Matt Cremins never thought he’d be starting a company building and selling Voda, an automated drink-dispensing machine made to give people easy access and convenience. He said his parents thought he was crazy for giving up a job offer from General Electric upon graduating to focus on Voda, a company he began building as a student at the University of Connecticut. His parents eventually came around and Cremins now hopes to inspire future entrepreneurs at UConn to pursue their ideas and passions. He received both an M.A. and M.S. in mechanical engineering from UConn.
Cremins came from a small suburban town in New York state, where he said he had a great childhood, but not enough exposure to different people and ideas.
“I wanted a school with a lot more opportunities, more diversification,” he said. “Just different types of people with different ideas.”
UConn was his choice university not only because of the diversity he craved, but also because of the price and the shear energy of the student body (By energy, he meant school spirit, he said). At UConn, he said, there are so many activities, clubs and sports on campus that he was really drawn to the university.
As an undergraduate, Cremins joined Beta Theta Pi, a social fraternity on campus that emphasizes academic success and philanthropic outreach, and Engineering Without Borders, an organization that develops projects to better third-world countries. He was in the Honors program and lived in Buckley his freshman year.
Basketball was a huge part of Cremins’ student life.
“I was a regular ticket holder,” Cremins said.
For Cremins, work-life balance continues to be important. He said education is vital, but students need people and teamwork skills as well. Cremins learned a lot while at UConn, he said, especially in regard to diversity and understanding different people’s viewpoints.
“I learned to be a lot more accepting in college of different people and their views,” he said. “It wasn’t that I came into school that way, I developed that.”
Cremins admits that he messed up many times along the way, but has learned that the world is a lot smaller than anyone could have imagined, especially in an age of email and phones. He encourages students to be their genuine self and accept all people.
While he has learned to be a people-person through college, Cremins said he always loved tinker toys as a kid. As soon as he got to UConn, he resolved to pursue mechanical engineering. It wasn’t until he stayed at UConn an extra year for a master’s degree that he got interested in business and developing new products.
Voda started in a graduate entrepreneurship class. The idea came to Cremins when he tried to get a drink after class, but could only find unkept water fountains and sugary beverages at the Student Union. He wasn’t happy about the lack of access and healthy or sanitary options, he said.
“I went to class the next day and said there’s got to be a better solution. I saw the trends of people wanting to have choice in what they want to drink, be healthier and be eco-freindly,” he said. “I’ve always been proud of UConn being a top university in terms of being green. We don’t advertise that enough.”
Cremins called the journey of building prototypes of Voda an iterative process. He got into contact with others at UConn to help him with parts of the project in which he did not have the needed expertise. He said the graduate entrepreneurship class and other programs on campus gave him some money to get the project going. Once they had a good enough prototype, Cremins and his team began placing Voda in different places in Hartford, including gyms and special events. They’ve been able to get Voda into UConn Hillel, but are unable to get it into on-campus buildings because of UConn’s partnership with Coca Cola.
Despite the obstacles, Voda has since gotten increasingly successful and Cremins said he is focusing on fine-tuning the product and increasing sales this year.
“Finding more customers and actually selling the product,” he said. “One of my goals for this whole process has been to get it back to UConn, where it started.”
For Cremins, bringing Voda to UConn is a way for him to share it with the community in which he began his career. He hopes a portion of the proceeds will go back to philanthropy to give back to other communities in the spirit of encouraging diversity and outreach. He wants to inspire future engineers and entrepreneurs as well, especially students at UConn who may have never thought about being entrepreneurs.
“It’s more about the university seeing the journey of a student building and starting a company,” he said. “It’s something to believe in.”
Diler Haji is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.