Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

A COVID-19 Message from the CIE Executive Director

Dear CIE Family and Friends,

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered uncertainty and complications in the entrepreneur community that you no-doubt have been grappling with over the past few weeks. We know it’s been hard. This medical crisis is unprecedented. But know that despite these stormy and uncharted waters, the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) is here to champion the entrepreneurial spirit.

While the SLO HotHouse and HotHouse Annex remain closed to protect our CIE community, we continue supporting our students, companies, alumni and coworkers. Instead of our typical in-person events or classes, this spring we plan to virtually host many of our events, programs and resources, and we invite you to join us for as many as possible. We will be sharing news and updates via our social media channels and email newsletters.

If you are a San Luis Obispo County business needing assistance because of unexpected revenue loss resulting from the COVID-19 virus, our Cal Poly CIE Small Business Development Center can help.

The CIE SBDC can assist in finding numerous funding sources to support your business and employees. The center’s task force is made up of expert business consultants who will guide you through the application process for the Small Business Administration’s disaster loan program, which is offering low-interest federal disaster aid to small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

We are here to help!

For more details on how the SBDC can help your business, email If you have questions about a specific CIE event or program or if you need additional information, please email us. For ongoing updates related to coronavirus, COVID-19 and its impact on Cal Poly and our community of entrepreneurs, please visit

Remember, we are your community. Together, we will weather this global medical maelstrom and when the sun returns emerge stronger than ever.

With warm regards,

John Townsend, CIE executive director, and the CIE team

What iQ Can Do for You

Each year, the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship holds Innovation Quest (iQ), a competition for students to pitch their product ideas to judges and investors in hopes of winning thousands of dollars in cold hard cash.

Since it is one of the more demanding competitions that the CIE offers, students may fear investing their time and energy only to not win in the end. However, past competitors say the value of Innovation Quest isn’t all in the money, but rather it’s in the process of competing.

Sam Hunt, CEO and co-founder of incubator company Armadillo Designs, knows that there’s still much to be gained even if you don’t take home the prize.

“My co-founder and I pitched our idea in Innovation Quest last spring,” he said. “We actually didn’t end up winning that year, but it was still a super valuable experience because we learned how to really craft a pitch in a short amount of time, how to display our product and how not to display it.”

Each student or team in iQ gets the opportunity to develop their innovative ideas from judge and investor feedback, ultimately gaining them the knowledge needed to perfect their pitches and products to find out what they’re lacking and if their idea could be a viable product.

CEO and co-founder of De Oro Devices, Sidney Collin, came out of the competition with a takeaway similar to Hunt’s.

“Any student that’s thinking about starting their own company should definitely apply to Innovation Quest because it allows you to really think through the business strategy,” Collin said. “Even if you don’t win, it’s a really valuable experience to show what needs to be worked on in the company to be able to pursue it further.”

Although winning is not the only source of value for competitors, ending the process with a check can be a game-changer for many. 

Past iQ winner Chad Kihm, CEO of GamerSpeak, says the competition is the reason he is a CEO today, as winning the $10,000 second place prize gave him the confidence and finances he needed to pursue his startup idea further. While Kihm says he understands that people might question if competing is worth it, he encourages them to at least try.

“I like to tell people who are thinking about Innovation Quest and are trying to decide how much they should really invest in this sort of competition to think about how long it would take them to make $10,000 working at $15 an hour,” Kihm explained. “If you put at least half as much effort as that into winning it, you’ll probably win the money, and much faster, too.”

Another winning innovation, Flume, went from being a senior project to a growing incubator company thanks to their iQ involvement. The company’s CEO and co-founder Eric Adler says that iQ was the first program the founders took Flume into and that winning the competition lead them to the HotHouse Accelerator and Incubator programs. He also said that any startup will have several pivots in their business plan and that iQ allowed the Flume team to move in the right direction early on.

“Any time you go apply for a program like Innovation Quest where you talk to investors or meet with advisors, you’re constantly getting feedback,” he explained. “You have people with a lot of expertise giving you feedback and you can take that to potentially change what you’re doing.”

