By Maddie Lee /// Sports Editor
Football and baseball player Stein Retzlaff (’16), thrower and former football player Erich Roepke (’16), and their three business partners, Hunter Meece (’15), Kyle Roepke and Trent Martin, were awarded an Incubator+Launch Seed Fund Grant on Oct. 17. They are eligible for up to $20,000 this year in order to fund their venture.
Their company, Intrepid Resource Management, LLC, serves as the middleman for selling used irrigation pipes. They seek out farms all over Oregon—often tby using Google Earth—that have changed to new irrigation systems. They buy their irrigation pipes and sell for a profit.
“We’ve been profiting over 100 percent,” Retzlaff said.
The idea came to fruition after long hours of keeping starlings off blueberry fields this summer. Roepke’s job gave him a lot of time alone with his thoughts.
Roepke started a scrap metal recycling business in high school and 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 had ventured on their first entrepreneurial enterprise in their first year. With Jonathan Goldstein (’15), they drafted a business plan for a website that would compare financial aid packages from different schools for high school seniors, and then calculate an accurate cost of attendance for each.
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: neither 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.
While the presence of an entrepreneurship center in a liberal arts institution is currently a topic for debate, Roepke values the resources and opportunities the center has given him.
“I can go to Lewis & Clark and I can 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,” he said.
The IRM team knew from the beginning that they wanted to apply for an I+L Seed Fund for additional resources. The fund was adapted from the Venture competition and was launched in Spring 2014.
IRM was one of six teams to receive I+L Seed Fund this fall. Along with the opportunity to pitch for funding, the recipients are given mentoring, consultation and resources from the Entrepreneurship Center. They are eligible for funding as long as their business endures.
Currently, IRM is working with Michael Kaplan, Managing director of the Center for Euntrepreneurship, and Brian Detweiler-Bedell, Academic Director of the Center for Euntrepreneurship, to improve the efficiency and endurance of their business model.
Before working with the Entrepreneurship Center, Retzlaff and Roepke relied on their instincts, connections and people skills.
“We’ve been pretty lucky,” Retzlaff said. “It’s a lot of trial and error, and there’s been very little error.”
Despite their immensely busy schedules and the time commitment varsity athletics demand, they have found value in qualities they have developed through athletics.
“It’s [about] being quick and adaptable,” Roepeke said. “It has a direct correlation with sports.”
From reaching out to a wide variety of people all over the state, they have met with a lot characters, from stock brokers to bull riders.
Roepke tells the story of a retired professional bull rider who almost inspired them to change their name to Rodeo Recycling. Roepke found his farm on Google Earth and called him to ask to buy his irrigation pipes.
The man asked if Roepke had seen his advertisement or seen the pipes driving down the road. Roepke told him he had spotted them on Google Earth.
“He was just silent for a second,” Roepke said, “and then he said, ‘Well that’s a new fucking rodeo then, ain’t it?”
While the name didn’t stick, “a new rodeo” is one way to describe what Roepke and Retzlaff do. They come at entrepreneurship from a unique angle, a very accessible approach. They don’t dress like businessmen; they attend meetings in flannel button-downs and boots. But they’re smart, savvy and passionate about what they do.