Through their startup, BottleRocket, Arthur Avetisov and Brian Leung want to change consumer perception toward recycling. Founded in May 2015, BottleRocket is a mobile app and direct-to-consumer recycling service that rewards customers for recycling at home. Inspired by the growing amount of unsustainable beverage waste, BottleRocket tackles the problem of plastic bottle waste by facilitating a consumer’s ability to recycle and earn money from it. “We created BottleRocket to tackle the 98% of people who don’t use recycling centers,” says Avetisov.
Before starting BottleRocket, both Avetisov and Leung formed a passion for entrepreneurship during their teenage years. “We wanted to do something different in the industry, we didn’t want to take the same routes a lot of kids were taking,” said Avetisov. Avetisov’s entrepreneurial ventures began after high school when he created small business Evergreen Recycling Centers. Avetisov continued his small business during his time at UCI where he studied Business Economics and Political Science. Meanwhile, Leung, an International Studies major, was exposed to the startup culture during an internship in San Francisco. He was inspired by seeing people take ideas and turn them into reality at a young age. Leung’s involvement in student organizations such as high school ASB and ASUCR (Riverside) exposed him early to entrepreneurship. “[I had] little run-ins with entrepreneurship […] that’s how it all connected for me,” says Leung.
Avetisov and Leung met at UC Irvine through the business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi. As cofounders, they rely on Avetisov’s experience in recycling and Leung’s experience with leadership. “We had experiences in two different industries,” said Avetisov. “He had the startup industry, I had the recycling, and we both noticed that there was an outdated system in recycling, so we wanted to combine experience and talents together… that’s how BottleRocket came to be”.
In May 2015, the pair interviewed with Ryan Foland, former Assistant Director of Blackstone LaunchPad at UCI, who provided them with advice and connected them to opportunities like startup competitions and events. Avetisov and Leung launched their company that same week, and became extremely involved with Blackstone LaunchPad. They even tested their product last spring— a hundred UCI students signed-up for the service in two days and participated in the one month trial period. During the trial period, students were able to download the app, obtain a BottleRocket bin, and start receiving recycling service. As bins filled, Bottle Rocket was notified through the app for needed pick-ups. Bins were brought to Evergreen Recycling Centers, at which point app users were compensated through mobile payment services like Venmo and PayPal. “You Recycle. We Pay. Earth Wins!” says Avetisov and Leung, emphasizing how their service is a convenient way for individuals to recycle.
BottleRocket won the 2015 ANTrepreneur of the Year award from Blackstone LaunchPad. “It was a small prize but for us it was meaningful,” said Leung. “[It] was a validation for our first milestone and for our first success.” For the next seven to eight months, the two focused on developing their direct-to-consumer recycle pick-up service rather than competing. “We were really focused on honing-in the product,” said Leung. In this time, they conducted market research, evaluated the efficacy of their product, and did a lot of “number crunching” which allowed them to estimate costs and profitability.
Ultimately, the two decided to shift focus from the college student market to the household market with its higher disposable incomes. “We feel that if they produce more recyclables, it’s more profitable for us to serve them,” says Avetisov. Nonetheless, the two would still like to pursue the college market at some point in the future as their experiment last Spring indicated the need and value of the service.
With this new market focus, Avetisov and Leung returned to startup competitions in March 2016. Throughout numerous competitions, BottleRocket has been recognized for its innovative idea and well-conceived business plan. The startup most recently won the $1,000 Best Undergraduate Team award at the 2016 Paul Merage School of Business – Business Plan Competition and the Regional Semifinals for collegiate Music and Ideas Festival RECESS’s Pitch Competition, a contest that provides college startups an opportunity to pitch LA investors and win a $250,000 grand prize. In June, Avetisov and Leung will compete in the Pitch Finals of the RECESS Pitch competition against nine other Regional Finalists. By finetuning their business plan and participating in these competitions, Avetisov and Leung have turned their recycling solution dream into a reality. They have gained invaluable experiences that have been integral in their development as entrepreneurs, and knowledge that wil enable them to continue growing their company. “Competing in these things, it structures your company to be ready for a real investment pitch…[for] equity investment,” says Leung. “It’s been a really invaluable resource for us.”
For more information about BottleRocket, please visit http://bottlerocketrecycle.com.
BottleRocket Honors and Awards:
| June 2015 – Won the first UCI Blackstone LaunchPad ANTrepreneur of the Year Award |
| March 2016 – Won the RECESS Pitch’s Competition UCI Qualifier Round to move to the Regional Semifinals |
| April 2016 – Won the Business Narrative Honorable Mention and $1,000 at Chapman University’s 2016 California Dreamin’ Business Plan Competition |
| May 2016 – Won the RECESS Pitch’s Los Angeles Regional Semifinals to move to the Pitch Finals |
| May 2016 – Won the Best Undergraduate Team Award and $1,000 at the 2016 UC Irvine Paul Merage School of Business – Business Plan Competition |
| May 2016 – Won Best Growth Strategy at the 2nd Annual UCI Blackstone LaunchPad ANTrepreneur Awards |