InVenture Prizewinning Transfer Students Offer Inspiration and Advice

Nearly 23% of the 2023 incoming class at Georgia Tech represents transfer students, so we’re highlighting a couple of them to mark National Transfer Student Week.

Tyler Ma and Jeff Mao, co-founders of SellRaze, transferred to Georgia Tech in pursuit of a driven college environment that would help them develop their startup. Now winners of the InVenture Prize, they reflect on their time at Tech and share student tips.

Jeff Mao (left) and Tyler Ma (right) celebrate while holding their InVenture Prize trophy.

For 2023 InVenture Prize winners Tyler Ma and Jeff Mao, a college experience where they could foster their focus on innovation was key — a characteristic they found in spades upon transferring to Georgia Tech.

For Mao, the culture that drew him to Georgia Tech became apparent at a fall visit during the annual Moon Festival, hosted by the Vietnamese Student Association. Soon after, he began the transfer application process.

“People were overwhelmingly nice and passionate about their work,” said Mao of his visit. “Georgia Tech students are doers, and the campus caters to that within the learning environment.”

For Ma, Tech was always the ultimate goal. When he initially applied as a senior in high school, he was offered the Talent Initiative Transfer Pathway Program that granted him admission after a year at another institution.

Ma and Mao met during their time at their previous institution, becoming fast friends. Both computer science majors, the duo spent much of their time as first-year students thinking about how to use code to create the next billion-dollar idea and solve problems. In between classes and other commitments, Ma and Mao created SellRaze, an e-commerce management platform that helps businesses list their products on multiple platforms at once.

Ma did, in fact, transfer to Tech in Fall 2022 through the Talent Initiative Transfer Pathway Program, and Mao followed through the regular transfer process in Spring 2023. According to the two, coming to Tech allowed them to develop SellRaze even further.

Programs like Idea to Prototype challenged them to learn how to present, improve, and analyze SellRaze. It also gave them a mentor in the form of Caleb Southern, a beloved Georgia Tech professor in the College of Computing known for his care for Tech students. For Ma and Mao, finding someone they felt comfortable approaching for mentorship help was difficult as new students, but Southern readily accepted them as his mentees and became a key influence in the project. Southern since passed away, but Ma and Mao say he continues to be a motivational force for them.

“He was the one that got us to think beyond the back-end coding and into how everything actually looks,” said Ma. “I would advise other transfer students to seek out that kind of mentorship.”

It was during Mao’s first semester at Tech that the duo was able to enter the InVenture Prize competition, a faculty-led innovation contest for undergraduate students and recent graduates of Georgia Tech. According to Ma, it was something they didn’t initially see themselves doing.

“They played a video about it during orientation, and it felt so far beyond what we could do at the time,” said Ma. “But eventually, we met the winners from the past year and learned more about it. So even though it was something that felt way outside of our comfort zone, we decided to pursue it.”

For the two students, confidence-boosting, trusting the process, and breaking out of the comfort zone sums up many aspects of their journey and advice for others — even beyond transfer students.

“If you apply and don’t get good news back, that doesn’t mean you should necessarily give up,” said Mao. “I applied three times, but I think that everything happens for a reason.”

Today, Mao works on SellRaze full-time while Ma works on SellRaze and at Georgia Tech Research Institute.

Learn more about 2023 transfer students and transfer admission at Tech. Read the transfer pathway guide for more information on transfer pathways at Georgia Tech. Visit Tech’s National Transfer Student Week page to learn more about upcoming events and resources for transfer students and prospective transfer students.