and experience all that Silicon Valley has to offer. 

Alex Xu is a rising sophomore from Long Island, New York pursuing a major in Electrical and Computer Engineering. In his free time, Alex enjoys traveling, hiking, and outdoor photography. Through Duke in Silicon Valley, Alex is excited to learn more about entrepreneurship and commercialization in the tech industry.

DSV Week Two: There’s a Place for Everyone

Our visits this week truly focused on the idea that people from all different types of backgrounds can find their home in Silicon Valley. Tech and consumer companies need team members from a variety of disciplines like sales, marketing, finance, and software engineering to operate, and it’s the combination of these skills that truly make a firm successful. Understanding how these functions are interconnected was an essential part of this week’s visits to Affirm, Netflix, ThirdLove, and Baris Akis, Founder and Managing Partner of Nav Talent.

At Affirm, we spoke to the VP of Communications, Elizabeth Allin, who talked to us about the company’s origins, as well as how the company’s service is marketed and its future growth potential.  Affirm essentially focuses on making consumer goods more affordable by allowing users to pay for products in installment over time with low interest. Learning about this process and the company’s commitment to increasing transparency in the financial services industry aligned in accordance to concepts we discussed in class, such as ensuring that products serve utility in an industry and solve a problem for consumers. We then spoke to members of Affirm’s data science team to learn about the more technical aspects of the service such as how the company uses algorithms and machine learning to decide whether to approve customers for a loan. We talked to members of the sales team and product development team as well and appreciated that we could see how members of different teams viewed the product through a unique lens to frame their decisions impacting the company.


On Tuesday we visited Netflix. Netflix approached our visit in a similar manner as Affirm, with the goal to teach us about all different aspects of the company’s operations. We learned about how original shows are created, the data science behind personalizing each user’s experience, and what markets Netflix hopes to expand into in the future. Engaging in these conversations helped us think about how we may fit into these roles in the future and talking about the backgrounds of people at the company pursuing these roles gave us insight into what paths we may take to garner the same skills.


We also visited ThirdLove, where we heard from Founder and CEO, Heidi Zak, about why she started a company that empowers women of all sizes to find their fit for the intimates they wear. We discussed supply chain management and the company’s merchandising strategy with its team members and also learned more about the algorithms that help them identify distinct customer segments for marketing/advertising purposes.


Finally, guest speaker Baris Akis, Founder and CEO of Nav Talent, came to class to speak to us about his journey as an entrepreneur and where Nav Talent serves utility as an effective career planning tool. His novel approach bridged the gap between high growth startups and high-achieving students from technical backgrounds, matching these students to jobs within the company. We heard about the multifaceted roles of members of his team such as the interns who plan events at various colleges, advisors who serve as the liaison between the student and companies, and the role of his executive team in strategizing for the company’s future growth.

This week in one word: holistic. Tech is more than its technical roles, and there’s a place for everyone’s individual skills and interests here in Silicon Valley.

Vandita Garimella is a rising sophomore intending on studying Computer Science and Public Policy with a Statistics Minor. At Duke, she is an Analyst with the Duke Impact Investing Group, on the High School Mentorship Committee for Business Oriented Women, and will be on the Marketing Committee for DUU this upcoming school year. In her free time, she loves to watch TED talks, dance, and spend time with friends. Vandita is very interested in entrepreneurship and wants to learn more about how companies are using tech to impact their unique industries, as well as how company leaders work to create collaborative and innovative working environments that largely define the culture of Silicon Valley.

DSV Week One: Kicking it off on the Cutting-Edge

“Using knowledge for the service of society!” -Brenda, Tesla Tour Guide regarding the amazing opportunity of DSV

Week one of Duke in Silicon Valley took our cohort of students around the Bay Area, presenting learning opportunities in and out of the classroom. There’s no better place to start than with our professor Salman Azar. Prof. Azar’s unique approach to teaching has encouraged us to think like entrepreneurs. By investigating his lectures and creating in depth conversations with our peers, we have learned to dig deeper and realize the true cause of innovation: challenging the current norms of society to create a more efficient world. This has also been reinforced at the sites we visited last week.


