Thryft Ship wins UGA’s Next Top Entrepreneur national pitch contest

Terry student Valeria Brenner, whose company ships packages for Instagram businesses, wins $10K
Valeria Brenner

Valeria Brenner has helped hundreds of Instagram merchants ship thousands of packages since launching Thryft Ship. Now she has $10,000 to expand her reach.

Thryft Ship was one of nine student-run companies competing in UGA’s Next Top Entrepreneur contest on April 14 at Studio 225. Part of UGA’s Startup Week festivities, the pitch competition marked the sixth year the UGA Entrepreneurship Program hosted the national competition.

Thryft Ship, a website streamlining shipping for businesses selling clothing or other goods through Instagram, provides an easy way to collect information and a portal to purchase postage at reduced rates.

“We’re excited to see so many students from around the country ready to move their businesses to the next level,” said Bob Pinckney, the contest organizer and Milton Anthony (Tony) Greene Director of Entrepreneurship at UGA. “We are building a strong community of entrepreneurs at UGA and established this institution as a national hub for entrepreneurship through national competitions such as Next Top Entrepreneur and Collegiate Great Brands Competition.

“Student businesses from across the country who compete and win at Collegiate Great Consumer Brands and Next Top Entrepreneur have raised millions of dollars in investment capital. We take pride in supporting all team participants from around the country who compete in these prestigious national competitions.”

More than 35 teams applied to this year’s contest, with nine finalists traveling to UGA from Texas, Tennessee, Michigan and Ohio to compete.

Gently Soap, the natural soap brand led by UGA graduate student Kristen Dunning, took second place. Bright Owl, an online tutoring platform created by University of Texas-Dallas neuroscience major Sofia Babool, was third.
Brenner, who launched Thryft Ship as part of a UGA Idea Accelerator program in 2020, is a veteran of the pitch contest circuit but faced new competition and a fresh set of judges.

Next Top Entrepreneur judges included veteran technology entrepreneurs Joey Harris and Mike Martin of Codesmith; Robert Bearden, CEO of Cloudera; Lauren Patrick, a marketing leader in the Atlanta startup community; and Nir Zavaro, a visiting Israeli entrepreneur and startup advocate.

The six other finalists this year included:

  • Arid Delivery Products: Clay Franklin, a senior at the University of Tennessee, created a revamped take-out delivery bag to keep restaurant food fresher, longer. He created the pouch after receiving poor tips for delivering cold food while working as a delivery driver.
  • Block Transfer: John Wooten, a computer engineering student at Georgia Tech, created Block Transfer, blockchain technology designed to accelerate the process of selling book-entry stock.
  • Food Magnet: Mercedes Johnson, a University of Texas-Dallas MBA candidate, built Food Magnet as an online resource for food truck entrepreneurs. The app provides them with local business permit information, business analytics and helps them book lucrative parking spaces during peak hours.
  • Foreign House: Siham Hassan, an undergraduate at Michigan State University, is a content creator collaboration platform to promote social media influencers from culturally diverse backgrounds.
  • PIPS: Created by a team from Miami University of Ohio during a design sprint called Start-Up Weekend, PIPS is a nutritious fruit snack made from seaweed extracts and fruit juice.
  • TuneHatch: Vanderbilt MBA candidates Christal Hector and Nathan Youssef created a live music booking platform to help musicians book shows, allow music fans to buy tickets and use predictive analytics to recommend venues to musicians and concerts to fans.

Next Top Entrepreneur is sponsored by the UGA Entrepreneurship Program, whose mission is to help develop the mindset of future entrepreneurs and prepare students for business leadership roles. It provides a comprehensive academic program that encompasses experiential learning and equips students with the tools and resources to pursue their startup ventures.