Between critical feedback, pitch experience, momentum, confidence boosts and  money, Innovation Quest can do a lot for students looking to pursue their startup ideas. Like Kihm believes, time spent competing in Innovation Quest, regardless of outcome, is never wasted and is worth the potential knowledge and money gain.

Adler even sees a big-picture reason for competing in Innovation Quest.

“If you have a passion for trying something on your own, starting your own company, not working for the man,” Adler started. “it’s great to take an idea and see if you’re really making something innovative that can change the world.”

If you have an innovation that could help change the world, let Innovation Quest help change your world through guidance, support and maybe even financial support. Head to for more information on how to get involved.

Entrepreneurship for All: The Architect’s Perspective

Jess Corr is the Chief Operations Officer of Ethic, but she’s better known as “The Architect” within her team. This is the tile she gained by being an architecture major, one area of study that is often overlooked in the startup world. 

“I really love architecture, I’m passionate about real estate and property, and I’m also super passionate about entrepreneurship,” said Corr.

When it comes to entrepreneurship, people tend to assume it’s a career reserved for business or engineering students. What they overlook is the fact that startups need teams of diverse backgrounds in order to find entrepreneurial success. Corr says that she has even learned the most important lessons and tips from entrepreneurs of unexpected majors.

She believes that it’s not what you study that makes you an entrepreneur, but rather it’s about passion, drive and putting your area of study to use in the startup setting.

“Architecture has had a huge role in helping me figure out who I am in regards to entrepreneurship,” she explained. “We do a lot of group projects in architecture, we have a lot of late nights, we’re constantly kind of collaborating with other people. I slowly started to realize what I enjoyed the most was collaborating with others and leading projects.”

Corr recognizes that being an entrepreneur, especially while in college can be challenging. However, she also notes that there are benefits to match the struggles.

“It’s definitely a juggle, being a student and entrepreneur, but I think that’s kind of what makes my day really exciting,” she said. “You’re getting new challenges thrown at you all the time which is exhausting and stressful, but also really fun, and you know that you’re constantly growing into the kind of person that you want to be.”

What surprised her the most, though, is the fact that her entrepreneurial spirit came out almost unexpectedly. Corr says she went on a whim to the 2018 Cal Poly Entrepreneurs Startup Weekend, now known as Startup Marathon, where Ethic co-founder Garret Perkins pitched the idea for a sustainable shopping platform.

“I think I’ve always been an entrepreneur and I didn’t really know it,” Corr began. “I heard about Ethic and just felt really connected to the vision and the passion that the people involved had for it. When I joined the team, I was like, ‘Whoa, this world’s for me.’”

Since then, the duo has taken their startup through the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Hatchery and HotHouse Accelerator programs. Now, Ethic is a HotHouse Incubator company, officially launched with a running site full of ethical and sustainable-focused products for sale. 

“As being one of the youngest people, one of the only females and being an architecture major having no business background, I definitely felt somewhat intimidated going into it,” Corr said of her entrepreneurship experience. “It was just really nice to have different mentors within the CIE and all of the introductions they made for us, allowing me to have different people to go to when I was unsure about something within our own business.”

Corr sees entering the entrepreneurial world as a valuable experience, even if her pursuits will change in the future.

“I want to be doing something that I love everyday and I know that’s going to involve entrepreneurship in some way, whether it’s in architecture, real estate, Ethic or something completely different,” she said. “If you have a passion for something, you need to put it somewhere and let other people share in that.”

If you have a passion for something innovative, but never thought it was your place to pursue it, find out how you can make your dream business happen through the CIE’s Hatchery program at Not the right program for you? Contact us and we’ll help you find your best fit for success.

Meet a CIE Incubator | Board Game Atlas

Trent Ellingsen, the CEO and co-founder of Atlas Alpha Inc., has created Board Game Atlas, a website that gives people all of the information they could need about board gaming.

“There are 37,000 board games on the site,” Ellingsen said. “You can find out all the information about them, like how many players they allow, how long the game takes, the description, user reviews, videos and the best prices.”

To begin the process of growing his company, Ellingsen joined the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Incubator program in November of 2018. His site initially had about 80 users at the time of its beta launch; now, after over a year in the incubator program and with the acquisition of a competitor, Board Game Atlas has about 54,000 users. 

