Cal Poly San Luis Obispo


New Startups Join the SLO HotHouse Incubator Program


After three months in the SLO HotHouse this summer, five accelerator companies will continue their startup journey in the SLO HotHouse Incubator program: Spectrvm, Gatherologie, ObserVR, BoltAbout and Current. They will join the companies currently residing in the incubator program: Reduce. Reuse. Grow., Calivore, Flume, BrandPlug, App Scrolls, Bottlefly and Higea Inc.

While the challenges of building a startup remain, the Incubator offers a diverse support system critical for success in the market.

“Once a startup integrates into our Incubator program, their runway for support and resources has been extended for a full two years,” said Judy Mahan, director of the CIE Incubator.

With access to local mentors and advisors as well as guaranteed office space in the SLO HotHouse, each incubator company holds the tools they need to progress their business.

“We help each startup set up an advisory board, we provide access to capital through our relationships with investors, we continue our coaching and mentoring program, as well as provide ongoing guidance with business planning workshops and boot camps,” said Mahan.

Despite all of the resources at an incubator company’s disposal, the program is designed to promote long-term sustainability.

“We strive to ensure that when these startups graduate from our incubator program they have grown into sustainable and scalable businesses that will thrive locally,” said Mahan.

Since the program’s inception in 2011, nine companies have graduated from the SLO HotHouse Incubator. In 2018, CIE hopes to add five more companies to one of our favorite lists: companies who no longer need our help.

The Value of Philosophy in Entrepreneurship 

A photo by Thomas Kelley.

During my three years at Cal Poly, I’ve studied philosophy while working for the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). During my interview for my position at CIE, I was asked about the relevance of studying philosophy for a job centered around entrepreneurship. This question followed me throughout my collegiate career, and I’ve often joked that my internship at CIE helps ease my parents’ concerns over my major choice.

However, despite widespread notions that studying philosophy is impractical or irrelevant to “real-world” careers (e.g. entrepreneurs and engineers), I’ve personally witnessed that studying philosophy is one of the most practical and relevant pursuits available today, especially for those in the startup world.

A rarely publicized fact, those who studied philosophy in college have founded some of the most successful companies around the world. Philosophy majors founded LinkedIn, Paypal, Slack, Whole Foods, Intel, and Wikipedia.

Damon Horowitz, who serves as Google’s in-house philosopher, founded several successful startups before getting a Ph.D in philosophy, calling it the “best decision he ever made.” Major publications like The Atlantic, Forbes, Bloomberg, and The Huffington Post have written about the increasing impact of philosophy majors on the business world, some going as far to say that philosophy is the most practical major available to college students.

It seems that popular perception fails to account for the immense success of philosophers in the startup world. How does a discipline that focuses on the foundational structure of reality and pride itself in abstract thinking produce such great entrepreneurs?

First, philosophy teaches you how to think. And if you can think well, you can create well, lead well and build well. Further, the study of philosophy demands clear and concise writing as well as rigorous analyses of difficult arguments. These attributes translate directly to an entrepreneurs’ skill set, allowing co-founders to parse through the unnecessary fluff and focus on the crucial elements necessary for the success of their startup. It also enables an entrepreneur to quickly and compellingly communicate the vision of their venture.

However, studying philosophy is not simply an exercise in strengthening your critical thinking abilities. Philosophy’s subject matter immerses itself in the questions that entrepreneurs should be and need to be wresting with—namely, the question of what it means to be human.

In ethics, one of the fundamental pillars of philosophy, we’re attempting to answer the question, “How should we live?” And whether or not you’ve spent time contemplating that question, your startup (and its product or service) represents a de facto answer to ethical concerns.

If you have an app that helps friends communicate through short video messages, you’re promoting certain values (i.e., how time should be spent and how we should relate to other people). Similarly, if you have a clothing startup that donates a percentage of your proceeds to developing countries, you, too, are promoting a certain set of ethical norms. Entrepreneurs who are cognizant of which values and lifestyles their companies endorse, either explicitly or implicitly, will create better startups and a better world.

For some, this kind of thinking may sound idealistic and unnecessary. However, choosing to ignore a philosophical approach to your startup does not entail neutrality on these issues. Simply building a profit-accumulation machine ignorant of its impact on the world amounts to an endorsement of a self-centered and egoistic philosophy. From issues like climate change to working conditions in developing nations, this next generation of entrepreneurs cannot afford to produce philosophically lazy businesses.

In a Bloomberg article, “Philosophy is Back in Business,” Dov Seidman wrote, “Philosophy can help us address the (literally) existential challenges the world currently confronts, but only if we take it off the back burner and apply it as a burning platform in business.”

Asking the more existential questions about your startup, while challenging, provides a sturdy foundation from which the future of your company can build upon. Elon Musk summarizes this approach concisely: “Boil things down to their fundamental truths and reason up from there.” By implementing a more holistic approach to entrepreneurship, we will begin to incorporate an analysis of business success that includes human impact alongside profit margins.

