Across Georgia, more than 31,000 public school students experienced homelessness last school year. Despite the odds stacked against them, some of those students entered college as freshmen this school year.
These are students who beat the odds, but it doesn’t mean their struggle is over, Terry College Economics major Christian Dyer told judges at the UGA Entrepreneurship Idea Accelerator pitch contest Feb. 27 at Studio 225.
That’s where UnderDawgs comes in. UnderDawgs is a nonprofit startup providing scholarships for housing, food, parking, health insurance and mentorship to students entering UGA after being homeless. It’s a population Dyer knows well since he was in the same situation when he started classes in 2018.
“Survival mode kicked in, and I was scared,” said Dyer, who graduates this May. “I realized that everything I’ve been working for, every sacrifice I had made might be for nothing. I worried that I’d never achieve my dreams, and that’s a scary place to be.”
Dyer’s passion and the work he put into raising money for UnderDawgs won him first prize in this spring’s first Idea Accelerator pitch contest. He will put $2,000 toward the scholarship program and $500 to market the program to donors and students in need.
The UGA 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 UGA Entrepreneurship Program works with two cohorts of entrepreneurs each semester.
The program has granted more than $85,000 in startup funding and helped 721 budding entrepreneurs refine their business ideas.
Dyer works with Embark@UGA, which provides services to students coming to the university after experiencing homelessness or graduating out of foster care. Those resources are great, but working with students at Embark made him realize there were holes in that safety net.
Students doing well are one crisis away from dropping out, and he’s seen friends go that route.
As a member of the Terry Student Philanthropy Council, he was inspired to create a scholarship to prevent others from having to make that choice.
As envisioned, the UnderDawgs scholarship would provide $15,000 to secure housing, food, parking, health insurance and emergency expenses. Students would be identified through school counselors after admission to UGA but before graduating high school. Based on personal contacts at Embark@UGA, Dyer thinks there are probably 20 students who could use the scholarship at UGA right now.
While judges decided Dyer’s plan could benefit most immediately from the prize money, they also recognized UGA Entrepreneurship Certificate student Mehak Sampat’s skincare recommendation chatbot SkinStarr with second place. IncaSol, a sweet Peruvian purple corn-based drink introduced by intended-finance major Nicholas Gonzalez, won third place.
The mission of the UGA Entrepreneurship Program is to help develop the mindset of future entrepreneurs and prepare students for business leadership roles. UGA Entrepreneurship Program accelerators are open to UGA students and Athens community members.