Entrepreneurship competitions help college students start their own businesses

By Jacqueline GaNun

Valeria Brenner never thought she would be an entrepreneur.

Despite her father’s wish that one of his three children would own their own business, she wasn’t planning on following that path until fall 2020 at the University of Georgia when she joined the Idea Accelerator, a four-week program focused on developing student businesses.

Brenner originally joined to make friends, but now she runs her own company. And she didn’t have to put all of her own money on the line — she funds her business almost entirely from entrepreneurship competitions.

“I’m trying to keep it as bootstrappy as possible,” Brenner said.

College students hoping to start their own businesses can look to funding from entrepreneurial contests so they don’t have to sacrifice their personal financial well-being to start a small business.

Brenner created her company Thryft Ship after realizing many people who run small businesses on social media spent hours processing shipping labels for orders. As the owner of a clothing thrifting Instagram, she saw the niche problem firsthand. While she was a part of the Idea Accelerator, she pitched her idea, and it won — an accolade that came with $2,500 in funding.

“Then I did Quick Pitch and then it also won, and the ball just started rolling really suddenly out of nowhere,” Brenner said. “I couldn’t even tell you when but at some point, I was like, Oh, I’m doing this.”

After she won the Idea Accelerator prize, Brenner received money from her parents in a contract that awards them a small portion of the business. But other than that, the entrepreneurship contests have made it possible for her to run her business as a student.

Bob Pinckney, director of UGA’s Entrepreneurship Program, has played a large role in creating the contests in which Brenner and other students compete. Pinckney said the programs are funded entirely by donors.

“To learn entrepreneurship, you really have to practice it and experience it and fail with it and succeed with it and see what works and what doesn’t,” Pinckney said. “Having funding behind you to do that is extremely important.”

At UGA, there’s a substantial amount of money available for winners — Brenner estimates she’s won between $45,000 and $50,000 from competitions. Nationally, more than 1,500 universities offer some kind of entrepreneurship resources, according to the Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership. These resources can make it possible for students to start their own company without worrying about losing their livelihood if it doesn’t succeed.

Pinckney said he’s excited to see the multiple businesses that have grown out of UGA’s Entrepreneurship Program, which was founded almost seven years ago.

“Students start out baking cookies and are now doing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in revenue,” Pinckney said. “It’s pretty exciting to see.”


Jacqueline GaNun is a journalism student at the University of Georgia

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