Interested in the Startup Lab? Learn more about program operations here.


What is the timeline for the 2017-2018 Startup Lab program?

Applications for the 2017-2018 program are open from May 31st-June 30th. We interview finalists in mid-July and will select our next class by the end of July. The Startup Lab runs from October 2, 2017- June 30, 2018. The program is divided into three 3-month segments; October-December 2017, January-March 2018, and April-June 2018. In the first segment, we lay the foundation for research collaboration through BE education and research exploration. During these first three months, startups also get acquainted with the CAH’s community of researchers—a diverse, quirky, and sharp group who share a love for positively influencing behavior for the good of others. In the following segments, startups have the opportunity to deepen their partnership with CAH researchers by collaborating on a research project related to the problem they’re tackling. The program’s 3-month segments build in natural checkpoints to reaffirm that each CAH-Startup partnership continues to be in each party’s best interests. Upon mutual agreement at the end of each segment, the relationship with each startup is renewed for the next segment.

How is the Startup Lab program structured?

Segment 1: October-December Emphasis on Behavioral Economics education and exploration. During the first three months, startups gain a foundational understanding of behavioral economics and how to approach applying behavioral insights to their products through a curated curriculum and facilitated interactions with the lab and its network. Startups get to know researchers and are encouraged to initiate continuous conversations. We aim to uncover mutual research interests in these first few months and set startup teams up to collaborate with researchers. Segments 2 & 3: January- March and April- June Emphasis on Research Collaboration. If mutual interest in research persists and startups form high-potential relationships with researchers they desire to work with, then startups move into a 6-month research collaboration. Startups will focus (at their own pace, but within the 6-month timeframe) on working with CAH researcher(s) to plan, execute, and analyze a research project. Researchers must opt in to startup-related projects through a relationship with a startup established over continuous conversation and mutual research interests.

What does it mean to be an “academic incubator”, as the Startup Lab is described?

Since the Startup Lab is a startup incubator embedded in a research center at Duke University, it represents the fusion of entrepreneurship with academia. We describe the program as an “academic incubator” because, unlike many traditional incubator or accelerator programs, the Startup Lab focuses heavily on education and applying academic research. We value intellectual exploration, rigorous testing, and letting solutions form out of existing knowledge and new research insights. Our 9-month timeline reflects our desire for entrepreneurs to spend time thinking, exploring, and experimenting—all in the name of truly effective tech solutions.

What does the ideal startup team look like for this program?

We look for health or finance-focused startups that are solving pressing problems related to behavior and decision-making. Startups that fit well with the CAH’s mission are those that have a passion for helping people live healthier and wealthier lives and demonstrate that the ability to positively influence behavior is central to their proposed tech solution. We work well with startups that are early stage enough to be willing to explore and thoughtfully consider research that may alter their direction or development, but that also have at least a working prototype that can support deploying experiments. We love entrepreneurs who are intensely curious, love to read, explore, and contemplate research, and are bought-in to the importance of rigorous experimenting. Entrepreneurs who are enthusiastic about building collaborative relationships and getting their hands dirty in designing and executing experiments thrive here at the CAH. We’re looking for quirky problem solvers invested in designing useful, impactful solutions and approaching behavior change from a research-backed perspective.

Where does the Startup Lab program take place?

Durham, North Carolina! The CAH offices are located at the American Tobacco Campus, a buzzing campus of renovated tobacco warehouses that serve as a hub for food, entertainment, and innovation in downtown Durham. Durham boasts a thriving and quickly growing entrepreneurship community that consistently draws national recognition. Supported by three nearby research universities, the Triangle area is a hotbed for innovation and academia. This rich ecosystem, combined with a friendly “help everyone” mentality, makes Durham an ideal place to grow a startup. Opportunities, resources, and connections abound (not to mention a flourishing foodie scene).

Are startups expected to be in Durham for the entire 9 months?

Yes, startups are expected to allocate the large majority of their time to being in Durham. We believe the most successful collaborations come out of being physically present. In order to provide the most value for startups, we ask that they immerse themselves with us! But we’re reasonable people too—we understand that travel needs arise (both business and personal). We only ask that you yield as best you can to the Startup Lab’s program schedule (which will be available to you in full at the start of the program), and that you communicate your time out of town in advance as much as possible.

What resources does the Startup Lab provide?

