Posted on 4/4/2013. Interview by Howie Rhee
Tell us about yourself
Jack Beuttell '14: Happily unmarried (although sometimes I feel like I m married to Dave) and a huge fan of North Carolina. I’m an outdoorsman, and my favorite thing to do in the area is run the trails at Eno River State Park. I worked for an international real estate investment firm before coming to Duke to pursue a dual degree in business and environmental management. I come from a citrus family in Florida, have worked as a ranch-hand in Colorado and Montana, and have consulted for an agricultural private equity firm. I love writing, playing music, photography, and doing pretty much anything outside.
Tell us about your time at Duke, what were you involved in?
What's your major/program and when will you be graduating? Tell us something about your educational experience at Duke.
Dave: The Fuqua School of Business, Candidate for MBA, Class of 2013
Jack: The Fuqua School of Business, Candidate for MBA, Class of 2014. Nicholas School of the Environment, Masters of Environmental Management, Class of 2014
Tell us about your idea.
VentureFarming is a scalable farm incubator that employs a risk diversification approach to launch and sustain beginning organic farmers. Its resource-rich environment enables beginning farmers to develop the experience, confidence and credibility they need to persist as career farmers, which in turn leads to resilient and prosperous communities that eat healthier, live longer and preserve the American agricultural tradition.
How did you come up with your idea? When did you come up with it?
Jack and I originated VentureFarming during the summer of 2012. After winning a social entrepreneurship seed prize in February of that year, we dedicated ourselves to exploring business opportunities in sustainable agriculture by meeting with people up and down the value chain. The result of those efforts is VentureFarming.
How did you meet your team members?
Jack and I met at a CASE (Fuqua’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship) social hour in August 2011 at the beginning of our careers at Fuqua. We had both been working in sustainable agriculture, most notably, holistic cattle ranch management, and decided that our shared interests, knowledge, and experience would warrant a more formal working relationships. In early 2012, we decided to jointly enter Fuqua’s CASE Seed Prize for Social Entrepreneurs. Fortunately, we were granted the Seed Prize and have been working on sustainable agriculture ventures since that day.
How has the Duke Start-Up Challenge been helpful to you?
The Duke Start-Up Challenge forced us to think through the essential elements of creating a business, write a meaningful business plan, and plan important milestones, all of which has increased our probability of 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?
The feedback from judges has been helpful in refining our idea and examining the business plan from different perspectives. Every judge came to our business plan with a different background and perspective. To some the problem we are addressing was clear and compelling; to others not so much. Judge feedback offered a balance of affirmation and critique that simultaneously strengthened our conviction and toughened our skin.
What advice do you have for Duke students that are thinking of starting a company?
Start early, work hard, and seek advice. Transparency about business plans and ideas clearly has more benefits than drawbacks. Getting a variety of perspectives is important for successful development and execution of your business ideas.
There are a lot of resources available at Duke and in Durham, but it’s often difficult to find them amidst the flurry of emails and announcements. Be intentional and persistent and decide what opportunities are most valuable.
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.