Entrepreneurial minds over matter
Why Innovators Care
The Dreamers-Who-Do program provides UNC-Chapel Hill students with the opportunity to explore their ideas, travel, learn, and create. All made possible by a donor who’s passionate about student education and philanthropic opportunities that have a social impact.
Three years. 56 student projects. A $100,000 gift. And countless lives improved. All made possible by a donor who’s passionate about student education and philanthropic opportunities that have a social impact.
The Dreamers-Who-Do program, open to all University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill students with an innovative idea, offers an opportunity to put those ideas into action. The program aims to expand the minds and real-world experiences of UNC student entrepreneurs through sponsorships for projects, programs and guest speakers as well as travel to competitions, conferences and events which further the innovative mindset and skillset of students.
“Providing opportunities for student entrepreneurs to launch their ideas is what we strive for,” says Sheryl Waddell, director, Global Innovate Carolina Network. “Dreamers-Who-Do is the foundation of our ability to create innovation and entrepreneurship experiences for students as they create their own journeys.”
“As we look to create co-curricular experiences on campus, Innovate Carolina is creating a holistic approach for students as they go through their higher education experiences. Not only are students earning their degrees, they are also developing an entrepreneurial mindset and skillset.”
Innovate Carolina, the campus-wide initiative for innovation and entrepreneurship, manages the program. As the Innovate Carolina team was working to build the University innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E) network over the past few years, it identified a gap in that network: beyond individual schools and departments, there wasn’t a campus-wide entrepreneurial program that allowed all students to directly apply for funding to pursue their ideas for making a positive economic and social difference. After connecting with alumnus and donor Johnathan Robertson, who became the driving force responsible for launching the program, the Dreamers-Who-Do program quickly gained momentum and continues to fuel positive, student-led ingenuity and impact.
Students who participate in the Dreamers-Who-Do program have access to funding and support, including the ability to:
· Travel abroad to study economic, social and cultural entrepreneurial systems.
· Engage in learning experiences, including entrepreneurial events.
· Work as part of early-stage businesses and social ventures.
· Launch new ventures of their own.
“Through the Dreamers-Who-Do grant we were able to attend an innovation competition for the Hult Prize in Melbourne, Australia. And we did have the opportunity to advance from that round to a business accelerator program in London,” says Eliza Harrison, one of the student co-founders of Phyta. “Being thrown into an accelerator program would challenge our team to look at the idea from a business standpoint in terms of how we can make money and how we can better have an impact.” Phyta is working to address the increasing effects of climate change head-on by cultivating seaweed to be used as a sustainable alternative to plastic.
Funding from the program can be used for proof-of-concept work to develop ideas, engage in customer discovery, or research the market or potential strategic partners. With the abundance of opportunities students are exposed to throughout the program, they are creating waves of positive change within their communities and around the world.
Student venture THInC (Triangle Health Innovation Challenge) hosts a weekend competition for students and young professionals to solve current problems in health care. During the challenge, teams work with a variety of resources before pitching their solutions to judges. Winning solutions have included a wearable physical therapy activity tracker, an algorithm for smart patient-specific clinic scheduling and a virtual reality tool for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Dreamers-Who-Do and Innovate Carolina have been one of our biggest supporters from the beginning and have made it possible to continue having this event every year,” says Pooja Joshi, a student leader of THinC. “It’s just awesome to see all these people come in on Friday who are like ‘Healthcare is interesting, but I don’t know what to do about it,’ and then over the course of the weekend, they feel so empowered to communicate their ideas and build something tangible.”
In its third year, Dreamers-Who-Do shows no signs of slowing down. As the program continues to evolve, it has the potential to build greater momentum.
“Dreamers-Who-Do is the tip of the iceberg,” says Waddell. “As we look to create co-curricular experiences on campus, Innovate Carolina is creating a holistic approach for students as they go through their higher education experiences. Not only are students earning their degrees, they are also developing an entrepreneurial mindset and skillset.”
Lean approach, scaleable results
Through Robertson’s generous commitment, Dreamers-Who-Do has given away approximately $100,000 in funding to 56 students over the past three years to further their innovative ideas.
With momentum around its initial success and growth, Dreamers-Who-Do is evolving as it moves into its third year. Innovate Carolina will further incorporate Dreamers-Who-Do programming into the 1789 co-curricular entrepreneurial space that it runs. By directly embedding Dreamers-Who-Do into its 1789 programming, Innovate Carolina will connect an increasing number of innovation-oriented students to entrepreneurial opportunities – and amplify the human and economic effect of the program even more.