Our first visit was to Smartcar API, a software company which allows consumers to connect their vehicles to an app. Utilizing their platform allows owners to locate their vehicles, pull a VIN number, lock/unlock their doors, and make car sharing easy. While we were all impressed by the concept of the company, it was especially interesting talking to Duke graduates working at the startup. What once was a team of two has now grown to over twenty thanks to the help of people such as Jeremy Zhang, ’17 and Sydney Palumbo, ’18. They discussed the benefits of working for a small company, such as working with various teams and learning different parts of the business. Being able to hear former Duke students talk with pride about being integral parts of Smartcar’s expansion truly embodied the spirit of Silicon Valley. I believe many students on the DSV program became interested in working with a startup after our visit to Smartcar.

We then had the great opportunity to visit Google. At Google, we received a different perspective of innovation from another Duke graduate David Thacker, ’97. Mr. Thacker talked to us about his position as a product management VP at a leading company in the technology industry. It was interesting to hear him speak about his work with applications we as students use so often in our academic careers, such as Gmail and Google Docs. He connected his position to Google’s mission statement: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Though we consume Google’s technology on a daily basis, we never think about what their goals are as a business. While being one of the biggest companies in the world, Google continues to focus on innovation and finding new ways to improve the lives of its users. Not to mention their basketball court, putting green, swimming pool, and cool water bottles.

Our final stop of week one culminated in our factory tour of Tesla. The pinnacle of vehicle innovation was showcased in their 5.3 million square foot factory, larger than Vatican City. Their world class facility produces cars “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” Robots everywhere smelting, pressing, cutting, and building amazed us. The technology used in Tesla factory is not only incredible in itself, but its ability to create vehicles which environmentally benefit the planet exemplifies Silicon Valley as a center of cutting-edge technology. However, make sure you wear long pants if you want to go on the tour, or you might have to be innovative!


Overall, DSV has already provided us with an enormous breadth of knowledge after only one week. Inside and outside of the classroom, being immersed in Silicon Valley has allowed us to witness innovation and entrepreneurship at its forefront. I look forward to continuing the program and making the most of the incredible opportunity we are experiencing.

Evan is a rising junior from New York City majoring in Public Policy, minoring in Political Science, and pursuing a certificate in Innovation & Entrepreneurship. His interest in entrepreneurship has sparked from his involvement in Bull City Beds, a student run company which provides luxury bed rentals. He hopes to sharpen his skills by immersing himself in the unique culture present in Silicon Valley. Outside of the classroom, his interests include New York sports, cooking, traveling, and philanthropy.

What We Learned: DSV in Three Words

It feels as though it was just yesterday that we were meeting each other, making our first trip to Safeway, and touring the Plug and Play Tech Center where we would have class for the next month.  We were in awe, curious, and invigorated by Mountain View’s beautiful and homey scenery and by the remarkable list of companies we were scheduled to visit.  In fact, even after a month of exploring the area, learning about sustaining a successful enterprise, and being exposed to technology we did not know existed, we remain in awe, curious, and very invigorated. Silicon Valley is home to more than just “innovation”.  It is a global hub where people who want to change and improve human life can join their thoughts and collaborate to spark something incredible.  What has become more and more clear to me is that this modern technological revolution has barely even begun.  As we came to understand at our visit to Google on Monday, the future is not only about maintaining businesses, but about thinking in “10X mode” to better experiences for everyone.


The last week of our Silicon Valley marathon included demos at ABB’s fascinating robot laboratory, an informative lunch at Canaan Partners, a compelling presentation and tour of Google’s Mountain View headquarters, networking and learning valuable skills at LinkedIn, and having inspiring conversation with the partners of Freestyle Capital.  It was a perfect mix for our last week, spanning topics from robotics to venture capital and companies with 4 employees to over 85,000.  If I could sum up our experience in three words, it would be innovation, passion, and people.

