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Engineering student finds success as a young entrepreneur

Paul Couston is a junior in Industrial Engineering. At the age of 20, he has built his own company that sells solar-powered iPhone cases with the help of his co-founder, Rohit Kalyanpur.

Paul Couston is a junior in Industrial Engineering. At the age of 20, he has built his own company that sells solar-powered iPhone cases with the help of his co-founder, Rohit Kalyanpur.

Photo Courtesy of Paul Couston

Photo Courtesy of Paul Couston

Paul Couston is a junior in Industrial Engineering. At the age of 20, he has built his own company that sells solar-powered iPhone cases with the help of his co-founder, Rohit Kalyanpur.

By Yifan Gu, Contributing Writer

Now a 20-year-old junior in industrial engineering, Paul Couston said that he has been infected by the “entrepreneur bug,” and setting up his business, Optivolt is only the beginning.  

Inspired by early fancy

From a young age, Couston liked playing with LEGOs and generally enjoyed the process of constructing and manufacturing new things. He spent many Saturdays practicing building new projects in his suburban Chicago home with his brothers. This early interest laid the foundation for him to visualize creating actual products in the future.

Entering high school, Couston tried to figure out what really excited him. His rigorous math and science AP classes kept him busy, but he was also a varsity swimmer and water polo player, as well as an active member of the band.

At 16 years old, Couston started working as a swimming pool lifeguard. After being promoted to manager, he began to make improvements and redesign the structural path of the work processes, improving the efficiency of a rotation to allow guards to have longer breaks.

“Managing that pool was my first experience in industrial engineering and management, it allowed me to build and test models to solve real business problems,” Couston said. 

Apart from his first job at the Schaumburg Park District, Couston became a sub-contractor at Evo Enterprises, responsible for remodeling and redesigning work for residential and commercial buildings. This led Couston to become more involved in the engineering process and how that relates to running a business.

How an internship crafted a life track

After his first semester in college, Couston’s first internship was as a strategy and transformation intern at Express Scripts.

Couston worked as an internal operations consultant for the company, participating in tech planning and execution of projects that improved the operations of the company. Couston used methods of continuous improvement and used Six Sigma and Lean manufacturing principles at his job.

“Express Scripts was an incredible experience and taught me what it’s like to work as an industrial engineer. I’m so glad I worked for that company, I’m not sure where my career as an IE would be without that kind of experience at such a fast-moving corporation,” he said.

Enlightened by chance

Couston stated that when he was a freshman, he didn’t have any idea of what to do in the future. He took a Technology Entrepreneurship class by chance, which led him to meeting his tutor Harlee Sorkin, the lecturer of TE 250: From Idea to Enterprise, who became his mentor tutor for the rest of his college life.

“When I met Paul, he certainly had no intention of starting a tech venture. Sometimes that’s good because you don’t realize how overwhelming things can be in the startup world,” Sorkin said. “It allowed him to make his ideas reality and address challenges as they arose. In the meantime, he has been actively engaged in the UI tech startup ecosystem and has taken advantage of many of the resources available.”

Couston said he fell in love with the process of formulating and solving problems and learning how to actually run a company. This is when he got the idea to start his own company.

Entrepreneurship at Optivoltlabs

From Couston’s perspective, innovation doesn’t mean producing something new, but rather is about merging two ideas to improve them, making them better than before. This ideal is especially apparent in his current venture: Optivolt Labs.

“It’s crazy to think that energy is everywhere around you. Solar Power is a proven example but hasn’t really made a big impact in the consumer electronics industry. That’s an opportunity we are trying to build upon. We’ve focused on developing a better way to charge instead of plugging into the wall. We concentrate on improving current, but inefficient tech in a new industry,” Couston said.

As a high-tech innovator, Couston and his partner Rohit Kalyanpur, sophomore in Engineering, first envisioned the product at Optivolt Labs would redefine wireless charging in consumer electronics with a solar-powered phone charging case.

The solar phone charging case is a compact system including two cases — the inner case is used to protect the phone; the outer case, equipped with the solar panel and battery, can be utilized in both indoor and outdoor lighting to provide two extra charges to the life of the phone battery.

“Paul and I have been business partners of Optivolt labs for a little more than a year now and our strengths complement each other’s weaknesses,” Kalyanpur said. “Initially, I wanted Paul on the team for his design and CAD skills but I soon realized that his strengths were far more than just design. I really admire his hustler mentality which has pushed our company forward.” 

The future holds nothing but opportunities

“I don’t know what my future holds, but I know a big part of it will be entrepreneurship. I have this weird entrepreneurial bug and I really enjoy pushing the norm with innovation,” Couston said.

Couston stated that it’s too early to define his specialization in any field. He really enjoys manufacturing practical products and managing projects in consumer electronics and industry.

Couston is open to any new opportunity and always has a positive attitude toward new ideas. Whether pursuing a master’s degree or starting another business, problem-solving and business development are key skills Couston has learned in his time at University.

“I don’t know my future holds, but whatever the opportunity, I know I’ll be ready,” he said.

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