Apart from the core offering of the Startup Lab (a behavioral economics education, access to research, and collaborative relationships with social scientists that produce startup-specific experiments and valuable insights into human behavior), our incubator provides:

  1. Incredible office space in downtown Durham
  2. Any supplies or equipment needed during the program
  3. Endless tea and coffee during the week, and happy hours when Friday afternoon hits
  4. Investment of up to $60,000
  5. Access to the CAH’s internal tools and educational resources
  6. Connections to the Duke community and resources (for example, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship provides a network of experienced startup founders and investors)
  7. Access to the Triangle’s rich startup community (for example, booming startup hub American Underground is a quick stroll up the street)
  8. Lab fun! Foosball, ping pong, spontaneous soccer meet-ups, and social outings…the list goes on.

What is the Startup Lab’s investment structure?

The CAH (Duke) invests up to $60,000 in each startup (disbursed in $20,000 investments once every 3 months during the 9-month program). The investment structure is as follows: October-December 2017: $20,000 investment, 5% equity January-March 2018: $20,000 investment, additional 1% equity (bringing total to $40,000 investment for 6% equity) April-June 2018: $20,000 investment, additional 1% equity (bringing final total to $60,000 investment for 7% equity) The arrangement we make with startups is an expertise for equity exchange (as opposed to a money for equity exchange). Startups gain access to CAH researchers, resources, and field expertise for 9 months. What we give in time, effort, and knowledge is not matched in worth by $60,000, but is much more valuable. As social scientists, we know from research that people often measure value based on a monetary anchor. So, without a price tag, it’s difficult to place a value on the relationships that startups build at the CAH during the Startup Lab. We’re looking for startups that see beyond financial incentive and are truly interested in investing in relationships and collaboration in order to maximize value. Duke invests in your startup in exchange for your time of research exploration at the University, and in an effort to support startups with relocation and living expenses during the 9-month program. Any equity that may come into play in the future will go directly back into funding the Startup Lab program and investing resources to make BE accessible and applicable to others as they develop solutions.

What other logistics should startups be prepared for?

Visas: Startups based outside of the United States will have to obtain a visa to join the Startup Lab. Upon acceptance to the program, we will connect startups to Duke Visa Services to begin immediate work on getting through the visa process (this can take 2 months and affect your travel dates—we need everyone to join us by the program start date so no one misses out on the fun!). Startups in need of visas will need to be prepared to move efficiently through the visa process. Incorporation: Startups must have an incorporated business entity. Business Bank Account: Startups must have a bank account set up for their business entity. Investment money can only be disbursed to business accounts (not to personal ones).

How does housing in Durham work for startups joining the program?

Startups are responsible for obtaining housing. We’re happy to help direct you to places where you can find housing leads.

How much time do startups get with Dan?

We can promise that you’ll have one on one time to share what you’re working on and gain Dan’s perspective. Previous startups have accumulated a few hours of time with him (which is far more than most can say!). We make no guarantees with regards to Dan’s time, but we can assure you of two things: That he’ll give you plenty to consider in even the briefest of meetings, and that the value of the program extends far beyond Dan time.

How does mentorship work in the Startup Lab program?

We strive to provide valuable connections to a pool of outside experts. Since the Startup Lab focuses heavily on education and execution around behavioral economics and rigorous research, we recognize the need for our startups to have outside mentors they can turn to for business perspective or expertise outside of the CAH’s domain. Our Startup Lab mentors are most typically introduced to startups in the first 3-month segment of the program, and then available on an as-needed basis for startups to connect with remotely. What can startups expect to leave the program with? Startups will leave their time at the CAH with an in-depth and applicable understanding of behavioral economics, a framework for designing for behavior change, and a shift in perspective (and operational know-how) of what it means to execute rigorous experiments. Startups will also have built valuable relationships, which is often cited by our past startups has the most influential part of the development they experience here at the Startup Lab. Personally and professionally fulfilling relationships with top behavioral researchers is something that can’t be obtained anywhere else. The Startup Lab creates a environment where researchers and entrepreneurs work side by side and interact daily, exchanging ideas, building skills, and collaborating on research that will spur impactful product changes (or even entirely new solutions). The Startup Lab provides the one-time opportunity to live, play, and work in a place that encourages and enables intellectual exploration, the testing of big questions, and the formation of research-backed ideas that are shaped into the next solutions for health and financial decision-making.