in·no·va·tion |ˌinəˈvāSH(ə)n|noun

  1. The action or process of making changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products.

Innovation is an action or process.  It is current, continuous, and growing as I sit here writing. The companies we have met with have emphasized that while they are aware of their pasts and the present, they are always looking forward.  They want to figure out ways to provide convenience, opportunity, safety, and enjoyment in all of our lives and are doing so in ways that I could never imagine. Carbon is using 3D printing, an already novel concept, to allow humans to customize dental models and shoes for optimal fit, plus many other applications.   Zume Pizza harnesses artificial intelligence to make predictions for speedily cooking and delivering yummy pizza, and I am staying tuned to see what will be next.  Google started with a search engine, expanded to allowing us to become friends with the rooms in our households, and is now using helium balloons to provide internet access to rural areas.  I originally thought that I was only going to learn about past success stories, but I have been overjoyed to realize that we still have so much to explore.

pas·sion |ˈpaSHən| noun

  1. Strong and barely controllable emotion.

Being passionate is contagious.  I have been so uplifted in listening to our speakers enthusiastically share what motivates them and how their journeys have shaped their careers.  It is so truly empowering to me that our speakers each have such diverse interests and stories, yet they all revolve around a common mission to improve quality of life for humankind.  Whether it be volunteering in third-world countries, redefining women’s lingerie, 3D printing from a chemistry standpoint, designing electric cars, building robotic security guards, analyzing big data, or delivering groceries to homes, I am looking forward to similarly finding a way to utilize my passions to assist others.

peo·ple |ˈpēpəl|noun

  1. Human beings in general or considered collectively.


The beauty of people lies in the power of unique individuals communicating and working collectively.  While robots are becoming very intelligent and capable, people are what make all of this possible, and that is something that can never change.  Everyone who I have been able to meet, with many thanks to generous Duke alumni plus so many more, has eagerly welcomed our group of 25 students into their workspaces and openly shared their experiences, mistakes, values, and goals.  I am grateful to have been able to witness the mutual admiration among colleagues within the culture of many companies, as that is something that cannot simply be taught. Especially at Freestyle Capital and Canaan Partners recently, I loved watching our speakers interact in a way that exemplified how much respect and appreciation they had for each other’s complementary talents.

In the beginning of our program, I was excited to be surrounded by peers who had different majors than me but were also interested in innovation and entrepreneurship.  Other than learning about alternate approaches to a common theme, looking back, I had not yet recognized the true value of such diversity.  Now, as we have bonded over the past four weeks, I can look at these peers and confidently state that I would be thrilled to have the chance to work with any of them. Our creative engineers, computer science wizards, economics and finance geniuses, talented linguists and psychologists, Blockchain experts, and public policy enthusiasts are going to make an extraordinary team, and I am forever grateful to have connected with them.

To my peers and to Silicon Valley, see you very soon.

Camaren Dayton is a rising sophomore studying Mechanical Engineering, Visual Arts, and Innovation and Entrepreneurship.  She is interested in combining these fields to use design as a means of empowering and encouraging others.  At Duke, she is the Marketing and Outreach Director for FEMMES (Females Engaging in More Math, Science, and Engineering is a club connecting Duke volunteers with local elementary schools to lead STEM activities for girls) and will be a studio manager at Duke’s Arts Annex this year.  She enjoys running, hiking with friends and family, going to farmer’s markets, and reading the Skimm.

Bringing it all together: Lessons from Silicon Valley

As our Duke in Silicon Valley experience comes to a close, I am ready to go home, but also reluctant to leave this amazing place and program. These past four weeks have been challenging, thought-provoking, exhausting, invigorating, incredibly valuable, and everything in between. We have spent days tested by Professor Azhar in class, bonding with my classmates on long bus rides to San Francisco, and picking the minds of industry leaders about everything from utilizing big data to enhance hurricane relief efforts to an algorithm that predicts the best bra size, and nights analyzing case studies, cooking with friends, and exploring the Bay.


