Important Takeaways from My Semester as a Startup TNT Intern

By Emma Martinez-Morison, Startup TNT Intern, Spring 2024

My main motivation for applying to Startup TNT was the exciting opportunity to put the toolkit I have built via my Duke I&E Capstone into practice. I hoped to experience firsthand the inner workings of the renowned triangle innovation ecosystem. My experience with CED has more than surpassed these hopes. I have not only gained so much in terms of tactical experience and knowledge, but additionally, I have met so many incredible people here at CED and beyond that have become an inspiration for me day in and day out. The people and experiences I have encountered have taught me an immeasurable amount; I would like to highlight here some of my greatest takeaways. 

Upon starting at CED, you quickly realize how important building and maintaining professional relationships are. Much of the incredible work CED does is possible due to their vast network both of investors and entrepreneurs within and beyond the triangle. However, many of us first starting out our careers are still figuring out the best ways to navigate these relationships. It can be daunting to reach out to senior members in a field of interest and start up a new conversation. I experienced this feeling of discomfort during a memorable experience at the Female Founders & Funders Event at CED’s annual Venture Connect Summit. As a Startup TNT Intern, I had the opportunity to attend events like this one and reach out to individuals in the CED network, something I was incredibly excited to do, but when it came time at the Female Founders & Funders Event, I felt nervous to introduce myself to the esteemed women in the room. However, pushing myself outside my comfort zone would only lead to growth. I spent the night speaking to many different women and quickly learned that I had nothing to be worried about. Each of them was once in my shoes and I was surprised how willing they were to talk about their careers and offer advice. I left feeling a great sense of joy and empowerment from all of the role models, genuine conversations, and inspiration I had gained. I truly learned that the best outcomes are often the result of pushing yourself to your edge, outside your comfort zone, is where you really begin to see yourself blossom.

In a similar vein, I learned how important it is to speak up, ask questions, and share your thoughts and opinions. It is ok not to know everything, and no one is hired with the expectation of perfection. On my first day at CED, I attended a CED Board Meeting. Everyone else in the room had years of experience and success on me, and I must admit, that was a bit intimidating. I think it is a common experience for students in one of their first “adult” jobs to feel some form of imposter syndrome, wondering if they are qualified for the role. In that board meeting, I definitely felt unqualified; however, I had an idea related to the discussion we were having at my table and despite my hesitation, I spoke up with it. Everyone listened and largely treated me as an equal—a pleasant surprise. I remembered at that moment to have confidence in myself. Each moment of discomfort is really just an opportunity for growth, and the more I put myself out there, speak up, ask questions, truly the more I will learn, at CED or anywhere else. 

Lastly, my final takeaway is that investor and entrepreneur relationships are about much more than financial support. Compatibility between what an investor is looking for, the type of support and expertise the entrepreneur needs, and the personalities and relationship between the two parties are all imperative to a successful partnership. For one of my projects at CED, I reviewed a company’s pitch deck, gave suggestions on how to improve it to maximize future investment, and finally proposed a list of potential investors. It was a much more involved process to find investors than I expected, and I realized how important it is to bring on the right investor for a specific company because they can offer much more value than just the check they write. This knowledge will be useful in the future if I decide to start my own company, as I will know how to find investors and prioritize those I believe will lead to our greatest mutual benefit. 

In summary, I am incredibly grateful to the CED team for giving me the opportunity to learn so much this semester. Post Startup TNT internship, I feel confident going forward into my career with greater knowledge about the entrepreneurial ecosystem from both the founder and venture perspectives. This experience has altered what I previously considered possible for myself and my future career paths. I am now much more seriously considering starting my own company and or going into venture capital in the future. In some way, I hope to stay connected to innovation for the rest of my life. 

Emma Martinez-Morison is an undergraduate student at Duke University majoring in Psychology with a certificate in Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Following her graduation in May 2024, she will be moving to New York City to work as a Business Analyst at McKinsey & Company.

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