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For Students

Over the two-semester Design Climate course sequence, student teams use design thinking to develop triple bottom line startups to address climate challenges posed by industry professionals or faculty. In Design Climate I: Discover, student teams develop business ideas by working through the first three phases of design thinking: stakeholder empathizing, opportunity definition, and solution ideation (see Figure 1 ). The semester culminates with a pitch on the startup idea that will be further vetted in Design Climate II: Develop (spring). 

Figure 1: Design Climate I Process Flow Diagram

In Design Climate II: Develop, students continue to use the design thinking framework to prototype, test, and iterate on their ideas (see Figure 2). Students will develop a simple “prototype” to validate with potential customers and layer on financial projections to their business models.  By the end of the semester, students will have validated their business idea, and the semester will culminate in a more detailed pitch to members of the local entrepreneurship community.

Figure 2: Design Climate II Process Flow Diagram

Through the Design Climate process, students learn directly from industry professionals and cultivate capabilities in design thinking, the entrepreneurial mindset, project management, sustainable product development, climate fundamentals, and business competencies. While a goal of Design Climate is to catalyze the creation of new climate tech startups, the most important outcome is a good learning experience for the students.

Student Benefits

Students taking the Design Climate course sequence will benefit from a rich, collaborative environment that spans Nicholas, Pratt, and Fuqua schools, fostering interdisciplinary learning and teamwork. The program offers experiential learning opportunities through internships and projects, providing practical experiences in strategic decision-making and ethical leadership. Students will gain exposure to entrepreneurial frameworks, design thinking, and business and climate fundamentals.

Key Takeaways from the Course

Triple Bottom Line Ventures: Students develop environmentally focused businesses that generate positive environmental, societal, and financial returns.

Design Thinking Immersion: Students develop creative problem-solving skills by prioritizing empathy, collaboration, and iterative learning to meet stakeholder needs effectively, preparing students for leadership roles in any career.

Comprehensive Skill Development: The program provides essential business skills such as project management, market analysis, and an entrepreneurial mindset, alongside a basic climate fluency skillset.

Resume Building Experience: The course is designed to be a pseudo-professional experience where students produce resume building deliverables that showcases their abilities to future employers.

Triple bottom line values
Developing triple-bottom line solutions that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs

Course Eligibility

  • The program is seeking graduate students along with junior and senior undergraduate student applicants from: 

1. The Pratt School of Engineering 
2. The Nicholas School of the Environment  
3. Those pursuing an Innovation & Entrepreneurship (I&E) Certificate 
4. Students with an interest in climate technology development 


All prospective participants should be willing to commit 6-10 hours each week and, ideally, commit to taking both semesters of Design Climate I and II. Participants will receive coaching from experts in technical research, innovation product development processes, entrepreneurship and engineering both internal and external to Duke. Individuals should not enter the program with a specific need or solution in mind; they must be willing to explore several opportunities through a structured discovery process.  


No prerequisites are required except for a willingness to learn new skills.

How to Register

Design Climate registration for 2024-2025 academic year is underway! 


Design Climate is an interdisciplinary course comprised of 12-30 students from multiple educational backgrounds. Our goal is to have a diverse group of graduate and high-level undergraduate students from the Pratt School of Engineering, Nicholas School of the Environment, and Duke at large. To register follow these steps: 


1. Register on DukeHub (ENG 545, ENVIRON 545, or I&E 545). If waitlisted, see step two.

2. Sign up for the waitlist on DukeHub, and contact Judy Ledlee using the Contact Us page to describe your interest in Design Climate.  Additional seats may be added to the class depending on interest.

Design Climate Summer Innovator Internship

Design Climate offers a paid summer internship for students interested in the following activities: 


1. Continued commercial development of Design Climate II projects 

2. Development of the Design Climate program 

Internship Eligibility

Priority is granted to students who have taken Design Climate I or II. The student must be enrolled at Duke for the fall after the summer internship.

The student must reside in North Carolina for the duration of the internship; however, many of the instructor facing meetings will be conducted virtually. The internship is open to US and non-US citizens.