“Professional Plant Girl” and UGA student Kristen Dunning said she became an “entrepreneur by accident” after handing out soap at different horticulture research seminars.
As an undergraduate in horticultural sciences, Dunning told Hypepotamus she spent years inside a greenhouse studying medicinal plants. She soon realized the commercial appeal of her proprietary method for infusing herbs and plants into different products.
Those who suffer from eczema, psoriasis, and other skin conditions struggle to use traditional soaps that are packed with essential oils.
“We wanted to challenge the notion that having sensitive skin only means using boring, unscented bar soaps,” Dunning said. “I wanted to bring the joy back to bathing for those with sensitive skin types.”
That joy helped launched her first venture, Gently Soap, a line of bathing products free of synthetic fragrances and essential oils. Unlike the bland unscented products on the market currently for those with sensitive skin, Dunning’s method makes it possible to bring colorful, scented products to the shelves.
Dunning honed her method and ultimately her business model during her time at UGA. Most recently, she was the recent winner of the coveted TiE University Atlanta’s pitch competition, which was hosted at Atlanta Tech Village earlier this month. Student entrepreneurs from 14 different universities competed and received one-on-one mentorship as they worked on their pitches and business models.
The competition attracted high-tech startups and consumer product-focused businesses alike, showcasing the growing young entrepreneurial talent pool in the State of Georgia. TiE U Founder Paul Lopez told Hypepotamus that he was impressed by was impressed with the “breadth of the kind of entrepreneurial ventures this year…the students seem more serious than before. We are seeing a low dropout rate during the competition.”
Dunning will go on to compete at the TiE University Global Pitch Competition next month. Students from the University of Florida and North Carolina State will also take to the global stage.
This is the ninth year the TiE Atlanta chapter has hosted such a competition. Georgia Tech students have won the last three years (MagTrack in 2019, Aerodyme Technologies in 2020, and Insight Optics in 2021).
The Atlanta chapter has historically done well on the TiE global stage, said Lopez. He said the Atlanta chapter’s focus on “frequent mentoring opportunities” has helped propel student ventures to the next level and even secure the necessary funding to scale.
Entrepreneurship at UGA
Dunning is one of a growing number of student entrepreneurs across UGA’s campus. This year alone, the Entrepreneurship Certificate program attracted 600 students from across degree programs.
As interest has grown in the local entrepreneurial space, UGA has expanded its offerings.
The Launch Pad officially kicked off in 2018 as a freshman dorm and community designed with a maker space, co-working area, 3D printer, and curated entrepreneurial programming. In 2019 the university officially opened the Center for Entrepreneurship, an 11,000 square foot facility that has become a central part of innovation on campus. Several of the accelerators, including the ones Dunning went through prior to TiE, are housed there.
Bob Pinckney, Director of Entrepreneurship at UGA, told Hypepotamus that the university provides about $200,000 a year in grant funding to student startups and helps launch several revenue-generating ventures throughout the academic year.