Although he is a Cal Poly alumni, Ellingsen didn’t join the incubator program until years after graduating. In fact, he found the CIE through the power of networking.

“I found the incubator program, not because I had known about the HotHouse when I went to Cal Poly, but because a member of the HotHouse contacted me about working for his company,” he said. “I wasn’t interested in his company, but about a year later when I started my own, I remembered that it existed, so I applied and got in.”

For Ellingsen, connections are what got him to the incubator, and connections are a big part of why he’s loved working in the HotHouse.

“I think the best part of the incubator program are just the interactions with everybody,” he explained. “There’s different companies working on different things and at different stages, so it’s motivating. [It] makes me feel like I’m not coming to work by myself and on my own thing, but that I’m part of a bigger community and that I can grow friendships and relationships with the people around me.”

Not only has Ellingsen been able to grow his network since starting his startup journey in the incubator program, but the company itself has grown in size and success. 

By buying out a competing board game-centered site, he was able to add in more content to Board Game Atlas, grow the site’s user base and increase revenue. After taking on his company alone for some time, his team now consists of a co-founder and two part-time contractors.

While Ellingsen puts in the hard work to run his business, he credits some success to the CIE’s mentorship and consulting, as well as to the support of the San Luis Obispo community.

“If there’s a startup that’s wanting to get involved in the CIE, whatever stage you’re at, I think it’s definitely worth doing,” he said. “I think it’s worth building something here with different people who are starting companies. The community and the HotHouse are really supportive and it is a great way to get consultants and other advice in how to grow a company.”

If you’re feeling like it’s time to take advantage of all of the business services that the CIE HotHouse Incubator offers, why wait to apply. Start the journey to launching your best business at

CIE Graduates Keeping it SLOcal: Kick-it Points

For San Luis Obispo entrepreneurs like Brett Foreman, community and mentorship are key to a successful startup. They’re also big reasons as to why the entrepreneurs stick around.

When Foreman first interacted with the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), he took a new idea into the 2017 HotHouse Accelerator program. This idea has now developed into his growing company Kick-it Points, a “real world social app” that relays local business deals to users who get out and do things in the surrounding area. 

The app, which is iPhone- and Android-compatible, encourages people to explore San Luis Obispo, whether that be going to Avila Beach, studying at the Robert E. Kennedy Library or catching sunset on Terrace Hill. Kick-it Points users can then check-in at certain spots to claim deals for local businesses like Woodstock’s Pizza or SLO Yoga Center.

Although he is looking to expand his app’s reach, it is currently just based in San Luis Obispo. Nonetheless, Foreman says starting here was the best decision he made.

“Part of why we’ve been successful as a company and at growing Kick-it Points is because we started by accessing the community first,” he said. “In a place like San Luis Obispo where everybody’s about community, everybody’s about sharing the vision and growing together, that charm is essentially what’s allowed us to grow.”

But Foreman didn’t get to that point of accessing the local community all on his own he utilized the CIE’s bounty of mentors to navigate the startup world.

“Once I graduated from the [Accelerator] program, I thought I could go kind of underground for as long as I wanted and build the business myself,” he explained. “Eventually, I made my way back to the wealth of knowledge that the mentors bring.”

One of his mentors from the beginnings of his business, the CIE’s Interim Executive Director John Townsend, has continued to help Foreman with everything from revenue to expenses to how he’s balancing life and work.

“The CIE has been an awesome asset to have. Everyone involved in the organization is so willing to help and further your business,” Foreman said. “They’re always putting you first and it’s visible through all of the awesome companies they’re pumping out.”

Of course, the startup’s team of 10 loves having its base on the Central Coast for the laid back and fun lifestyle; but the reasons for keeping Kick-it Points local always circles back to the support of entrepreneurship and growth.

“If I was to leave and try to bring [Kick-it Points] somewhere else that has less of a camaraderie around a community, then we wouldn’t have had as much success as we’ve had so far.”