DSV 2018 @ Google

In the past week, we visited the robot lab at ABB, spoke with associates at Canaan Partners, were hosted at Google, networked at LinkedIn, and finished the company visits with Freestyle Capital. At each of these visits, Duke alums and others spoke to us about their company culture and their career paths, while also offering advice and answering our many questions. The fact that we have visited such a diverse group of companies, from tech giants to minute start-ups, from grocery delivery platforms to venture capitalists, has contributed to a comprehensive view of the many opportunities that Silicon Valley has to offer. Our concluding visit of the program was to a tiny office in residential San Francisco, housing the small venture capital firm Freestyle. The majority of us agreed this was a phenomenal company to end the program, because of their genuine passion for innovation that was evident in their talk. Although each company has given us a unique perspective on the technological industry and Silicon Valley, a few themes have cemented all experiences – the importance of failure, the unparalleled value of a good team, and a desire to remake the world.

The classwork for the last section of the course has been centered around designing a game, incorporating principles of design, customer archetypes, and ethnographic skills that we have learned throughout the past four weeks. My group’s game was designed for “Peter the Plotter”, a customer who enjoys individual games that incorporate strategy. In our second to last class, we presented our games, playing and evaluating all the other groups. Although my group’s game, Loan Shark, fell flat in the engaging and fun aspects, we succeeded in being the most individual, player interactive, and deliberate games, which aligned with our customer archetype. Creating a game was a great way to consolidate all of our lessons about design, innovation, and empathizing with the customers into a final project.

While this program has given me a basic understanding of starting a company, it has also gifted me with a breadth knowledge of the lead tech companies, a network of gracious Duke alumni and other hosts, and an intimate understanding of the Silicon Valley culture and its culture of innovation. However, for me, the most valuable part of this experience has been creating lasting relationships with my inspiring, creative, and intelligent peers, many of whom I am positive will become industry leaders.



Audrey is a rising sophomore at Duke University who is majoring in Mechanical Engineering and pursuing a minor in Economics. She was born and raised in Dallas, Texas and attended a boarding school in Massachusetts. At Duke, Audrey is a TA for a freshman engineering class, involved with FEMMES and tutors local Durham students. Audrey is interested in technology startups and product design processes, and hopes her experience in Silicon Valley will provide a basis to further explore these topics. In her free time Audrey enjoys running, reading, and eating at new restaurants.

DSV Week Four: Embrace the Impossible

“It’s not a course. It’s an experience.”

These are the words we see on the screen every day we walk in our class that teaches us how to build and sustain a successful enterprise. These words could not be more true. Since starting Duke In Silicon Valley, I have been introduced and exposed to many things inside and outside of the course that have made attending this program one of the best decisions I’ve ever made! I came to Duke in Silicon Valley not really knowing what to expect. I had never been to California. I had never even been on a plane! I was never exposed to tech companies or startups. All I knew is that I was open to seeing any and everything these startups-and San Francisco, I was still a tourist, ya know!- had to offer, and if it would help me find clarity on how I would fit in the tech, entrepreneurial, and business world. Besides the many new experiences it has granted me (I now know the toils of a CALtrain and bus commuter and have tried many new foods that I can not pronounce or spell thanks to my DSV roommate), my favorite part of this program by far has been the lessons and advice I have received from the inspirational individuals who were once in my shoes based on THEIR experiences. Here are some valuable and encouraging themes that have stuck with me from this week.


We started the week off with a visit to Instacart where we talked to four Duke alumni. It was clear that the company had a great culture and took pride in cultivating it. There were posters of the company vision and values on the wall. During this visit, we met Ravi Gupta, CFO. Ravi spoke about learning from his experiences and the importance of not expecting life and your career path to be fully managed or handed to you. You have to put in work for what you want to do and create what you want to do. We all have heard how we should follow our passion, but Ravi talked about it with a different approach. He brought in the reality that some may not be able to follow their passion right out of school if they have other responsibilities, and that is okay. This really related to me, as I am constantly finding conflict between my passions and responsibilities. You can still create your career path and start doing what you are passionate about after putting in the work, and create a path that allows you to do what you are passionate about and also take care of responsibilities.



Zume Pizza boxes are sustainably made and can be composted!

