When she was younger, Kristen Dunning was unable to find skin care products that didn’t make her skin break out or exacerbate her eczema. She thought there has to be something better.
So she made something better.
Studying medicinal plants, herbs, natural oils and soap making, Dunning created an extra-gentle soap, moisturizer and shampoo line that works for her extra sensitive skin.
“I have not been able to use commercial skin or hair care products, and probably will never be able to,” Dunning said. “Not only have I seen this issue, but I’ve also lived the issue of not being able to find a safe or effective product for me at my local pharmacy or grocery store. I embody the needs of my early adopters.”
Dunning’s careful planning and knowledge of her product and customer base wowed the judges during the UGA Entrepreneurship Program’s final 2020 Idea Accelerator Demo Day on Nov. 16. Dunning won $2,500 in capital to ramp up home-based production of her line in time for the holidays.
In the month since launching Professional Plant Girl, she’s sold nearly $2,000 of products from her online store. Dunning told judges she projects demand will grow heading into the gift-giving season, but needed larger-capacity mixers, grinders, and packaging equipment to make that happen.
“You did a great job breaking down the funds, and just your overall thinking about the presentation, the way you established the presentation and the steps you took were really successful,” said judge Suzy Deering, a UGA alumna and chief global marketing officer for eBay.
Deering also complimented Dunning’s ability to collect customer feedback and tweak her marketing strategy accordingly.
“Kristen’s ability to understand her customers’ needs really translated into her success at being able to launch quickly,” said Jim Flannery, a lecturer in the Terry College of Business who organizes the Idea Accelerator workshop. “She removed her own wants and needs and instead listened to what her customers were telling her she needed to create. This allowed her to quickly pivot and begin selling a product.”
The Idea Accelerator is a four-week, intensive business workshop pairing UGA student startups with entrepreneurs who coach them in customer discovery, financial literacy, and investor readiness.
The Nov. 16 Demo Day marked the end of the second Idea Accelerator cohort in fall 2020. ThryftShip, created by Terry College marketing and international business major Valeria Brenner, won the first cohort’s Demo Day.
Participants in the Idea Accelerator program are encouraged to apply for the UGA Entrepreneurship Program’s Design/Build Accelerator in May. This next-step program brings their ideas to the prototype or testing stage, Flannery said. That program launches in early May.
Many participants in this fall’s second Idea Accelerator refined their ideas during the process, which is the goal.
For example, UGA computer science and business student Farzeen Salewala first conceived of her company, Laundromatic, as a service that handles laundry for students living in dorms. During the Idea Accelerator, she scrapped that idea and realized she wanted to develop an online platform to streamline the work of residence hall assistants.
Likewise, fourth-year Terry College finance student Harry Deltac started out wanting to develop a protein-packed beer, Buff Beer. He later realized the market didn’t want that product and is now working on an online platform to help traveling young professionals stick to fitness goals.
The team behind AirBaby, Terry College economics student Rachel Glasstetter and management student Lauren Tuttle, wanted to create products making it easier and safer for parents with infants to fly. The Idea Accelerator program helped them define their customer base and its needs.
The next session of the Idea Accelerator kicks off in early February. The program is open to faculty, staff, students and community members. Program information is at ugaentr.com/uga-accelerator.
The Idea Accelerator is sponsored by Advanced Technology Development Center at Georgia Tech, Fiserv, and the UGA Entrepreneurship Program. Its mission is to help develop the mindset of future entrepreneurs and prepare students for business leadership roles. To date, the UGA Idea Accelerator has awarded more than $60,000 in startup funding and helped over 500 entrepreneurs refine their business ideas.