UGA startup wins $135,000 investment at Rice University entrepreneurship competition

Online shipping company Thryft Ship wins big at “world’s largest and richest” pitch competition
Maanav Karamchandani and Valeria Brenner

Valeria Brenner didn’t celebrate with fellow University of Georgia graduates at Undergraduate Commencement last Friday, but her decision to enter the Rice University Business Plan Competition resulted in another reason to celebrate: Winning $135,000 in investment for her business Thryft Ship.

The prize money and experience were worth the tradeoff, she said.

“There were teams from Germany, Turkey, India, and around the U.S. from MIT, Harvard, and Stanford,” Brenner said. “It was unreal how many accomplished individuals were there.”

Brenner, who earned her bachelor’s degree in marketing and is pursuing a Master of Marketing Research degree at the Terry College, launched Thryft Ship in 2021 after participating in a UGA Entrepreneurship Idea Accelerator.

Since then, she represented Thryft Ship in almost every pitch contest at UGA and throughout the Southeast, winning nearly $60,000. The business, which streamlines shipping for social media merchants, has sold more than $560,000 in shipping labels and helped more than 80,000 packages get to happy customers.

Brenner plans to use the $135,000 investment to establish a subscription shippers’ program and improve the functionality of the Thryft Ship website to better serve her growing customer base. She also plans to expand her marketing efforts this summer.

“Having a higher budget means I can push (improvements) out faster than beforehand,” Brenner said. “Before this, I had to pace myself and figure out my runway — when’s the appropriate time to release the feature depending on the number of hours of developmental work that’s going into that feature. This will accelerate that.”

She was one of only 42 entrepreneurs chosen from 450 international applicants admitted to the 2023 Rice Business Plan Competition, hosted by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship and Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business.

The Rice Alliance, which has hosted the contest for more than two decades, bills itself as the “world’s largest and richest student startup competition.” This year judges awarded more than $3.4 million to the participating startups.

Brenner pitched on Friday and Saturday, but judges didn’t choose Thryft Ship as one of the seven finalists. She was shocked Saturday evening to hear she won a $10,000 nCourage Investment Group’s Courageous Women Entrepreneurs Investment Prize and the $125,000 Venture Investment Prize from software development company Softeq.

Brenner, who felt she was one of the youngest competitors, credited the business development help and pitching practice she received at the UGA Entrepreneurship Program for her success at Rice.

“The UGA Entrepreneurship Program was created with the goal of assisting aspiring student entrepreneurs in achieving success in the business world,” said Bob Pinckney, the Milton Anthony (Tony) Greene Director of Entrepreneurship at UGA. “We are very proud of the achievements of all of our student entrepreneurs and especially of Valeria and her continued success with Thryft Ship. Valeria has done an outstanding job of creating a sustainable and growing business. We wish her continued success and will continue to support her as she continues to develop her business.”