This week, I was so inspired by the drive, passion, and focus of the people we talked to and learning what made those companies successful. Take Alex Garden, the CEO of Zume Pizza, for example. Alex was a high school dropout who’s drive allowed him to still secure a Microsoft internship and start multiple companies. Now, he hopes to completely change the food and delivery industry by using robots to make pizza, and ovens that cook the pizza while driving to the delivery locations. When he first came up with the idea, there was a lot of doubt from others in it, and it was difficult even finding someone to make the pizza ovens for him. However, they continued to focus, and not take no for an answer, and they achieved their goal. Now, he is making delicious pizza (my favorite was the buffalo chicken!) with  healthier ingredients and eliminating waste with their custom compostable box. The culture of having focus and drive seeps down from him unto every other member of the company we met, even the interns! They all had different backgrounds and majors and were each passionate about the projects they were doing to improve the startup. This really appealed to me. Many of these companies met plenty of “no’s”, which is very common in entrepreneurship. However, their ability to keep persisting and developing has led them to continue to be successful.

Perhaps one of my favorite conversations I have had with any Duke alumni so far was the one with Grant Kelly this week. He is a Global Supply Manager at Apple and has basically allowed his story to shape his passion, and ultimately his career path. As a child he grew up with Dyslexia, and was doubtful that he would be able to learn. He found solace in using a Mac computer which helped show him that he had a great ability to learn. Now he is working in what he considers his dream job at Apple, and studied what he loved and what challenged him; Economics and Music. His advice is simple, but deep: major in what you love and what you feel challenges you, and constantly question yourself on why you like doing what you are doing or why you are attracted to certain opportunities. Eventually, this constant reflection will allow you to articulate your story, figure out how you differentiate yourself from others, and why and how it relates to what careers you want to do.

Before coming to DSV, I was constantly thinking that in order to succeed in the business, tech and entrepreneurial world, I may need to have a tech major or minor. However, both stories from Alex and Grant have motivated me to stay true and confident with who I am, what I am interested in, and what I bring to the table.


“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” This HenryEO3 Ford quote has been mentioned by many speakers during this entire program. To me, this means people know what problems they want to solve, but it is sometimes impossible for them to fathom doing it in innovative ways. I think this week is where we really got to see the most innovative and seemingly impossible ways people have solved problems. This included seeing the meticulous work put into making TESLA vehicles when taking the TESLA factory tour, and hearing how much it helps the environment. It also included talking to Knightscope CEO, William Santana Li, who has created robots to help with surveillance and security of the United States, an area where little innovation has been done and where the government has not provided much funding. We visted ABB, another startup, that creates robots to improve efficiency in many different industries. All of these companies seem to be doing things before their time, but this innovation is definitely needed for the problems that we endure now. Three speakers this week spoke on how powerful it is to think about the impossible and work to achieve it, versus thinking about what has already been done. A huge part of this is being cognizant of your surroundings and the problems that arise around you, and thinking of different ways to solve those problems. Another question to get you to reflect on ways to be entrepreneurial includes a question that Nicholas Zaldastani’s dad started asking him every night; “What did you learn today that can make tomorrow better?”


At ABB Robotics Lab

After this week, I have come to realize the importance of being a self-starter that constantly creates her own path, practicing reflection frequently to help with knowing your story, and constantly being aware of problems around you and thinking of creative ways to solve them, even if they seem far-fetched. Overall, this program has been amazing, and I doubt that I could ever do justice with trying to share all of the once in a lifetime experiences I have had so far. This program has exceeded my expectations. This has truly been a program to remember with so much advice and words of wisdom I will follow for a lifetime!

Ehime Ohue is a native of Santee, South Carolina, but has recently moved to Waldorf, MD. She is a rising junior majoring in Public Policy Studies with an Innovation and Entrepreneurship Certificate.At Duke, She is a DuWELL intern, research assistant and a member of Nakisai African Dance Team, United in Praise Praise Dance Team, Movement of Youth, Every Nation Campus Ministry . She loves to learn new things, sleep, read, and catch up on her latest Netflix show addictions. She is participating in DSV to learn about developing her own venture and to gain exposure to different types of businesses to help her gain clarity on her career choices.