Head to to find out how you can access the CIE’s mentorship and community for your SLOcal startup and find out more about Kick-it Points at

The 5 Best Coffee Meeting Spots in SLO

Every entrepreneur knows the value of a coffee meeting for casual networking and building relationships. Just as valuable is the decision you make about where to have your coffee meetings. Luckily, many of San Luis Obispo’s local coffee shops offer an entrepreneurial and community-based spirit of their own. Here are the five best places to grab a latte and chat with fellow entrepreneurs, clients, investors and more. 

Scout Coffee Co. 


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Scout Coffee (@scoutcoffee) on

As Scout’s owners Jon and Sara Peterson explain it, “Our goal has always been to create inspiring spaces, with great people and amazing products, in a way that truly adds value to the community around us.” The focus that Scout has on community, which includes their fellow entrepreneurs like you, is evident upon arrival to either of the shop’s two locations. The baristas at Scout are upbeat and helpful, making any customer feel welcomed. As for location, while their downtown spot is in the hustle and bustle of the SLOcal life, Scout’s Foothill Boulevard location offers storefront parking, natural light, more space and more seating for your coffee meetings. With indoor and outdoor seating, as well as a vibrant atmosphere, Scout is perfect for meeting clients you know would appreciate a simple, fresh ambiance. The only downside is the lack of outlets in Scout’s locations, making it difficult if you need extended access to technology.


Kreuzberg California 


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Yelp SLO (@yelpslo) on

Kreuzberg, a coffee shop and lounge inspired by the German neighborhood of the same name, bases itself “in the creativity-boosting and community building power of coffee, food, beer, wine, cocktails, strong wifi, lots of outlets, cozy seats, and an inspiring atmosphere to enjoy it in,” according to the shop’s website. Basically, Kreuzberg has it all. What makes this downtown San Luis Obispo shop perfect for coffee meetings is that it is open from 7:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., giving you freedom of scheduling time and the ability to turn your coffee meeting into cocktail hour. Plus, there’s lounge chairs, an upstairs area, bar seating, small and large tables, and two secluded sidecar-style seating areas, allowing you to accommodate for any seating preferences. The only real cautionary tip about Kreuzberg is that it is eclectic and darker in lighting, so it may not cater well to meetings where you’re looking for a modern, bright atmosphere.


Libertine Coffee Bar 


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Libertine Coffee Bar (@libertinecoffeebar) on

Libertine Brewing Company is no longer just for beer, now they have expanded into the type of brew you need for your morning meeting: coffee. Located right next to its downtown restaurant, Libertine Coffee Bar offers local coffee and food, as well as whole leaf tea. As described on its website, Libertine Coffee Bar has “Warm vibes and street side relaxing in downtown SLO,” making it a great choice for a mellow coffee meeting. The shop is simple and bright, but it does have a limited amount of seating to take note of in case you’re looking to meet with multiple people. However, the intimate seating of the shop can allow you to have a conversation without several other voices looming in the background.


Lucy’s Coffee Co. 


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Morning Coffee Grind (@morningcoffeegrind) on

The owner of Lucy’s Coffee Co. says that her shop is “a place that contributes to making the world better through community and yummy coffee,” extending the reach of San Luis Obispo’s entrepreneurial community all the way out to Laurel Lane. Lucy’s is the only coffee shop on our list without a downtown spot, giving you uniqueness of location. It also offers close parking, an open atmosphere and an old-fashioned aesthetic. Additionally, Lucy’s offers an array of drinks as well as food items, a benefit when your coffee meeting turns into lunch. While these qualities make it a nice place to escape the noise of downtown and network, you might want to opt for another shop if you are looking to meet with people who are already going to be in the downtown area of San Luis Obispo. 


BlackHorse Espresso and Bakery


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by BlackHorse Espresso And Bakery (@blackhorseslo) on

With four locations, BlackHorse takes first place for leeway of location. As the coffee shop’s website says, “If you are lucky enough to be in San Luis Obispo, there’s a BlackHorse near you.” This rings true, but if you’re looking for the best of BlackHorse for your networking meetings, the Los Osos Valley Road locations may serve you best. This specific shop has greater sitting room than others, making it a more relaxed and casual spot to grab a cup of coffee and talk business. Not to mention, the coffee shop states that it was “born out of an idea that coffee and community go together” on its website. BlackHorse is what you would expect out of any simple and down-to-earth coffee shop that has the sole purpose of giving people a space to enjoy good coffee and a great community. Be cautious of timing, though, as this location closes at 3:00 p.m., two to three hours earlier than all of the other BlackHorse spots.

