Suffolk native supports student-driven progress

Published 5:02 pm Friday, December 7, 2018

Aneesh Dhawan wanted to help college students like him make the world a better place, and for the past few years the startup he founded for that purpose has been steadily expanding.

Dhawan, a Suffolk native and junior at University of Virginia, founded PurPics in 2015 with friend and fellow UVA student Victor Layne. Their startup empowers students to support the causes they care about by connecting them with recognizable brands using social media.

“We wanted to build a better way for brands to connect with consumers on social media and help them raise money for the causes they care about,” Dhawan said.

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Put simply, their idea is “pictures with a purpose.” Student-run organizations on college campuses are connected with major brands — Lime Scooters, Limitless, Awake Chocolate — using an app and take pictures that promote the company to post on social media.

These companies then donate up to 10 cents to a cause of the organization’s choosing for each interaction or “like” for that post. According to Dhawan, the average user raises more than $25 with each post.

“If you’re in a sorority with 100 people and everybody is posting a picture, it adds up to thousands of dollars in donations,” he said.

When Dhawan was a student at Norfolk Academy, he spent three of his summers doing service work in places like Haiti and China. He witnessed many of the problems that people of his generation — Generation Z — will have to solve in their lifetimes.

There’s a lot of pressure that comes with those responsibilities, and Dhawan and Layne want to provide a platform for their generation to succeed.

“I just really wanted to find a better way to support everyone and help them make a tangible difference for the causes they care about,” Dhawan said.

PurPics has grown from one school in Charlottesville and two brand partners to more than 45 campuses throughout Virginia and across the country, and more than 30 brand partners connecting with students.

Dhawan said their goal is to expand to more than 100 campuses by the end of 2019, one photo at a time.

“Our goal is to make fundraising as easy as possible,” he said. “As easy as posting a picture on social media.”