Instagram has become a steady source of income for millions of merchants, who use the social networking platform to sell everything from art to vintage clothing and makeup.
Businesses have found ways to do most of their direct-to-consumer transactions on the app, but shipping has remained a time-consuming challenge. That’s where Valeria Brenner’s idea for ThryftShip comes in.
Brenner’s concept for a web browser extension that makes shipping easier for Instagram merchants won first prize and $2,500 at the University of Georgia Idea Accelerator Demo Day finals on Oct. 8.
“One problem kept rearing its ugly head,” said Brenner, a marketing and international business major at the Terry College of Business. “Every single account with 5,000 or more Instagram followers complained about the hours they spent packaging and shipping their items.”
She said time was lost mining their messages for shipping information and manually addressing and labeling packages. The process adds hours to what, for many, is a part-time job or side gig.
Brenner hopes to develop a web browser extension that would capture the customer’s information and store it in a spreadsheet or upload it to a shipping website. The prize money will allow her to continue her research.
“I’m going to need something like this when I start shipping cookies,” said judge Baylee Marsh, a UGA student and owner of Baylee Bakes.
Brenner’s search for a solution is just the type of exploration the Idea Accelerator aims to foster, said Jim Flannery, a lecturer in the UGA Entrepreneurship Program who organizes the student workshop.
Tackling a real problem
“ThryftShip did a great job of going after a real problem, whether that problem was dealing with the time sink of the shipping or the tedium of the process,” said judge Mike Manos, the chief global technology officer of Fiserv, one of the contest sponsors.
To date, the UGA Idea Accelerator has awarded more than $50,000 in startup funding and helped almost 500 entrepreneurs refine their business ideas.
The four-week, intensive business workshop pairs UGA student startups with entrepreneurs who coach them in the concepts of customer discovery, financial literacy and investor readiness. Flannery said the Demo Day was the first of two this fall, hosted virtually. The Entrepreneurship Program decided to shorten the Idea Accelerator from eight weeks to four and offer two sessions per semester. The next Demo Day is set for Nov. 16.
“These four-week sessions are designed to cycle students through good ideas and bad ideas faster and get them to the next stage,” Flannery said.
The other student entrepreneurs who presented their ideas at the Oct. 8 Demo Day were:
- College of Pharmacy Ph.D. candidate Asma Ali, who pitched Hakkimni, a digital platform for portable and secure medical records targeting Middle Eastern markets.
- Marketing student Emily Anderson and biological sciences student Eric Okanume, whose concept for Mentors on a Mission would help parents of high school athletes navigate the complicated financial aid and scholarship process.
- Advertising student Valentina Drake, whose startup is called Nado, a packable fabric scale that travelers can use to weigh their luggage on their way to the airport.
- UGA law student Hannah Sbaity, who created Peachy Pockets, self-adhesive pockets that women can fasten inside suit jackets.
- Terry College of Business students Tarleton Woodson and Steven Gildersleve, who pitched Alcohaul, a direct-to-consumer delivery service.
The Idea Accelerator 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. Applications and program information can be found at ugaentr.com/uga-accelerator. The program is open to any UGA or community team.