CIE Graduates Keeping it SLOcal: Flume, Inc.

In 2015, Eric Adler wanted to do something to fix California’s severe drought. Recognizing that consumers needed to truly understand their water usage rates in order to reduce them, he dedicated his senior project to making that happen. 

“The state and cities were trying to get people to reduce consumption, but there was no feedback loop,” Adler explained. “The whole concept was how do we really get data to people in real-time so they can change their behaviors, protect their home, reduce how much they have to spend.”

His goal was to enable homeowners to monitor their water consumption via an easy-to-install product with real-time smartphone feedback. That way, consumers can see how much water they are using in their homes and where they need to cut down. 

Adler later evolved this idea into a business plan, co-founding Flume, Inc. with the support and programming of the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The Flume team initially took the water-monitoring product proposal through the CIE’s Innovation Quest competition, later joining both the HotHouse Accelerator and Incubator programs to launch their business.

“Since we left the incubator program, we’ve raised a pretty significant amount of funding, basically doubled in size every year, launched on Amazon and we work with cities all over the country,” said Adler of Flume’s growing success.

After moving out of the HotHouse in downtown San Luis Obispo, Adler’s team moved into the newer HotHouse Annex, which is the ideal coworking spot for companies with a hardware component like Flume. This location gives the company the space it needs for testing, manufacturing and inventory, plus keeps Flume connected to local companies and the CIE.

Adler notes that even as the company grows, he is thankful that the CIE is still part of Flume’s support system.

“Eventually you’re supposed to outgrow [the CIE] and be able to be self-sustainable, so I’d say we’re kind of at that point right now,” Adler explained. “But we still get mentorship and tap into some of the resources here and there. It’s great just having a network around us and support behind us.”

Not only does Flume still have connections with the CIE, but the company also sustains a relationship with San Luis Obispo through an ongoing study with the city and an insurance company that has subsidized the product for local residents. The study’s goal is to see how giving real-time data can help customers change their habits and overall reduce their water consumption.

Between this program and his love for the area, Adler sees no reason to move his company’s base from San Luis Obispo despite its nationwide growth.

“First and foremost you want to build a company in a place where you also want to live. People are excited to be here and they really want to stick around and stay with your company,” he noted. “In terms of starting a company, if you’re looking for that initial capital to kind of test things out and get them off the ground, SLO is a good place to get started with that.”

Adler emphasized that between CIE and Cal Poly alumni support, a comfortable cost of living, a great pool of talent, and a high quality of life, San Luis Obispo has served Flume well as it’s grown into what it is today.

If you’re looking to build your business with all of these SLOcal benefits, explore the CIE HotHouse Incubator program at

To see more about Flume, Inc. and its water-monitoring device, head to

A Startup’s Guide to Instagram

So you’ve started your own business and know a thing or two about entrepreneurship, but as far as Instagram goes… you’re a little lost. Luckily, navigating this app doesn’t have to be hard, especially with a simple guide for making your startup social media savvy.  

From Basic to Business

The first action you should take after creating your company’s Instagram is heading to your account settings and turning the profile into a business account. With over 25 million business profiles across the world, Instagram is a place to be for startups getting into the social media game. Plus, with a business account, you now get access to perks like data on your posts, follower insights (hello, targeted content!) and extra space for contact information.

Content Creation

A good rule of thumb for Instagram content is quality over quantity. Instagram is a great platform for posting high-resolution photos and videos that showcase the lifestyle side of your brand, highlight your brand voice, and show behind-the-scenes content. Instagram is where the personal meets the professional with a thematic look and often light-hearted spin. Your content should always be of value to your followers and ignite emotions; this way, you can hopefully gain higher engagement rates to prop you up on the Instagram feed.


