Engineering student starts laser-cutting business venture from the ground up


Aaron Bursten created TOKA Branding, a laser-cutting business Photo credit: Sean Martens

It wasn’t in his nature to sit back and allow things to just happen for him. As the hands-on child he was, taking things apart and reassembling them just made sense. College didn’t seem like it fit in the cards until he saw the freedom and opportunities it opened.

Part-time sustainable manufacturing engineering student and owner of TOKA Branding, Aaron Bursten, started his sustainable laser cutting business from the ground up.

“I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” Bursten said. “I’ve always been a big believer of making your own destiny, being able to make your own decisions and having those decisions pay off rather than waiting around.”

Throughout high school, Bursten felt he always wanted to contribute to businesses he worked for in significant ways. During that same time, he started a lighting business with the help of a partner. This demonstrated his self-starting skills that would take the forefront just years later.

Seeing the hands-on person Bursten was, he was asked by non-profit organization CEAS Collective to make a prototype for a promotional product in his early college career. From then on he would continue to use his technical skills that would eventually lead him into his current focus, the TOKA Branding business.

TOKA Branding, a business-to-business service that is based on creating high quality handcrafted promotional products, has a mission to start conversations with its unique pieces. Its foundation began from the comfort of the Ideas Fab Lab in Chico before Bursten moved to his garage for six months and eventually decided on investing over $25,000 into his own rented space and equipment on Nord Avenue.

“The Fab Lab is definitely a good place to get your foot in the door,” Bursten said. “I was able to use their tools, and learn the machines so I know exactly what I need to know when I buy the machine myself.”

The Ideas Fab Lab in Chico is a member-driven makerspace for artists to meet and collaborate. It provided Bursten with the opportunity to rent laser-cutting equipment for a monthly fee of $30.

Through this subscription, Bursten was able to slowly begin his promotional production creations that varied from small engraved keychains to store front signage to engraved leather goods.

TOKA Branding’s Instagram reach expanded the Chico-based business to manage out-of-state clients from Arizona, Colorado and Washington. TOKA Branding crosses various industries creating custom products for Earthen Farm’s jars and lids, local Geology Rocks promotional sign, Phi Kappa Tau fraternity and more.

“It’s definitely nice to dip my foot in all of these different industries and really learn what everyone’s looking for,” Bursten said.


The process of using client logos and transposing them onto whichever surface they choose involves a subtractive manufacturing laser-cutter and a computer numerical control (CNC) router machine. The CNC router machine handles more dense material as opposed to the laser-cutter.

The laser-cutter works much like a printer by designing intricate details with high-powered lasers, which sends a laser pulse through to frame images. By adjusting settings, the images and results can be manipulated to formulate a unique end-product.

Bursten focuses on making end-products that will last more than a lifetime and be sustainable for the planet and its consumers. Sustainable and non-toxic stains such as Milk Paint are used to keep customers and employees safe in the long-run.

Bursten plans to keep building TOKA Branding after he receives his bachelor’s degree into a self-sustaining business. Once he graduates, he plans to pursue TOKA Branding full-time and possibly open another business.

Bursten launched a business that attracted and sustained loyal repeat clients. The demand for his products led him to expanding his business to hiring the first employee, Christian Doll, this summer.

“When I first started I said, ‘Yeah, I think I can do that.’ Now it’s like ‘I know I can do that and I know I can do it better than anyone else.'”

Alejandra Solorio can be reached at [email protected] or @alesolorio8 on Twitter.