Sondland/Durant Center for Entrepreneurship Provides Space for Duke Students to Found, Develop New Ventures

August 23, 2021 | Mark Schreiner

Located in the new Wilkinson Building, the center will be the home of Duke Engineering Entrepreneurship (EngEn)

Gordon Sondland and Katy Durant

Gordon Sondland and Katy Durant

In the spring of 2020, Duke Engineering student Max Sondland was still processing disappointment from the cancellation of his senior project due to COVID-19 when he got a call from his professor.

That call recruited Sondland to join a cross-campus team working quickly to create technologies to help manage the care of COVID patients in Duke University Hospital.

The project was a portable, negative pressure isolation chamber for patients. Sondland’s contributions let him apply his engineering skills in a fast-moving, entrepreneurial environment and on a socially important goal.

“The gift from Gordon Sondland and Katy Durant provides crucial support for developing important hallmarks of the Duke Engineer, which include working on open-ended problems, working in teams, and possessing entrepreneurial drive and confidence."

Jeff Glass | interim dean

“Max was so dedicated and excited by that project, which allowed him to use the knowledge he had learned at Duke on a project with a very important purpose,” said Katy Durant, Max’s mother, a member of the Pratt Board of Visitors, and founder and managing director of Atlas Investments. “We came to see that engineers are people with both vision and technical skills. That’s a combination that can change the world for the better.”

Entrepreneurship, and Duke, run in the family. Daughter Lucy Sondland is a 2021 graduate of Duke’s Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, where she studied decision sciences. Lucy has volunteered with the nonprofit Hands Free, founded by Max, which has provided 3-D printers to schools and community centers. She’s currently working in San Francisco as a valuations analyst at Prologis, a global logistics real estate company.

Inspired by the deep emphasis placed on entrepreneurship at Duke Engineering, the family, through the Gordon D. Sondland and Katherine J. Durant Foundation, has made a $2 million gift to Duke Engineering to support entrepreneurship education.

In recognition of their gift, the collaboration and education space for student, faculty and staff founders in the new Wilkinson Building has been named the Sondland/Durant Center for Entrepreneurship.

The Sondland/Durant Center for Entrepreneurship within the Wilkinson Building serves students and faculty across campus who focus on delivering technological innovations and solutions to the marketplace.

“The gift from Gordon Sondland and Katy Durant provides crucial support for developing important hallmarks of the Duke Engineer, which include working on open-ended problems, working in teams, and possessing entrepreneurial drive and confidence,” said Jeff Glass, interim dean of the Pratt School of Engineering. “Creative, ambitious and entrepreneurial thinking is essential to solving societal challenges and improving quality of life for people worldwide. Duke Engineering aspires to give our students and faculty the opportunity to discover their inner entrepreneur through EngEn and the Sondland/Durant Center.”

The Sondland/Durant Center is in the Garden Level of Duke’s new Wilkinson Building. In addition to serving as a meeting place for the entrepreneurial community at Pratt and Duke, it will be the home of Duke Engineering Entrepreneurship (EngEn), an initiative that coordinates and provides entrepreneurial education, advice and resources to faculty, staff and students.

“Engineers are people with both vision and technical skills. That’s a combination that can change the world for the better.”

Katy Durant | founder and managing director, Atlas Investments and member, Pratt Board of Visitors

The central feature of the center is a large meeting room with movable furniture—ideal for team meetings, coaching with Duke Engineering’s team of entrepreneurs-in-residence and small-group teaching. In addition, smaller glass-walled private meeting rooms surround that space. Each of these “phonebooth” rooms includes a video display and videoconferencing technology.

“It is from these phonebooth rooms that we’ll leverage our global network of Duke alumni,” said Bill Walker, Mattson Family Director of Entrepreneurship, and himself a Duke Engineering graduate and founder of several companies. “Video conferencing will connect developing ventures with expertise, advice and support from Silicon Valley to London to Singapore and beyond.”

Before graduating in 2020, Max Sondland completed Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Certificate, overseen by the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative, which co-sponsors several programs and works in close collaboration with Duke EngEn.

Gordon Sondland, Max’s father, said he sees great potential for the Sondland/Durant Center.

“It is an amazing thing, entrepreneurship: A need is identified, and a team comes together,” said Gordon Sondland, founder of Provenance Hotels, a hospitality development and management company headquartered in the Pacific Northwest. “Then, an idea is created, something that wasn’t there yesterday. And then the work starts on design, on what the market is, what are the business considerations. Our vision is that this space fosters and encourages those discussions at Duke Engineering.”

More about entrepreneurship at Duke Engineering »