Instagram stories have become vital to the platform’s users, so you can’t miss this piece of content creation. Stories can be a great place to direct followers to new posts, to your profile page or toward engaging. You can ask followers to vote on fun polls, take mini-quizzes, send in submissions and more. Plus, you can make your stories stand out with countdown widgets, gifs and text. The key to posting stories is to literally tell a story, get more personal with your audience or get your followers to interact with you.

CIE Tip: Save the important or successful stories as highlights on your profile page so anyone viewing your account later can rewatch them.

Caption Creativity

While your photo or video content is the most important part of catching viewers’ eyes, captions are king when it comes to engaging with your followers. They shouldn’t be too long unless necessary, should grab reader attention, and should entice them to like, comment and share the post. Your copy on both feed and story posts is a great way to show your brand voice, spark emotion in your viewers, teach them something new and ask them questions to gain consumer insight. This way you can create a community and brand loyalty by starting a conversation with your audience.

CIE Tip: Inspire engagement rather than ask for it. If you directly tell followers to tag, like, comment, click, etc. on every post, Instagram’s algorithm may knock you down in others’ feeds.

Stay Posted

Instagram is different from platforms like Twitter, where multiple posts a day are a norm; your average for posting to Instagram should be about once a day. It’s best to first check your follower insights to see when the best posting times are, then create a schedule for posting to get peak views and engagements. Getting into a rhythm of posting will help you in the algorithm as well as let your audience know you are consistent and loyal.


Instagram insights will show you your follower age ranges, gender make-up, general location, and peak online times so you can best cater your content to your followers; plus, this can let you know if you are reaching your target audience with posts and advertisements. Insights can also show you your top posts for multiple categories, metrics for individual posts, story analytics and paid promotion data so that you can constantly improve and refine your content.

CIE Tip: Take track of these analytics over time to see your growth and what is or isn’t working for you on Instagram.

Paid Advertising

On Instagram, there are two main ways to go about paid advertising: promotions or Facebook advertisements. For boosted visibility and engagement on a post on Instagram, you can opt for promoting a post. If you want to gain sign-ups, purchases or external views, you should opt for creating ads via Facebook that can be integrated into Instagram for actual conversions from the post to a landing page. From there, you can dive into specific ad looks and layouts to make your ad stand out.

Keep Learning

There is never an end to the knowledge of social media, but at least you now know the basics to get your startup into the Instagram world. Use this guide to launch your account, but always keep advancing your online presence and social media marketing knowledge as the app itself advances.


Which On-Campus Resource is the Right One for You

The Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) has countless entrepreneurial outlets for students of all interests and goals on Cal Poly’s campus. Whether you just want to see the innovations of fellow Mustangs or immerse yourself in the startup world, the CIE has just the resource for you.


Entrepreneurship Forum Series

Throughout the school year, the CIE holds forums in the Performing Arts Center Pavilion for anyone interested in innovation, startups and small businesses. The forums are open to students and the public alike to bring the community together to see all that is going on with Cal Poly’s entrepreneurial efforts. At these events, attendees can expect guest speakers, Cal Poly student entrepreneurs, pitch competitions and networking.

Who this is best for: Students interested in entrepreneurship and the CIE.

Cal Poly Entrepreneurs (CPE)

If entrepreneurship sounds daunting, or you don’t have a startup idea of your own but still want to be part of that community, then Cal Poly Entrepreneurs is for you. As the largest interdisciplinary club on Cal Poly’s campus, CPE welcomes students of all backgrounds, ages, majors and interests. The club offers networking, skill-building, resources and more at its weekly meetings and constantly welcomes drop-ins and new members.

Who this is best for: Students looking to meet their entrepreneurial peers and discover how to get involved in the startup world.       

The Hatchery

Oftentimes, students have a great business idea to pursue or want to be part of a startup company. If you fall under this category, the Hatchery program is the perfect way for you to learn the business model canvas, gain entrepreneurial skills, get mentorship and work toward turning an idea into a company—all on your own schedule. With a focus on multidisciplinary teams and hands-on learning, the Hatchery allows for exponential growth in learning and is often a stepping stone to the CIE HotHouse Accelerator program.

