Class of 2019: Ray Liu on Building a Business and Fostering Connections

Part of the Class of 2019: Graduating Stories Series

Ray Liu developed his company PeerKonnect with the assistance of the I&E program's Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs Program. Video by Pilar Timpane

As first years, many students now graduating from Duke could never have predicted where their college paths would lead them. But Ray Liu ’19, a senior majoring in economics, will be continuing the work he was inspired to begin in high school—albeit on a much greater scale.

Liu is the founder and CEO of PeerKonnect, a startup that sells peer tutoring software to high schools in a way that enables them to build highly sustainable and efficient peer tutoring programs.

In high school, Liu saw a need for peer mentorship, so he co-founded a peer tutoring program using Google Forms. The program was successful, ultimately matching more than 20 percent of the students in his school to mentors. But when he considered how he might grow the program, he wasn’t sure where to begin.

“The summer after I graduated high school, I was thinking, ‘How can I help other schools?’ I had no idea how to start a business.”

Duke’s diverse offerings in innovation and entrepreneurship were part of what led Liu to apply to and choose Duke. “I recognized the I&E Certificate as something that would allow me to take classes, meet professors, get mentorship, and just meet a lot of other students with the entrepreneurial and innovative mindset,” Liu says. “It allowed me to pursue my startup and school at the same time.”

The Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs Program, which Liu entered in his first year, helped him develop and scale his company. He credits the program not only with practical skills, but also with helping him to think of himself as a businessperson.

“Before, I was even scared to call it a business,” he says. “It was a big transition into thinking, ‘Okay, I’m actually an entrepreneur now.’”

Another course, the Founder's Workshop, was highly applicable to Liu’s business. “Every week we would learn a couple of startup concepts, as well as just present on our business progress. I got to hear about the other peers in my class, and the progress on their startups, and provide some feedback, and overall just be in a very entrepreneurial setting. It's a class that's unlike any other that I've taken at Duke. Everybody's working on their own project that they're passionate about.”

With the resources he’s found at Duke, Liu has transformed the business he started in high school. “In that first semester, my goal was to get one paying high school on board,” he says. “Now we’ve signed seven.”

When it comes to advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs, Liu’s main message is simple. “Don't be afraid to reach out,” he says. “There are so many resources at Duke. I almost feel like my business is a culmination of all these people helping me, and I just put it together.”