A lot of ambitious alumni tend to rush into their careers and, over the years, may view their time on campus as a fond yet distant memory. But to many UCI graduates, campus is where their entrepreneurial spirit was awakened and, even after graduation, nurtured in a way that allowed them to pursue their career and business dreams.
What they probably remember most is UCI’s ANTrepreneur Center, which was founded in 2014 and is now both an inclusive hub for innovation and a laboratory where entrepreneurship is not only encouraged but molded into a model for success. Under the guidance of director Ryan Foland, the center has become a catalyst for transforming ambitious ideas into concrete business ventures.
At the core of its mission, Foland says, is providing individual mentorship that gives students and alumni personalized guidance on their career or project plans. With a deep pool of diverse experiences and backgrounds, ANTrepreneur Center mentors can supply invaluable insights, helping current and former students refine their concepts and develop effective strategies to navigate the competitive landscape.
“We go beyond mere ideas, empowering students and alumni with the practical skills needed to tackle real-world challenges,” Foland says. “As a free resource for all UCI undergraduates, regardless of their major, we offer a comprehensive support system that includes one-on-one coaching, lean startup methodology education, professional development speaker series, and engaging hackathons and design challenges.”
Brett Weir is the founder and CEO of cloud consulting company BrettOps Inc. A 2011 UCI graduate, he has more than 12 years of experience in software engineering and architecture, specializing in open-source projects and the cloud. While an electrical engineering major at UCI, Weir invented his own gaming console, which he facetiously christened the “LameStation.” After graduating, Weir worked for Panasonic and then Syntiant before founding BrettOps a year ago with help from the ANTrepreneur Center. “For a long time, the ANTrepreneur Center was the only thing keeping my head on,” he recalls. “I would meet with them every three weeks or month. It was a place where you could go and they understood what you were doing.”
Another ANTrepreneur Center veteran is Zarina Bahadur, M.I.E. ’20, the CEO of 123 Baby Box, a monthly subscription box for parents of infants. She founded it while earning a Master of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UCI’s Paul Merage School of Business and, so far, has won five national pitch competitions while scaling her company to international markets. Bahadur says the ANTrepreneur Center helped kick off her entrepreneurship journey with resources and mentorship. “Through their workshops, they gave valuable insights on building a product and launching it in the market,” she says. “They also connected me with mentors in my industry who guided me through the whole process. It’s a great starting place for student entrepreneurs.”
Shelby Anderson ’18, M.A.T. ’19, is a full-time social science teacher at Laguna Beach High School and the founder of ExtremelyRetro.com, a website that sells nostalgic stickers, magnets, keychains and pins, all themed around everyday American life from the 1940s to the 1970s. “UCI, specifically the ANTrepreneur Center, has been a springboard to helping me discover and achieve my goals,” she says. While an undergraduate double-majoring in education sciences and social policy & public service, Anderson worked with the ANTrepreneur Center to start her first company, Sol Sisters, an online retailer focused on providing UV-protective clothing, cosmetics and accessories for sun-sensitive women.
“The support, guidance and opportunities that the ANTrepreneur Center provided helped give me the confidence and resources needed to start this venture,” Anderson says of ExtremelyRetro.com. “While my career path took a different direction, the skills I learned at the center are something I utilize on a daily basis. I became a strong public speaker, an organized and efficient worker, and a forward-thinking analyst, all of which I use in my career.”
Jennifer Keil and her sister Cindy Keil, a UCI English major who graduated in 2013, founded 70 Degrees. The company is an archival service that works with museums and other institutions to preserve, organize and, ultimately, curate their documents. Jennifer Keil credits the ANTrepreneur Center with giving her and her sister the direction they needed to make their business vision a success.
“We’re grateful for the passion and knowledge that Ryan Foland has provided to us for years,” Keil says. “He had solutions and contacts for every question we had as female entrepreneurs. I highly recommend scheduling an appointment with the center’s incredible team of experts. Stopping in to inquire about the ANTrepreneur Center has changed the direction of my career from being an employee to being an employer.”
Such praise illustrates both UCI’s and the center’s strong dedication to nurturing entrepreneurial talent among students and graduates. In a highly competitive business world that demands bold vision and creative thinking, the ANTrepreneur Center serves as a launching pad for young minds eager to make a difference.
“Our alumni stand as a testament to our commitment to fostering self-belief and equipping students with the tools to inspire others,” Foland says. “At the ANTrepreneur Center, we believe in cultivating the entrepreneurial leaders of tomorrow today.”
If you want to learn more about supporting this or other activities at UCI, please visit the Brilliant Future website at https://brilliantfuture.uci.edu. Publicly launched on Oct. 4, 2019, the Brilliant Future campaign aims to raise awareness and support for UCI. By engaging 75,000 alumni and garnering $2 billion in philanthropic investment, UCI seeks to reach new heights of excellence in student success, health and wellness, research and more.