By: Bianca Buliga, Content Curator
Since SEED SPOT hit D.C. soil in March, our mission has been simple: cultivate big-picture strategy to broaden our reach, maximize our support of entrepreneurs, and deliver high-impact products and services to market for ultimate change-making. A substantial piece of this strategy included welcoming Duane Rollins to the team as SEED SPOT’s Director of Product and Impact! Duane will be primarily responsible for SEED SPOT’s product strategy – he will assess the effectiveness of each program we offer, evaluate the outcomes for individual entrepreneurs and ventures, and then explore how we can better serve local communities.
Originally from Suffolk, Virginia, Duane earned his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Virginia Tech and his Master’s in Industrial Design from the Georgia Institute of Technology. After graduating, Duane began his career as a User Experience Designer for Threespot, an agency based in D.C. that creates digital work for foundations, educational institutions, and non-profits concerned with social good. Most recently, Duane worked as an Innovation Specialist for 18F, an office within the General Services Administration (GSA) that provides digital services for federal agencies. While at 18F, Duane had the opportunity to create an educational program focused on retraining the federal workforce in modern digital practices like agile, lean start-up, and human-centered design.
This program led Duane to realize his passion for building educational curriculum, customized according to a group’s unique needs, challenges, and strengths. He funneled this passion into founding a non-profit with his tech-savvy brother in August of 2014. Stemly is a nonprofit advocacy organization that champions access to high quality science, technology, engineering, and math education for underrepresented groups. Duane and his brother founded Stemly with the intention of “helping others to get to the places we’ve been”. Additionally, Duane is the co-founder and Vice Chair of the Washington Leadership Academy, a tuition-free public charter school that molds tech-minded and politically-engaged young people ready to make a difference.
But who is the Duane beyond the impressive resume? He’s an avid traveler (“I love, love experiencing new cultures, food, and history”), is conversationally fluent in Spanish, Japanese, German, Russian, and Latin, and is a huge Game of Thrones and Harry Potter fan. He’s passionate about supporting local hip-hop music, and has been listening to Kendrick Lamar’s new DAMN. album on repeat (“it has everything I want from music in it”). He watches sports regularly, especially basketball and football, and thinks Mahershala Ali (Remi Denton from House of Cards) would be the perfect actor to play him in a film about his life. But most notably, Duane has a bucket list that’s about a mile long and includes: seeing the first graduating class of Washington Leadership Academy go off to college, visiting every continent, designing a watch, writing a book, and ultimately becoming a philanthropist.
Duane’s biggest advice to entrepreneurs is simple: “Don’t be an entrepreneur, be a problem solver”. He believes that entrepreneurship is identifying a community’s unique problem and feeling enough ownership and self-confidence to go out and solve it. “Don’t solve problems for mythical humans or numbers on a spreadsheet – see each human’s soul and address their problems the right way. Entrepreneurship isn’t about becoming a CEO or gaining authority, it’s about attention to detail, serving your purpose, and being valuable to those around you.”
Duane knows firsthand that entrepreneurship is a difficult and tiresome process, but he encourages entrepreneurs to be the best version of themselves. “Don’t worry about perfection and don’t just talk about your idea – put yourself out there and let people know you’re serious! Find like-minded people who will keep you motivated and informed of trends. If entrepreneurship were easy, everyone would be doing it!” SEED SPOT is excited to put Duane’s wisdom and wealth of experiences to work, and send ripples of change across the world!