The Basement: Finding Solutions, Innovating Change

Yohann Samarasinghe ’19 speaking at Triton Entrepreneur Night 2016.
Yohann Samarasinghe ’19 speaking at Triton Entrepreneur Night 2016.

There are a million and one ways to make the planet a healthier place – and UC San Diego student, Yohann Samarasinghe ’19, is doing his part to do just that. Samarasinghe has figured out how to recycle discarded rubber generated from tire manufacturing. His award-winning solution will not only help decrease the waste in our landfills, but save money for tire companies who can repurpose a once-discarded resource. And it all started at UC San Diego’s undergrad incubator, The Basement.

Conceived as a nexus of innovation at UC San Diego, The Basement was founded in 2015. Since then, the incubation space has supported dozens of student entrepreneur projects and has provided a venue for product development and professional mentorship. The facility offers a 24/7 working space and professional networking events where notable alumni, mentors and fellow entrepreneurs gather to share information and offer support to the visionary students who work there.

Samarasinghe, who is studying NanoEngineering and Business, found The Basement after attending an event featuring a well-known entrepreneurial speaker. He seized on The Basement’s proof of concept competition, which would grant selected projects $2,000 in funding. For Samarasinghe, this was the perfect opportunity. He could make use of The Basement’s operative space, while also receiving financial support to forward his research. What would emerge is RVS Rubber Solutions.

RVS Rubber Solutions is named for resonant vibrational separation. The RVS technology efficiently separates a tire’s rubber from its built-in steel. Because the quality of the rubber is not compromised, tire companies can reuse the reclaimed material. Their company’s website puts it best – “Reclaiming Yesterday’s Waste: Refueling Tomorrow’s Innovation.”

Here’s the twist. The other half of this creative endeavor lives 2,000 miles away. Samarasinghe’s best friend from youth is Pavel Galchenko ’19, who is studying Computer Science and Biology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Together they co-founded RVS Rubber Solutions, working in tandem over the miles to achieve their goals. The Basement provided all they needed to get started. Thanks to video apps, the two have been able to work remotely – on everything from prototyping to business matters.

“It was pretty much all that we were looking for, all we wanted at the time,” said Samarasinghe of the program. “We wanted a space with proper equipment (where) we could use our phones to actually prototype.”

Rather than stall the students’ collaboration, their dual-campus situation has actually worked in their favor because they’ve been able to take advantage of unique resources from each. The Basement at UC San Diego has the mentors, tools and resources needed for prototyping and testing. While Case Western Reserve University has a close affiliation with Goodyear and various rubber roofing industries. There they’ve had access to industry mentorship and materials to continually expand their product.

Yohann Basement fb pic
Yohann Samarasinghe ’19 and team at Triton Entrepreneur Night 2016.

The Early Stages

But just where did this unorthodox, yet brilliant, idea come from? It may not be your typical conversation to talk about during family dinner time, but that’s exactly how it went down. Samarasinghe’s father, a business consultant, worked on a project for a rubber recycling company and mentioned that the biggest piece of a tire, the body ply, is often left in landfills. A tire’s construction makes it difficult for the material to be efficiently recycled.

“I think the biggest motivation is the actual size of the problem,” said Samarasinghe. “Originally, my dad just said that this was a problem within the industry. But the more I looked into the actual problem, as it stands right now, this piece alone contributes to a hundred billion pounds of landfill waste… just in the U.S. alone.”

As juniors in Aurora High School, the co-founders of RVS Rubber Solutions participated in the “Independent Learning Experience,” a self-led seminar that allowed students to focus on their crafts and talents (i.e. robotics, visual arts and music). This became the foundation to delve into research that taught them the general basics of the problem.

The project went on to become a part of the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Core, a federal agency that lends entrepreneurial mentorship for small startups promoting the progress of science. The dynamic duo sought a business venture to learn how to market their product for rubber and tire companies.

The Competition

The CleanTech University Prize competition presented numerous networking opportunities that solicited promising partnerships from a diverse selection of tech companies with upcoming innovations.

Compared to their competitors, RVS Rubber Solutions was the only manufacturing technology startup that did not revolve around green tech nor original iOS applications. During their 20 minute presentation, RVS Rubber Solutions confidently delivered their pitch to dozens of company representatives. Just before boarding his flight back to San Diego, Samarasinghe received a surprising phone call; they had won the first place grand prize. The $50,000 in prize money will go back into development, as they work on their third scalar prototype and secure the interests of rubber companies to sponsor their endeavor.

The duo’s next competition is at the Department of Energy’s CleanTech competition, a national conference where numerous companies will show what’s going on in the industry. More networking opportunities in the rubber and recycling industries will add more insight as they continue to improve their prototype.

In the meantime, the power duo will continue their hard work in revolutionizing the manufacturing industry, all the while balancing academics and extracurricular activities.

On Thursday, April 27, The Basement will host Triton Entrepreneur Night, where students will present and demonstrate their groundbreaking projects. The public is invited to attend. More info here.