Build/Test Demo Day recognizes progression of UGA student startups

Retail shipping service Thryft Ship retools its business model to win inaugural demo day

Merritt Melancon | Jun. 11, 2021

Valeria Brenner prepares shipping labels.
Valeria Brenner prepares shipping labels.

In the nine months since Valeria Brenner won the UGA Entrepreneurship Program’s Idea Accelerator pitch contest, she’s been busy.

She retooled Thryft Ship ­— her startup idea to streamline shipping for social media merchants — and launched it successfully. She leaned into her Instagram community and converted her network into customers, helping more than 200 of her fellow Instagram merchants streamline their shipping and making $30,000 in sales.

Her ability to refine her idea and begin turning a profit impressed the judges at the Entrepreneurship Program’s inaugural Build/Test Accelerator Demo Day on June 8.

“In just a few short months since its launch in March 2021, Thryft Ship has demonstrated real traction and generation of significant revenue,” said Cali Brutz, an entrepreneurship lecturer and co-organizer of the Build/Test Accelerator and Summer Launch programs.

“During her time in the Build/Test Accelerator, Valeria has shown exceptional persistence and a willingness to innovate and adapt her business model in response to customer feedback. She has all the makings of a true entrepreneur, and I cannot wait to see where her journey may take her.”

Brenner, who is majoring in marketing and international business at the Terry College of Business, will use the $2,500 demo day prize money to expand Thryft Ship's subscription shipping supply service. She plans to continue working on her business in UGA’s Summer Launch Program.

Brutz and fellow entrepreneurship lecturer Jim Flannery designed the Build/Test Accelerator to be the next growth stage for students who complete the UGA Idea Accelerator.

The runner-up to Thryft Ship was agricultural communication student Kristen Dunning. Dunning’s all-natural skincare line, Gently, also has evolved since entering and winning last November’s Idea Accelerator pitch contest under the name Professional Plant Girl.

Risk management and insurance graduate Nick Harrison took third place. His idea for RV Livin’, a platform that would help recreational vehicle park owners market to potential campers, went through the Idea Accelerator this spring.

Since their Idea Accelerator experiences, each student startup has evolved with the help of faculty at the Entrepreneurship Program.

“The teams recognize what is working and what’s not working, and we act as a neutral third party to help them accelerate the things that are working or highlight what looks to be working,” Flannery said. “But it’s the teams themselves that are figuring this out.”

For instance, Brenner’s original concept for Thryft Ship was a solution to a pain point for Instagram sellers: keeping track of shipping information from customers and transferring it accurately to shipping labels.

She first pitched the idea as a browser extension that mined the shipping information from the chat logs. That turned into a web-based form that sellers can send their customers to from a simple link and generate shipping labels. Sellers pay for the service by purchasing their shipping through Thryftship.

Brenner will join other Build/Test and Idea Accelerator alumni in June when the Summer Launch Program begins. This year’s Summer Launch startups include: 

  • Aglite Tech, founded by Adrian Roberts
  • Gently Herbal Skincare, founded by Kristen Dunning
  • RV Livin’, founded by Nick Harrison
  • Somewhere Waffle, founded by Worth McFall
  • Swells of Splendor, founded by Wells Maley
  • Thryft Ship, founded by Valeria Brenner

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.