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Bates Center for Entrepreneurship and Leadership

Student athletes pioneer recycling business

December 04, 2014

  • News Image
    Stein Retzlaff ’16
  • News Image
    Erich Roepke ’16

By Maddie Lee ’15

Football and baseball player Stein Retzlaff ’16, former football player Erich Roepke ’16, and their three business partners—Hunter Meece ’15, Kyle Roepke, and Trent Martin—were recently awarded an Incubator+Launch Seed Fund grant. They are now eligible for up to $20,000 to fund their venture.

Their company, Intrepid Resource Management (IRM) serves as the middleman for selling used irrigation pipes. They seek out farms all over Oregon—often using Google Earth—that have changed to new irrigation systems. They then buy their irrigation pipes and sell for a profit.

Roepke started a scrap metal recycling business in high school. He found that aluminum irrigation pipes could be sold for much more than steel and were easier to transport since aluminum is also lighter. He paired this knowledge with his observation that many farms were switching from rectangular to circular irrigation systems, and IRM was born.

Retzlaff was a natural business partner in Roepke’s plan. The two took on their first entrepreneurial enterprise in their first year at Lewis & Clark. With Jonathan Goldstein ’15, they drafted a business plan for a website that would compare financial aid packages from different schools and calculate an accurate cost of attendance for each one.

They submitted their proposal to the then-named Venture Competition, which became the I+L Seed Fund last spring. They were eliminated early on, and attributed their elimination to a substantial hole in their business plan: none of them knew how to make a website.

Two years later, Roepke and Retzlaff were equipped with more business knowledge. Roepke is an officer of the entrepreneurship club, and Retzlaff is a member and an economics major. They teamed up with Meece, Roepke’s brother Kyle Roepke, and Roepke’s high school friend Trent Martin to launch IRM.

“I can go to Lewis & Clark and get a degree in philosophy and [Meece] can get a degree in religious studies and we’re already making more money in school than most people make in the first three years they get out of school,” Roepke said.

The IRM team knew from the beginning that they wanted to apply to the I+L Seed Fund. Along with the opportunity to pitch for funding, the recipients are given mentoring, consultation, and resources from Lewis & Clark’s Center for Entrepreneurship. They are eligible for funding as long as their business endures.

Currently IRM is working with Michael Kaplan, the center’s managing director, and Brian Detweiler-Bedell, the center’s academic director, to improve the efficiency and endurance of their business model.

Despite their immensely busy schedules and the time commitment varsity athletics demand, they have found value in qualities developed through athletics.

Said Roepeke, “It’s [about] being quick and adaptable. It has a direct correlation with sports.”

A version of this article originally appeared in the Pioneer Log.

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