Campus program takes entrepreneurship beyond the classroom
BY TOM BERG
On the day he graduated from UC Irvine, Arthur Avetisov spent his morning picking up bottles and cans.
“I was dirty and stinky,” he says. “But I was on a mission.”
That day in June 2015, he collected more than a diploma. He and classmate Brian Leung collected 1,500 pounds of bottles and cans — confirming that their recycling idea could work.
Their startup BottleRocket is now expanding into 10 Orange County cities, including Irvine.
“Think of us as the Uber of recycling,” Avetisov says. “Instead of hauling your bottles and cans to a recycling center, standing in line, sorting, weighing, and waiting for a voucher to redeem, just push a button on your phone — and we’ll do it for you.”
“Essentially,” he adds, “we’re reinventing the redemption recycling industry.” Just like UC Irvine is reinventing university innovation — inside the unlikeliest of classrooms.
Welcome to the Cove @ UCI
In here is where the magic happens. Past the Ms. Pac-Man game and under a ceiling of hanging surfboards, you can find a UCI alumni startup with a device to treat foot ulcers; another who’s converted a vacuum into a therapy robot; and another who’s invented a new kind of X-ray machine.
This is the Cove @ UCI — ground zero for UCI Applied Innovation, which helps students, staff, faculty and alumni turn ideas into businesses by connecting them with investors, mentors and corporate partners. Set in UCI Research Park, between the campus and the community, it’s well positioned to engage the community and industry, and promote innovation on a large scale, says Executive Director and Chief Innovation Officer Richard Sudek.
“BottleRocket’s success is a testament to the collaborative culture of our Wayfinder incubator, the diversity of resources available, and the commitment of our experts-in-residence mentors who dedicate their time to these early-stage startups,” he says.
Launching a company It was UCI mentors who helped Avetisov and Leung pitch their recycling concept on Facebook. Within days, they had hundreds of customers.
It was UCI mentors who encouraged Avetisov and Leung to enter a campus-wide competition for startups. They won. It was UCI mentors who guided Avetisov and Leung into a startup incubator which led to a national competition for college startups. Soon they were looking at $270,000.
Irvine is the heart of it all
BottleRocket got $20,000 in venture-capital funding from Dorm Room Fund, and then $250,000 from Mucker Capital.
“It validated our belief that we can make a real impact in California, the U.S. and potentially the world,” Avetisov says.
BottleRocket is one of many startups now emerging from UCI Applied Innovation.
“There is much excitement about the growing community of startups in Orange County,” Avetisov says, “and Irvine is the heart of it.”