Posted on 4/4/2013. Interview by Howie Rhee
Tell us about yourself
Tell us about your time at Duke, what were you involved in?
While at Duke I've been a researcher at the Duke Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, where I conducted independent and collaborative EEG research in the fields of attention, neuroeconomics, and neuromarketing.
I was also a founding member of InCube, Duke's live-in entrepreneurship accelerator, and an active participant of DUhatch, Duke's student business incubator. I also participated in the inaugural class of the Summer Innovation Program.
What's your major/program and when will you be graduating? Tell us something about your educational experience at Duke.
I'm a declared Biology major, Economics minor, but I've split my coursework equally among neuroscience, biology, and economics classes and I'm not close My expected graduation date is in the Spring of 2014.
Despite having no ambitions for med school, I went on the first global health summer program in South Africa in 2011. I was the only non-premed student on trip, but it's been by far my favorite academic experience as a Duke student.
Tell us about your idea.
NeuroSpire makes it easy to gather consumer insights with EEG technology (brain scans). We've developed a software platform that makes these so-called "neuromarketing" studies efficient and inexpensive for companies. The NeuroSpire platform is now in use in over 20 countries around the world.
How did you come up with your idea? When did you come up with it?
I was sitting in an intro neuroscience class at Duke when I saw a slide showing a research participant looking at Godiva chocolates inside an fMRI scanner. I was instantly enthralled by the concept, and sought to make these kinds of studies more affordable and accessible to the mass market.
How did you meet your team members?
I recruited my partner and software developer Jeroen Kools after using his open source application "Experiment Wizard" which made EEG neuroscience experiments easier for undergraduate students. I knew his experience and prior work would make him an incredible addition to the team.
Shilpi Kumar '13 was brought on recently after I was introduced to her by a mutual friend. Her experience in marketing and working in a neuroscience lab made her ideal for our marketing director position.
How has the Duke Start-Up Challenge been helpful to you?
Above all it's been helpful to gain exposure to mentors in the community. After competing in the 2011 Duke Start-Up Challenge Elevator Pitch Competition I had the chance to meet with several of the judges, and those relationships with successful local entrepreneurs were key in NeuroSpire's early success.
The Duke Start-Up Challenge provides a lot of feedback from over 100 judges. Can you talk about that experience of reviewing the feedback?
To be perfectly honest it was a bit overwhelming. There was a good deal of good constructive criticism on some parts of our materials, but at the same time there was a lot of conflicting advice. When most of the judges remain anonymous it can be difficult to sift through and prioritize all that feedback to really gauge what issues need to be tackled.
Did you connect with any judges for advice, and if so, who were they and was it helpful?
No, most of the judges chose to remain anonymous, and we have a great network of local entrepreneurs (who have been judges in previous competitions) to bounce ideas off of.
What advice do you have for Duke students that are thinking of starting a company?
Do it! Do it now, and don't ever look back. The biggest reasons student entrepreneurs fail is that they either don't ever try, or they think too much about having a back-up plan (jobs, internship, etc.) that the startup can never make it past the first crisis. My advice: throw away the back-up plan and go all in.
Anything else you’d like to say?
It's been an amazing experience, and I'm so happy to see all these great teams advance. I look forward to seeing the quality of teams continue to improve in coming years!
Want more? Watch the videos and read the other interviews for all of the Round 3 teams in the Duke Start-Up Challenge
And join us for the Grand Finale with David Cummings ’02 for the 14th Annual Duke Start-Up Challenge on Thursday, April 11th, 2013 at 7:30pm ET at Fuqua’s Geneen Auditorium. RSVP on Facebook
Not able to attend in person? Watch the livestream on Duke’s YouTube channel.