Dawg Camp Innovate builds foundation for community of problem solvers

Incoming freshmen receive an introduction to UGA’s innovation infrastructure
Three students work to refine an idea using sticky notes and a wall

It’s July in Georgia. It’s hot. You have your dog in the car, but you want to run into the gas station to grab a bag of chips.

What do you do?

Dawg Camp Innovate students were up for the challenge. The incoming University of Georgia freshmen pitched a collapsible cooling fan that folds out of the car’s floorboard, a dog vest with cool water tubes to chill your pup, and a super-cooled seat cover that uses a chemical reaction to produce cold on-demand.

“It’s fun to learn how to think on your feet and in a different way,” said incoming freshman Maren Misiaszek, as she and her team refined an idea for a wearable cooling device for dogs.

A week ago, she’d never heard of design thinking. But this week, she’s using the process to develop an idea for a product that could protect the pets’ lives — and she got a head start meeting the students in her dorm. This fall she’ll live at “The Launch Pad” — an entrepreneurship affinity residence hall set up in 2018.

Dawg Camp Innovate, an extended orientation program for UGA first-year students, introduces them to design thinking concepts, faculty members and the facilities supporting UGA’s Entrepreneurship Program and the UGA Innovation District.

Since 2019, 80 students from different majors came through the program, which aims to give students an early introduction to entrepreneurship. The program is one of several Dawg Camps offered through UGA’s Department of Student Transitions in the Division of Student Affairs.

“We do this in part because we want to plant the seeds of entrepreneurship early,” said Don Chambers, a Terry College of Business lecturer and associate director of the UGA Entrepreneurship Program. “We can do a lot if we have enough time, but a lot of the time, students don’t find us until their junior or senior year.”

Going through an innovation-focused orientation makes entrepreneurship part of the first-year student experience — whether they’re majoring in engineering, marketing or cognitive science, Chambers said.

“I honestly would never have stepped into (Studio 225) or on this part of campus because I’m not interested in business as a major,” said Grayson Shirley, an incoming freshman from Toccoa. “I’d like to major in communications sciences, but I like this, and I think I want to be involved with the Entrepreneurship Program when I come to campus.”

In addition to design-thinking workshops, Dawg Camp Innovate students met with young entrepreneurs, Terry faculty members and Athens-Clarke County community leaders. They also spent time exploring campus and discovering opportunities for recreation and student support.

By pairing each group of three students with an upperclassman already involved with the UGA Entrepreneurship Program, Chambers hopes the incoming students have a support network when they arrive this fall. Then they can turn their minds to solving bigger problems with friends at Studio 225.

The UGA Entrepreneurship Program is housed in the Terry College of Business but serves all of UGA. Its mission is to develop the mindset of future entrepreneurs and prepare students for business leadership roles. The UGA Entrepreneurship Certificate program is open to all UGA students. Most UGA Entrepreneurship Program accelerators are open to UGA students and Athens community members.