CS students win the annual InVenture Prize

A picture of the SellRaze team following their first-place win, where their startup was awarded $20,000 to continue impacting the e-commerce space and expand their company. // Photo courtesy of inventureprize.gatech.edu

Second-year CS students Jeff Mao and Tyler Ma placed first in this year’s InVenture Prize Competition for their innovative e-commerce platform called SellRaze. As a result, they will receive $20,000, the support of Tech’s Office of Technology Licensing (OTL) and automatic acceptance into CREATE-X’s Startup Launch program. 

The InVenture Prize is a faculty-led competition where undergraduate students and recent graduates work to develop inventions, which then go through three rounds of expert judgment. The final round of the competition occurred on March 15 in the Ferst Center for the Arts — one of Tech’s primary locations for large events and performances — and was broadcasted live through Georgia Public Broadcasting.  

All undergraduate students could request tickets for the event and, luckily, first-year CS Pranav Viswanath was able to secure one. 

“The show almost ran like an episode of ‘Shark Tank,’” Viswanath said. “It was amazing to see how well prepared the teams were for the challenging questions asked by the panel of judges. I was inspired by how accomplished the teams were, like how much money they had raised or how much product development they had undergone over the year, and some of them were only freshmen like me. As a Tech student, the concept of creating startups through different programs like Create-X and Startup Exchange constantly surrounds us, and this event was further proof that anyone at Tech with an idea and the drive to pursue it could find success. I originally came to Tech without any intention to pursue building a business, but I think the lessons I learned from these teams’ success relating to innovation, marketing, research, networking and more are skills that are useful regardless of what field I pursue.”

In addition to first prize, judges awarded the second prize to SpoilerALERT, an antibody test for insulin degradation, and the people’s choice prize to Novela Lamp, an interactive shadow puppet lamp engineered for children. 

The judges recognized SellRaze for its solution catered to a niche issue for e-commerce at the grassroots level. Vendors usually diversify their assets by making products available across multiple platforms, but managing their listings across them is often cumbersome and time-consuming. SellRaze is an online program that solves this by allowing vendors to simultaneously publish their products on multiple platforms with just a few clicks. From their website, business owners can manage revenue, inventory and other logistics from a
user-friendly dashboard. 

“It was definitely one of the most exciting things we’ve done in college,” Mao said. “Refining our pitch, setting up demos [and] meeting millionaire investors every week was like a rollercoaster. One of the defining moments for us was the semifinals. After our pitch, the judges were ecstatic. One said that they would invest their own money into us. This solidified our confidence that this is a billion-dollar idea.”

Mao and Ma discovered this problem as freshman roommates and became determined to engineer an effective solution. Despite facing multiple speed bumps, the pair was able to
see their idea to life. 

“Jeff was a reseller in high school and struggled to manage his listings and inventory across multiple marketplaces. This inspired the idea to create a platform that simplifies the process for sellers. We both remember seeing the InVenture Prize promo videos at orientation and seeing the potential. With Georgia Tech’s rigorous curriculum, it was rough; we often had to dedicate a lot more time towards class than any time before, leaving only late-night hours to work on SellRaze,” Ma said.

The assets that SellRaze will receive from the OTL and CREATE-X will equip them with the necessary tools to develop into a lucrative startup company. Tech will support one U.S. patent filing for each of the winners through a firm of their choice. This will grant the young startup a unique edge over its competitors and prevent the founders’ ideas from being replicated by larger companies as it grows. Additionally, the Startup Launch program will provide monetary and professional aid to the company in its first months.

“Startup Launch provides teams with $5,000 in seed funding and $30,000 worth of in-kind services, including legal and accounting services, coaching, space, mentorship, visibility and IP protection,” according to CREATE-X’s website.

As for their future plans, Ma said that “in the short term, we want to get an MVP [minimum viable product] out by May and work with more of the people signed up on our waitlist. It’s a lot more coding in the future, and we [will] meet almost every day to discuss plans and technical details. Long term, we want to acquire customers and demonstrate this is needed. We want to secure investment and work full time to help as many sellers as possible.” 

As e-commerce sales continue to skyrocket, SellRaze satisfies a new, poignant demand that is only expected to grow in relevance in the near future. 

According to the United States Census Bureau, the aggregate e-commerce sales for 2022 surpassed $1 trillion — an increase of 7.7% since 2021. 

In regards to McKinsey’s “Solving the paradox of growth and profitability in e-commerce,” this increase in demand has proved to slim the profit margins of small businesses in the form of added costs and time constraints. SellRaze will ease the pressure off of small businesses and sole proprietorships through their aforementioned services. 

Having gained significant recognition and funding, SellRaze has the resources necessary to build a successful startup, and Tech students and faculty look forward to seeing how Mao and Ma will lead it from there. 

More information on the 2023 finalists is available at inventureprize.gatech.edu/