There's a start-up out in California with grand plans to revolutionize the automobile industry...and the recycling industry, the renewable energy industry, and, oh yeah, the drone industry.
When it comes to ambition, the seven (yes, seven) founders of VIRES Engineering, a start-up out of University of California Berkeley, may be unrivaled.
It all started with a science project. Co-founders Harshil Goel and Jason Forslin were high school students in San Ramon, California and decided to build an automobile transmission for class. Of course Goel and Forslin (who a third co-founder, Jordan Greene lovingly refers to as "savants") didn't build just any auto transmission. Theirs was an all-mechanical transmission, which would be super energy efficient at high speeds and maximize torque at low speeds. This transmission, known as the Virtually Infinite Rotary Exponentiation System, was the first of the start-up's many products and gave the company its name.
In 2010, Goel met Greene, the lone business major on the VIRES team, in his freshman dormitory at Berkeley. "Harshil and Jason are mechanical engineers, mathematicians, and physics people," Greene says. "They're solely invested in making the product. I really wanted to help them move the business forward."
Since then, Zachary Hargreaves, Matt Fay, Jeremy Fiance, and Timothy Lee, all Berkeley students with backgrounds at NASA, Tesla, and Boeing, respectively, have joined the founding team. Their policy, Greene says, is to let each founder work on a project he’s passionate about, which is how VIRES ended up with four products right off the bat. In addition to the transmission, there's a plastic recycling machine that reduces plastic bottles to flakes or pellets that can then be sent back to companies like PepsiCo or Coca-Cola to reuse. Then there's VIRES's novel wing design for unmanned aerial vehicles, which increases their stability and enables drones to carry 200 to 400 percent more weight. To top it off is VIRES's high-power wind turbine, which Greene says they built for about $5. "It's like a think tank of engineers," says Greene. "It's like if Thomas Edison's lab were to go commercial."
Buoyed by an impressive product line, VIRES has gotten plenty of outside support. The founders are part of the student-run entrepreneurial group Kairos Society and were the first company admitted to i-GATE, an incubator sponsored by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. They've raised enough money, Greene says, to cover their costs "easily," and have gotten attention from notable venture capitalists and corporations (though Greene's not naming names).
According to Brandon Cardwell, i-GATE’s vice president of programming, the most immediate market opportunity is for VIRES’s recycling machine, but every one of the company's products has huge potential. "They didn't want to let go of any one technology, which I appreciate," he says. "Instead, they said, 'Let's bring more people on to use their muscle, and we'll see who crosses the finish line first.'"
Coolest College Start-ups: VIRES
This seven-person founding team has four different products in four different industries and is shooting for the sky (in some cases, literally).