Published: October 12, 2017
Seniors Launch Online Marketplace for Students
Spartan Accelerator Series: A focus on the current student and recent alumni startups that are part of the Spartan Accelerator program.
When Ekaterina Meshcheryakova ’18 came to UT, she tried every club and organization she could think of. She is someone who is open to opportunity. So when she found herself feeling like she had tried it all, she decided to create a new opportunity.
Going into her senior year, Meshcheryakova is one of three co-founders of UniMates, an online marketplace for college students focusing on textbooks, dorm items and services. It’s an easier way to sell back that Business 101 book or mini refrigerator as the transaction is likely to happen on campus, essentially a Craigslist solely for college students.
“The whole purpose of the app is to save and earn money,” said co-founder Hanna Grevelius ’18, with the added side benefit of reducing one’s carbon footprint. “I will look for cheaper books on Amazon, for example, but it might be shipped from New Jersey or New York or California, when someone who lives in that dorm across from me might have that book now laying in their room.”
In terms of services, students could offer photography services for professional headshots, design services for startup logos, tutoring for higher level courses, or hair and makeup for sorority or fraternity socials. Meshcheryakova and Grevelius said UniMates, which is available on Android and iOS, requires users have an .edu email address, and all the payments are done through the app. As it is set up now, the user will first see all of the listings from users at their school and then the listings from other universities.
They formed as a company in early 2017, joined the Spartan Accelerator and officially launched last week on Oct. 3. They’ve won $5,000 from the University of South Florida's Frank and Ellen Daveler Pitch Competition in the spring, were given the social media award at UT’s Lowth Entrepreneurship Center’s Best New Venture Expo in April and have joined CREATE. They’ll also be pitching their business at the Collegiate Entrepreneurs' Organization (CEO) national conference later this month.
Meshcheryakova came to UT for the warmth, of course, (her hometown of Novosibirsk, Russia, is literally in Siberia where she said she would see snow nine months out of the year), but also for the thrill of a new challenge.
“I’ve always had the goal of going to everywhere in the world,” she said. “I don’t like to feel restricted to just one place, one city or one country.”
She is studying finance and management information systems where “everyone studying finance wants to be an investment banker. That’s not me,” Meshcheryakova said. “UT has opened up opportunities for me. For me, it’s about how far can I go and how much I can do. There are no borders.”
She said she just showed up to everything being offered and the opportunities just unveiled themselves. “UT is all about exploration.”
Grevelius was born in Stockholm, Sweden, and came to the U.S. through an exchange program to spend her junior year of high school. She liked the culture so much she stayed her senior year. An avid golfer, she loved the year-round warmth and after considering several offers, came to UT to play on the golf team and to pursue her other interest, entrepreneurship.
“I like creating new things and being in charge of your own time, knowing the more you work the more you get done. Though we know now there’s always things on the list — you check one thing off and you add two more,” said Grevelius, who has worked with two other Swedish startups, Opti and Fishbrain, which is the biggest fishing app in Florida. “I have a drive of wanting to work and wanting to do more. I realized pretty early that I wanted to have my own company and be involved in some startups.”
There is a third co-founder of UniMates, a developer and friend of Meshcheryakova who works remotely from Europe, plus they have seven interns. Their next steps include finding investors so they can expand in 2018 to other Florida universities. Their current profit model includes charging a percentage on each transaction.
Eventually they want to keep growing throughout the U.S. and abroad, and expand on the types of things they offer through their marketplace.
“I don’t see this as a job,” Grevelius said. “It’s what I want to do. Working with UniMates is a break from everything else — it creates energy for me.”
Have a story idea? Contact Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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