When faced with issues that bother her—environmental crises, mental health issues, violence in our society—Audrey Larson’s solution is to create. Invent.
“The things that frustrate me, the things that annoy me about the world – I can solve them and be productive with them,” explains Larson ’25 (ENG), who will start her sophomore year studying materials science and civil engineering at the to study UConn. “I’m passionate about tech and problem solving, starting a business, it’s all a way of doing my part to change the things that upset me, even if it’s just a little.”
She received her first US patent while still a high school student. She designed a rotating carbon reduction plate system – a plant canopy – that could help filter out carbon dioxide emissions over paved surfaces like highways.
“I’m a huge environmentalist,” she says, “and one of my inventions is about that and about changing what seems to be the most seemingly overwhelming problem of our time.”
Another invention was fueled by the anger and fear she felt after the Parkland High School shooting. In 2021 she received her second US patent, this time for a moveable bulletproof barrier system developed for use in classrooms.
While she describes invention as “her true passion”, her latest entrepreneurial endeavors – two companies founded in partnership with friend and classmate Angel Velasquez ’25 (ENG) – are very much in sync with her personal mission, the world around her to improve .
“We were just hanging out one night and I had this idea — why don’t we start some kind of charity partnership?” she says. “I pitched the idea to him and that night we bought $500 worth of equipment for the company. We thought: ‘We’ll do this!’ And I think I scared my parents because they said, ‘What the hell are you doing?’”
Parents’ doubts aside, the couple dove headfirst into the idea. The result is her retail company, Unfolded, which launched earlier this year. Her company aims to work with young artists as well as charities, using a portion of the proceeds from the sale of items featuring exclusive artwork to support charitable organizations aligned with the artist’s work and values.
They started with an artist, UConn student Matilyn Elkin, and her nonprofit partner Art With Impact, which seeks to promote spiritual wellbeing by creating space for young people to connect through art. Their first designs are available on t-shirts and tote bags, each printed by hand on a single fabric printing machine – sometimes in the early hours of the morning as they work to fill a growing number of orders and the demand I have at the fairs and Found farmers markets that they visited during the summer.
“When we go to trade fairs, people love our idea,” says Velasquez. “We definitely found good support.”
“We’ve got an independent study going on right now with a professor here who’s going to try to help us scale up because we’re getting to a point where we’re almost too busy for both of us,” says Larson.
The couple is also collaborating on a project with another UConn student, Charlotte Chen ’24 (ENG, CLAS), which began with Innovate Wellness, a program offered by Student Health and Wellness that encourages students to come together and innovate To develop solutions for the health and wellness concerns that they find on campus. Through their company Geomate, they are developing an app to connect students with trusted friends to keep them safe while they’re alone on campus.
The idea came from a club event Larson attended at UConn where sexual assault survivors spoke about what had happened to them and how it had impacted their lives.
“Although all of their experiences were so different, what they had in common was that they were all scared afterwards,” says Larson. “Our app is really designed for the college student. You enter the planned route around campus that you wish to follow, and if you then deviate from that route, the emergency contacts you have selected will be notified. It creates security without causing more fear. I see it as an extra buffer – you don’t have to go to the police, but you can have a safety net.”
While creating an app coincides with his computer science degree, Velasquez has found advantages beyond academics through his joint entrepreneurial ventures with Larson, and he plans to take those lessons from him after college, in a career he hopes will lead she will focus on cyber security.
“As an entrepreneur, you understand that you’re not going to succeed at everything,” he says. “There have definitely been times when things have slowed down for us, but we’re still adjusting. We find out how and where we went wrong. We go back to the drawing board. What can we do better? This ability to adapt to given circumstances is a very big thing about entrepreneurship to me.”
Larson hopes to one day earn her Ph.D. and continue working in an academic lab — “I knew I wanted to work in a lab since high school,” she says. “I love lab work.”
But she assumes that she will always work on the side.
“It would be the dream of becoming a professor and then having a company for green materials or an environmental consultancy on the side,” she says. “One thing I highly recommend is starting your own business. Side hustles are great. I recommend everyone to have a part-time job at some point in their life. It’s not necessarily sustainable, but just do it. If it fails, whatever you tried, it’s cool. Just stand out there.”
And both recognize the UConn programs — including support from the Peter J. Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, SHaW, the IDEA Grant Program, and OPIM Innovate — for providing students at all levels of their academic careers with opportunities, opportunities to innovate to explore and create.
“UConn has a lot of programs that you can literally just try things out with,” says Velasquez. “If it doesn’t work, you don’t really lose anything. You really only win because you get that experience.”
“I think UConn is very supportive of creative endeavors, and it would be a shame not to apply for the grants that they have,” says Larson. “And if you have an idea and you don’t have the means to do it – because we couldn’t just put our personal money into it – it’s a shame not to at least apply and try. Because there are too many cool things they offer. There are opportunities for entrepreneurial stuff, research – you will find something that suits your needs.”
To learn more about the entrepreneurial opportunities available to students at UConn, visit Entrepreneurship.uconn.edu.