Quokka Brew from UC Berkeley wins UGA’s Collegiate Great Brands Competition

Jitterless coffee drink sips victory at national pitch contest for startup consumer brands

Merritt Melancon | Apr. 05, 2021

George Passantino, left, and Ofek Arush
George Passantino, left, and Ofek Arush

A year ago last spring, childhood friends George Passantino and Ofek Arush had just launched their ready-to-drink, cold brew coffee company Quokka Brew. And then, the pandemic hit.

Despite the economic shockwaves that followed, they forged ahead with their startup idea, and the work paid off.

Quokka Brew, originally slated to compete in last year’s canceled Collegiate Great Brands Competition, staged a comeback, winning first place and $25,000 at the virtual contest hosted by the University of Georgia Entrepreneurship Program on April 1.

“The Collegiate Great Brands prize will help fund our next production run to help meet demand,” said Arush, co-founder of Quokka Brew. “After being selected for the competition last year and then having it canceled, being able to compete this year and winning it is a dream come true.”

Passantino and Arush, both undergraduates at the University of California, Berkeley, represented one of 10 teams that pitched their startup brands at the 2021 Collegiate Great Brands Competition. Since 2016, the annual contest has brought together student entrepreneurs from across the country. In addition to the prize money, the winners also receive a trip to New York to present alongside some of the top brands in America at the Consensus Great Brands Show.

“I was very impressed with all 10 presentations,” said Bob Pinckney, who is the Milton Anthony (Tony) Greene Director of Entrepreneurship at UGA. “We had 31 teams apply from colleges across the country. The judges had a tough time choosing from the contestants we saw presenting here tonight.”

Quokka Brew won over judges with their “jitterless” coffee blend that has already become established on the Berkeley campus and with surrounding tech companies, according to Passantino and Arush. Quokka Brew has packaged and sold more than 40,000 caffeinated oat milk latte drinks since launching.

“It’s a great product with awesome packaging,” said judge Mollie Turnier, co-owner of What Chef’s Want! restaurant supply group. “You’re in a very crowded market. If you get any traction, you need to move on it quickly. But it’s a super product, and I can’t wait to taste it.”

Second place went to SimpL, a personal training and physical therapy app developed by students at Carnegie Mellon University and Georgia Tech. The app uses artificial intelligence and the camera on a smartphone to help guide individuals through exercise routines. The app uses voice coaching to ensure proper form and provides access to trainers and therapists.

Coming in third was ReadyDressGo, developed by two students at Vanderbilt University. This web-based, direct-to-consumer clothing line focuses on professional basics for young women just starting in the workplace.

Over 30 teams applied to this year’s contest, with only 10 invited to pitch in front of the judges. In addition to UGA’s entry, Somewhere Waffle, the other universities represented in the contest included Emory University, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Texas A&M University and Washington University in St. Louis.

The Collegiate Great Brands Competition was sponsored by What Chefs Want! and Consensus Advisors and hosted by the UGA Entrepreneurship Program. Its mission is to help develop the mindset of future entrepreneurs and prepare students for business leadership roles.