YEI-nurtured student enterprise gets business payoff from old cell phones

In 2008 two Yale students wanted to find a way to recycle cell phones and other electronics so that they would not end up in landfills. The software they developed to help consumers and businesses turn them in became the basis of the New Haven company YouRenew, which on Dec. 3 was acquired by Clover Wireless of Chicago.

The deal made YouRenew the first student startup nurtured by the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute to be acquired by a major company.

“Yale is a place where people who are curious, have big ideas, and want opportunities to pursue them can come and succeed,” said Bob Casey ’11, chief executive of YouRenew who co-founded the company as a junior.

The Clover deal validated the vision not only of Casey and his team, but of the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, formed six years ago to help convert student ideas into businesses.

“We have two chief products – the ideas of Yale students and the capital of Yale alumni,” said James Boyle, managing director of YEI. “They are a powerful combination when we bring them together.”

YEI helped Casey and his co-founder Rich Littlehale ’10 develop a business plan and provided them incubator space to help launch their venture. Boyle and his team also introduced the students to business mentors throughout the region and to angel investors like Sean Glass ’02, who provided early-stage financing to the young company.

“Bob’s idea wasn’t ready for investment until he worked with YEI,” said Glass, who more than a decade ago helped start successful company HigherOne as a Yale undergraduate. “YEI helped him refine his business to the point where it was an attractive investment opportunity.”

Casey, who now serves on YEI’s operating board, said he would like to see the university do even more to promote entrepreneurship among Yale students.

“I have seen a lot of incredible things happening here over the last five years, but there are even better things to come,” Casey said.