Who this is best for: Students with a desire to create and be a part of a startup company.

Innovation Sandbox

Students looking for a workspace to make their product ideas tangible need not look further than the on-campus Innovation Sandbox. The space has prototyping and ideation tools, like a 3D printer, for creativity and innovation to collide. The CIE resource allows students to Learn by Doing and turn their dreams into reality. If you have a business idea that requires prototyping and modeling, the Innovation Sandbox could be your one-stop-shop.

Who this is best for: Students looking for a workspace to create prototypes of innovative product ideas.



The Elevator Pitch Competition (EPC)

When you think you have the next big idea, but you’re not ready to commit to making it happen, the Elevator Pitch Competition is the way to go. Any student is welcome to submit a 90-second elevator pitch of their innovative product or startup idea to our panel of judges, getting them in the running to win the $1,000 prize. The competition does not require tangible business plans or implementation commitments, making it a low-stress and fun way to get involved with the CIE.

Who this is best for: Cal Poly and Cuesta students with innovative ideas and a desire to practice their pitching skills.      

Innovation Quest (iQ)

A little more advanced than the EPC is the Innovation Quest competition, which is for students looking to showcase what they have built, coded, designed or prototyped throughout their efforts at Cal Poly. Participation in iQ gives you the chance to win up to $15,000, so if you have a startup or product in motion and are looking to find investment money, the iQ competition would be great for you and your team. 

Who this is best for: Student teams with a viable startup plan or product creation looking to take their work a step further.

Startup Weekend

With 54 hours to create a startup, this event is perfect for Cal Poly’s ambitious, creative and entrepreneurially-minded students. If you are interested in being part of the startup world, Startup Weekend is your chance to pitch your big idea and build a team to launch it. Culminating in presentations to a panel of judges and investors, Startup Weekend is the best way to meet your peers, elevate your skills and get the opportunity to become an entrepreneur in action.

Who this is best for: Students who want to be part of Cal Poly’s entrepreneurial community and become part of the startup world.

Where Are They Now? | Boost Acquisition

In 2014, Josh Hirahara, then-senior at California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo, decided to jump into the entrepreneurial world. Within a year, he found himself immersed in his startup idea: a platform to connect for-sale-by-owner vehicle sellers and qualified buyers.

Hirahara began his journey by pitching his idea at Cal Poly Entrepreneurs’ Startup Weekend, later joining the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Hatchery program. Post-graduation, he continued to grow his idea into a functioning company, Boost Acquisition, through the summer-long HotHouse Accelerator program and two-year incubator program. 

“It was my senior year when I was getting into the entrepreneurship stuff, so I was late to the game,” explained Hirahara. “It’s been about five years since graduating and going through that program, but I left the area and my close CIE involvement about two years ago.”

Within those two years, Hirahara moved his business’s base to Salt Lake City, Utah, as well as opened an office in San Diego, California. Although far removed from San Luis Obispo, Hirahara still has connections from his CIE days.

“I’m still close to a lot of the people that I went through the CIE programs with and still keep in touch with people who run the programs,” Hirahara said. “I’m also partnered up with some older Cal Poly alumni and I consider us the founding group when I pitch our company now.”

Not only did Hirahara’s connections from the beginning stages of his career last, but so did the knowledge he gained from the programs.

“I was an industrial technology major, so I had some business background but knew nothing about entrepreneurship coming in,” he said. “It was great being able to go through the successive programs because I was advancing more than I could have by trying to learn everything on my own.”

Hirahara has now gone from learning the basics of the business model canvas to employing over 20 people at Boost Acquisition. His company is currently running market maker technology that connects in-market sellers with potential buyers online and in real-time. 

“We’re growing and it’s a long journey with a lot of pivots,” he expressed. “But it’s awesome seeing people want your product and pay you for it, making enough revenue to grow and hire more employees, and having a clear outlook on your goals for your company.”

While Hirahara and his team put in the work, he attributes the base of his growing company to the support and resources of the CIE, no matter how far he is now from the area it all began.

To read more about Josh Hirahara’s startup, visit

See how you could be the next startup to grow with the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s support at

1 2 3 7