What does this mean for entrepreneurs without a philosophy background? If you haven’t read Plato, does that mean your startup is destined for failure? Clearly not; however, taking an ethics course, reading the classic thinkers or even listening to a podcast on the history of philosophy all present great opportunities for personal growth that will inevitably extend to your startup.

As obvious as it sounds, only humans do entrepreneurship. This is because only humans can reason, that is, synthesize abstract information, project outcomes and reflect on past decisions. A discovery from Aristotle, this insight remains just a valuable over 2000 years later. When we reason well, we become better people and consequently, better entrepreneurs. Maybe that philosophy course in college was more practical than you thought.

Get Involved With CIE | SLO HotHouse Incubator


Only a fortunate few find themselves in the SLO HotHouse Incubator program. Having endured countless pitch competitions, check-ins for the Hatchery, and accelerator meetings, the SLO HotHouse Incubator, for many startups, represents the culmination of their CIE experience.

Successful graduates of the SLO HotHouse Accelerator program receive the opportunity to apply for the incubator program, but only the best of the accelerators land a spot in CIE’s most prestigious offering. If accepted, startups have access to 24-months of office space at the SLO HotHouse, mentorship from CIE and the SBDC and an expansive network of Cal Poly alumni who walked the startup path before them.

While the incubator in many ways designates the conclusion of a startup’s journey at Cal Poly, it also serves as the final launching pad before complete independence. Since 2010, 13 companies have graduated from the program, ranging from medical startups to food delivery companies. Though some of these startups continue to build their businesses outside of SLO, their experience within the entrepreneurial community of the SLO HotHouse prepared them for the challenges of the startup world.

With all it represents, the SLO HotHouse Incubator occupies a unique space in the CIE program lineup and in San Luis Obispo County. If we’ve done our jobs right, an incubator company won’t need CIE after their 24-month stint. But while we have them, SLO has access to the most innovative thinkers at Cal Poly—an incubator of talent and tenacity. If after your tenure at Cal Poly you find yourself in the incubator program, you’ll know you did something right.

How a Coffee Cup Could Change the World

Over 500,000 people have watched Alex Henige’s Huffington Post feature, and while social media coverage on a national platform seems like the best possible scenario for a young startup, Henige isn’t interested in becoming the latest internet fad. His company, Reduce. Reuse. Grow., is looking to foster long-lasting change in environmental awareness and action.

 The novelty of this innovation sparked national attention from publications like Forbes, Yahoo and as highlighted, The Huffington Post. But for Henige and his company, awareness is just the first step.

I believe there are smarter ways to consume and Reduce. Reuse. Grow. is helping spark this change, said Henige.

Reduce. Reuse. Grow., now an incubating company at the SLO HotHouse, is also a certified Benefit Corporation (B-Corp). As a B-Corp, Reduce. Reuse. Grow. is tasked with environmental and social responsibility, fostering a company that seeks the common good, both internally and externally.

As the company evolves, it continues to expand this vision—producing environmentally conscious packaging and establishing partnerships with coffee shops across California.

Down the road, Henige hopes to see his products across the U.S. Even further, he hopes to see a new generation of environmentally responsible consumers rising to meet the challenges facing our world.

Learn more about Reduce. Reuse. Grow. at

Calivore is Bringing Homegrown Spirits to California


Aaron Bergh’s relationship with Cal Poly is complicated. As an undergrad, Bergh transformed his dorm room into a distillery, making homegrown spirits in a room hardly spacious enough for the two humans living in it. While University Housing was less than thrilled with Bergh’s version of Learn by Doing, the dividends of his research provided the foundation for his current company, Calivore.

Formally known as Wild Coast Spirits, Calivore is the result of a passion for quality spirits and a desire to bring locally produced liquor to the shelves of California. With the recent surge of interest in craft brews, Calivore is looking to take advantage of a market that values high-quality products produced in the U.S.

“Consumer preferences are changing towards desiring things that are made locally and made craft,” said Bergh. “Our product is set apart from the competition in that it’s made entirely in California.”

Calivore has been involved with several CIE programs, including the Innovation Quest competition and the SLO HotHouse Accelerator program. As for his experience in the SLO HotHouse, Bergh cites the availability of mentorship as the most helpful component towards building his startup.

“The mentors didn’t ask anything of me at all,” said Bergh. “But what they do want is a bottle, of course, when our product is actually made.”

This year Bergh released Calivore’s first batch of a blonde rum, a spiced rum, and their Big Sur Gin.

“Right now, it’s all about finally getting my product out there…seeing how it takes to the marketplace and making any necessary adjustments,” said Bergh.

Though the future is bright for Calivore, remembering the journey that brought Bergh and his team this far provides some perspective.

“If I hadn’t been involved in the CIE,” said Bergh. “I would probably still be making moonshine in my apartment.”

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