“We want to continue to grow Dreamers-Who-Do and facilitate more opportunities for students,” says Waddell. “With 1789 serving as the foundation for the Dreamers-Who-Do program, the potential to expand and encompass more student I&E activities will be maximized – from internships all the way to starting a venture or club to creating learning experiences through workshops.”
A young program with enduring impact
In its short time as a program, Dreamers-Who-Do touts a wide range of potentially long-lasting, positive outcomes.
Carolina Thrift, UNC-Chapel Hill’s first student-run thrift shop, works to reduce senseless waste that accumulates at the end of each school year by collecting items that would normally be thrown out. These include items like couches, clothing and microwaves. Based on its spring collection, the organization then hosts a large discount sale at the beginning of each school year. With initial funding of $2,000 from Dreamers-Who-Do, Carolina Thrift was able to turn its inaugural sale into $8,000 that will go toward funding and promoting sustainable ventures in the Carolina community.
“Dreamers-Who-Do really helped us because we started out just last spring and had a sale in August,” says Jordan Cox, a student leader of Carolina Thrift. “The costs associated with storage, U-Hauls, picking up items, gas and renting the Great Hall added up quickly, and Dreamers-Who-Do really helped us out financially.”
MoyoMedical Technologies is improving maternal health outcomes by developing a home-based early-detection test for preeclampsia. With support from Dreamers-Who Do, MoyoMedical was able to travel to competitions to earn additional funding to support the development of its technology and business model.
“A big part of what we’ve been doing is applying to different social innovation competitions to help fund our research developments and market research,” says Denali Dahl, a student co-founder of MoyoMedical. “The Dreamers-Who-Do fund helped us travel to competitions, which was phenomenal.”
With initial funding of $2,000 from Dreamers-Who-Do, Carolina Thrift was able to turn its inaugural sale into $8,000 that will go toward paying it forward through micro loans and promoting sustainable ventures in the Carolina community.
Venture for America places recent UNC graduates at startups in cities with emerging entrepreneurial ecosystems, forging a community of entrepreneurs committed to building companies that matter. As fellows, students learn the skills needed to excel at a startup, work at a high-growth company, learn the ins and outs of entrepreneurship and connect with like-minded builders. But traveling to the cities requires financial resources that many students don’t have. “I used the Dreamers-Who-Do funding to go to New York to compete as a finalist for Venture for America,” says Ana Soule, a recently graduated UNC-Chapel Hill senior who founded social venture the Phoenyx Project while at Carolina. “Thanks to that funding, I landed a job. I’m excited to extend the resources that Innovate Carolina has offered – the mentorship, the funding, skills and training into the next two years.”
X2 (X-Squared) Health is an early-stage startup currently developing HPreVention, the first low-cost, noninvasive, at-home test that detects the presence of Human Papillomavirus (HPV). After its development, the company hopes the HPreVention device will be used during triage to bring life-saving HPV screening to women in less developed regions. With support from Dreamers-Who Do, X2 Health was able to move its product development to its next stage.
“I went to San Diego, California to do a week-long workshop to develop a prototype. There’s something so profound about having a physical prototype in your hands,” says Joanna Cao, a student researcher with X2 Health. “I really felt like it was a turning point for my company to have this idea in a tangible object.”
A program for all students
As the only cross-university entrepreneurship program focused specifically on funding innovative ideas from any student, Dreamers-Who-Do helps students create purpose-driven experiences. The program is open to students of any major or department, and applicants don’t have to be part of a specific club, internship program or workshop series.
In addition, all funding earmarked for the program goes directly to students to fund their initiatives. No funding is used to run the program or cover overhead costs. Future projects will be made possible through the generous financial support of donors like Robertson. And listening to Robertson talk with students who worked to tackle a wide range of problems as part of the 2018-19 program, it’s hard to think that the future is anything but bright.
“The common element to what all of you are doing is that you’ve picked a problem that is meaningful to you in your life, and you’ve attacked the problem,” said Robertson. “At the end of the day, that’s what we all do – we’re problem solvers. And it gives me a lot of positive feelings about the future, because you’re going to attack these problems and keep going.”
To find more information, or to apply or give to the program, visit the Dreamers-Who-Do website.