Soon-to-be FIU grad pitches her way to $5K prize for college merch startup

Big names in the Miami tech scene are swiping right on Patricia Garcia’s “Tinder for college gear” startup. 
On Thursday night, the Florida International University senior’s online college swag swapping platform College Thrifts won student innovation hub Venture Bites’ inaugural pitch competition. This top prize lands Garcia $5,000 and one-on-one mentorship with entrepreneur Peter Rahal, former co-founder of RXBAR.
College Thrifts (shown above) matches students wanting to buy and sell official branded products. Garcia came up with the idea when visiting campus bookstores across the US and noticing the high, student-unfriendly prices. On College Thrifts, campus staples like t-shirts and hoodies go for a fraction of what students would pay when buying directly through the university. And it’s good for the planet: Garcia claims that her startup tackles four of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
The judging panel, which included Miami-based tech leaders such as Blackstone Managing Directors Josh Schertzer and Adam Fletcher, liked College Thrift’s future growth opportunities. The startup hopes to eventually move into the lucrative vintage market, as well as taking a grab at market share for Greek gear.

This injection of funds will enable Garcia  to develop a mobile app and move away from the Instagram page she set up as a minimum viable product. This is serendipitous timing for Garcia, who will graduate from Florida International University this Spring. As a Miami native, Garcia said that she was happy “to see [her] hometown become an up-and-coming tech hub.”
Second place went to AgeTech startup Carevocacy, which is developing a learning platform where senior citizens get custom crash courses on technology-related topics. Taking care of his grandmother inspired Nova Southeastern University student Stefano Selorio to found this startup in 2019. Users can purchase one-off classes or monthly subscriptions for tech help sessions over video chat. 
Selorio emphasized that Carevocacy “isn’t tech support, but rather it’s the relationship we’re building with the seniors,” helping them gain self confidence. The startup has already garnered interest from big names in the industry, including the AARP and lifelong learning institutes at three local universities. This prize will provide Carevocacy with $4,000 and mentorship from Glen Allison, former COO of Honey and recently-announced President and COO of On Deck.

University of Miami  startup Cycle won third place, locking in $3,000 to help further their mission of converting recyclable bottles and cans into cash. The startup partners with private companies and stadiums to sell drinks at a 25-cent surcharge that consumers can redeem by depositing their bottles in one of Cycles proprietary vending machines. (Read more about Cycle in our startup spotlight here.) 
In fourth and fifth place, winning $1,500 each, were Planet Paws and AdTrait. Planet Paws, led by FIU veterinary student Amber Nolan, is building a digital platform and manufacturing physical products geared towards first-time millennial and Gen Z puppy parents. UM-based AdTrait is developing a gamified way to help marketers effectively target online advertising without relying on third party cookies.
Venture Bites was founded by Bruno Lulinski, former director of investments at Miami Angels and now a fellow at Alpaca. The organization hosts events to promote the development of young talent in Miami’s tech ecosystem.  The competition’s chief organizers included Heloise Taillet and Sabrina Beraja, and the event was sponsored by the Knight Foundation, the City of Miami and other organizations in the ecosystem. Venture Bites Co-Founder David Ufberg called the competition a “celebration of student entrepreneurship,” and one that he hopes to continue in future years.
Missed last night’s competition? You can view the recording here.

Riley Kaminer