When Patricia Garcia graduates with her M.S. in Product Development Engineering from USC Viterbi this year, she will be the proud owner of a variety of Trojan gear and merchandise. Back in 2017 when she was about to start her undergraduate degree, Garcia excitedly stocked up on clothing and branded items so she could look the part during her freshman year at her chosen college. But plans can change. Garcia ended up pursuing her undergraduate studies at Florida International University. One small problem — she was left with a pile of collegiate clothing and merchandise from her other choice, the University of Miami, that she couldn’t use.
“I started an Instagram page just selling my University of Miami items and started following incoming students. These individuals started following back, and the items started to sell pretty quickly,” Garcia said.
The Instagram page, called College Thrifts, started to gain traction and become more popular. Then something surprising happened. Followers reached out to Garcia, asking if they could also sell their unwanted collegiate items through her popular Instagram.
“I would receive messages saying — ‘I have collegiate gear that I’m not wearing anymore, or I’ve graduated, or I’ve committed to a different school and I’m not going to wear the gear for that school. Can I send you stuff to sell for me?’ As an engineering student managing school and other responsibilities, I felt the time wasn’t right,” Garcia said.
However, the idea lingered with her during her undergraduate years. Garcia was starting to consider pursuing a Ph.D., so each summer she conducted research at a different school to help build her resume. But she soon ran into a familiar problem when she wanted a memento of her summer research experiences.
“I was going to all these different schools, and I wanted to bring a piece of them back home with me, but I couldn’t afford to pay $50-60 for those collegiate sweatshirts for schools that I specifically didn’t attend,” Garcia said.
When the COVID pandemic began, Garcia found herself at home with more free time than she anticipated. She soon realized that it was her chance to finally focus on the Instagram project she was too busy to devote her time to in the past. This time the page took off even faster than before.
“It was an amazing feeling to see all the time I had put into it was starting to pay off. When I began to get an overwhelming amount of messages on Instagram from students wanting to sell their college gear on our platform, I knew then it was time to move onto bigger things to scale our efforts,” Garcia said.
Garcia decided to create an e-commerce app that could turn her side hustle into a business. The humble College Thrifts Instagram was reborn as a startup — Unithrifts. However, starting your own company naturally comes with many obstacles.
Garcia said that as an underrepresented founder, she soon began to notice the inequities that exist in the startup world. When it came to tapping into existing relationships to raise funding, she found that the individuals she wanted to reach out to for her friends and family” fundraising round had more pressing concerns — an experience that perhaps a founder with access to existing resources and financial support may not experience.
“When those in my immediate circle were more focused on paying everyday bills as opposed to supporting my ‘crazy ideas’, I knew I had to get to work. My tenacity and ability to overcome adversity has resulted in over 25 national pitch competition wins, raising thousands of dollars in non-dilutive capital and features in various media publications,” Garcia said.
Garcia has pitched at a number of high-profile events including the Oracle for Startups x Next Gen HQ Cloud Challenge, where she was crowned national winner. She then flew to San Francisco to pitch Unithrifts to Oracle Cloud executives and watch the Golden State Warriors courtside.
Being at USC has given Garcia the tools to continue taking her startup to the next level. This year, she completes her master’s in Product Development Engineering, within the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering and the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering. She was also selected as the 2022 USC Viterbi Master’s Student Commencement Speaker, presenting at the Master’s Ceremony on Friday, May 13 2022. Garcia is also the recipient of a GEM Fellowship, which supports underrepresented students undertaking master’s and doctoral degrees in engineering and STEM disciplines. She recently was announced as a 2022 winner of the prestigious Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF) Scholarship, from a broad pool of applicants across the United States.
“Ultimately, when it came down to choosing where to pursue my graduate studies, I knew a strong entrepreneurial campus ecosystem was just as important to me as the ranking and reputation of the engineering school,” Garcia said. “I decided on USC because of the highly-ranked engineering program, world-renowned entrepreneurial programming, and ultimately the Trojan Network. I can wholeheartedly say I could not imagine myself anywhere else as an entrepreneurial engineer.”
Garcia also likes that her master’s allows her to take classes in both the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and USC Marshall School of Business.
“From the USC Alumni Association to USC Marshall, I’ve met the most amazing people who are willing to help you in any way they can! As a student entrepreneur at USC, I’ve come to realize the importance of building your Trojan network and I’ve found that it starts by just putting yourself out there.” Garcia said.
As Garcia looks to the future, she foresees further expansion for Unithrifts. As her fans continue to grow, she is looking to roll out ambitious new features to improve the customer experience.
“In the next couple of years, we hope to have a large presence on the ACC, SEC, Pac-12, Big 12, and Big Ten schools. Our new features include the ability to sell Greek life gear — which we’re testing now — and dorm décor. We’re also incorporating technology to support this growth,’ Garcia said.
Garcia is also hoping to work on partnerships with organizations focused on helping students get into and remain in college, such as Michelle Obama’s Better Make Room college access initiative and Her Campus Media, a college marketing company and family of digital media brands for Gen Z.
Published on May 3rd, 2022
Last updated on June 29th, 2022