Merage School MIE Program Inspires Entrepreneurs to Create Sustainable Businesses

September 22, 2022 • By Keith Giles

Second-year Master of Innovation and Entrepreneurship student Katrina Alberto is originally from San Diego. After graduating from San Diego State University in 2021 with a BA in Marketing, she started thinking about where she wanted to earn her master’s degree–and The Paul Merage School of Business at UCI was at the top of her list.

“Once I saw the MIE program offering, I knew it was what I wanted to do,” says Alberto. “I’ve always been interested in entrepreneurship. Even back in high school when I was selling little bracelets and jewelry to my classmates, I always had that entrepreneurial spirit in me.”

Alberto was accepted to the MIE program in 2021. “It’s been really amazing so far,” she says. “I love how the MIE program is focused around becoming business owners or becoming an entrepreneur within an existing or family business.”



In her first year in the MIE program, Katrina began learning what it takes to start and build a business from the ground up. “It was in one of my classes with Professor Larry Wilks called MAPs,” she recalls, “where we take everything we’ve learned and apply it to create a viable business model and learn how to partner with other students to get from A to Z.”

It was in this class that she first learned about the New Venture Competition and assembled a team to enter. Unfortunately, her first NVC project didn’t make it past the first round. “Thankfully, I had classmates whose idea made it into the second round, and they invited me to join their team,” Alberto says.

Since Katrina had previously worked with many of them on other projects and was already familiar with their idea–which was centered around sustainability–she decided to join them.



Their original idea was to use recycled materials from ocean waste to create smartphone cases. But to ensure a stronger target audience, they decided to switch to creating jewelry. “We found that younger women, and a significant number of older women as well, were interested in sustainable, high-quality jewelry,” says Alberto.

Sustainability was a large reason Alberto wanted to collaborate with this new team. As part of their presentation for the NVC, it was pointed out that 14 million tons of plastic waste are dumped into the oceans every year, and that by 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish.

To address and hopefully reverse this alarming trend, Katrina and her teammates envisioned creating a new company called HAI, which means “ocean” in Taiwanese, as a sustainable jewelry brand made from recycled ocean waste that could meet customer needs while earning a profit and helping save the oceans.

“Originally, our idea was to partner with waste management organizations who collect and clean the waste and recycle it into smaller pieces that can be used for jewelry like wire, glass, metal, and plastics,” Alberto says.



In the final round, their innovative idea ended up winning the NVC competition in the consumer products category. “It was definitely nerve-wracking,” says Alberto. “Especially having to present at the Finals where you have to go without a pitch deck, so you have no references, and you have to do everything off the top of your head.”

Winning the competition not only convinced Alberto and her teammates that their idea had potential, but gave them ideas for other sustainable businesses designed to utilize recycled ocean waste products.

“It’s an idea that we would love to carry forward into the future,” she says. “Whether that’s jewelry or something else, the whole idea was based on this circular economy model where we create recycled products and sell them to consumers. The profits from that go back into funding nonprofit partners that work to clean up our oceans, and our customers can also get involved and donate their time or money to those causes, too. That whole concept is something all of us really care about and want to see implemented in the future.”



Speaking of the future, Alberto hopes to someday start a business of her own. “I’m really interested in the beauty industry,” she says. “Skincare, makeup, stuff like that has always been a keen interest for me, especially if I can incorporate this sustainability concept into that industry. From the ingredients to the materials used for the products, and the packaging. Even the company itself is something I’d want to ensure was actively donating to organizations that are working to improve the environment. Whether it’s my own business or a company I join, I’d love to raise the standard in the beauty industry.”



“The MIE program and the NVC have really helped to prepare me for the real world,” says Alberto. “There are so many mistakes you can make when you try to do it all alone. By having professors and coaches who have innovated companies or started successful businesses come alongside you, it’s really preparing us for the future.”



In addition to all of the practical experience she’s gained, Katrina has also discovered another unexpected advantage of joining the program. “To learn from our professors and gain their advice is invaluable,” she says, “but I’d say that the people I’ve connected with in this program–my fellow MIE students–have also been really inspirational for me. There are so many great people from so many diverse backgrounds to learn from. It’s really been a very gracious and thankful journey so far.”

Katrina Alberto, who served as the Chief Marketing Officer for the HAI team shares her winning NVC honors with her fellow MIE students: Yi-Ching (Wendy) Huang (CEO), Ting-Ling (Tina) Kuo (CPO), Hsiao-Tung (Shelly) Liao (CFO), Tanaporn (Paul) Suwatnodom (COO), and Pongthanit (Pong) Bisalputra, along with their exceptional coach, Massoomeh Kazerouni.