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Entrepreneurship for All: The Freshman Perspective

Overhead shot of four students working at a table.

Close your eyes and picture an entrepreneur in your mind. Are they strong, powerful, leading the business meeting as their company’s CEO? Naturally. Are they a freshman in college? No?

Then close your eyes and try again. Reimagine what it means to be a CEO, an entrepreneur or the next big innovator. This time, envision yourself, a new undergraduate student, as the one leading your own company’s meeting.

Because it’s possible. In fact, if you have a desire to dive into the startup world, it’s probable. 

The Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) is dedicated to helping forward-thinking students reach their highest potential, whether they’re just beginning their collegiate journey or graduating on to their next venture.

One student who dove headfirst into entrepreneurship during her first quarter as a Mustang is Alexandra Joelson, now a business administration sophomore.

“I was at the club fair on campus and saw Cal Poly Entrepreneurs advertising the Elevator Pitch Competition,” she said. “I decided to join the club and participate in the competition, because I was just a freshman and I wanted to get as involved as possible.”

For the competition, Joelson pitched an innovative athletic footwear concept that ultimately won the $1,000 top prize and led her to Cal Poly Entrepreneurs’ (CPE) Startup Marathon, where she formed the team of all first-year students that now makes up her company, Intego Sports

So, just like that, Joelson found herself becoming a CEO at 18 years old.

“It’s kind of wild trying to balance learning how to start college and live on your own, trying to figure out how to budget your meals, all while also running a company and doing classes,” she explained. “But it was a really good learning experience to figure out how to balance school and life and our company.”

And while Joelson’s entrepreneurial journey centers around her role as company CEO, students don’t have to be the one with the initial vision to get involved in startups.

For one Intego Sports co-founder, aerospace engineer sophomore Jack Browers, joining Joelson gave him the opportunity to meld his love for engineering and entrepreneurship together and get hands-on experience outside of the classroom.

“It was really exciting being a first-year student diving into entrepreneurship,” Browers said. “You get so much flexibility to create whatever you want and there are so many people willing to help you along the way.” 

According to both Joelson and Browers, there are two major reasons why freshmen can and should get into entrepreneurship: for the early Learn by Doing experience and because you’ll never have such a large support system and safety net again.

“There’s no risk in it,” Joelson said. “If you start a company that fails, you fall back on a college education. I think that there’s no better time to start a company than now, especially when you’re a freshman.” 

However, it’s important to know that entrepreneurship and innovation aren’t just about starting a company; cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset can be key for students with any collegiate goals or career aspirations.

When software engineering junior Kalen Goo first came to Cal Poly, he saw entrepreneurship as a daunting, premier thing reserved for business students. During freshman year, though, Goo joined CPE and realized that entrepreneurship was exactly what he needed.

“Entrepreneurship is about so much more than starting a company,” Goo explained. “Had I not followed through with entrepreneurship, I would’ve been stuck with just my software engineer mindset.”

Two years later, Goo, now the president of CPE, says that having grown his entrepreneurial mindset since freshman year has made all the difference throughout his time in college.

Luckily, if you’re interested in entrepreneurship, there are countless CIE resources available starting from the moment you become a Mustang — whether your goal is to be a startup founder or a future intrapreneur building your innovative community.

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Cal Poly Entrepreneurs Fosters Community Despite Social Distancing

Cal Poly Entrepreneurs Club Members

On Tuesdays at 6 p.m., in a typical quarter, you can expect Building 2, Room 210, to be full of Cal Poly Entrepreneurs (CPE) members ready to learn entrepreneurial lessons, hear from startup leaders and connect with their innovative peers over copious amounts of pizza. 

Now, instead of piling into the bustling room across the hall from the Hatchery, members log in to the virtual Tuesday evening meetings from their various locations — but CPE President Kalen Goo said the club’s energy is still the same.

“Most of the challenges this fall lie around how to reach out to people and re-engage them,” Goo said. “But once they come to our meetings, they’ll be welcomed in that typical CPE environment and feel like they’re back at home.” 

With a fresh board of leaders, the club’s focus this year is on re-engaging past members and expanding its reach on and off campus to strengthen the entrepreneurial community in San Luis Obispo. 

Plus, the CPE officers have plans to energize student entrepreneurs beyond the screen.

“Zoom overload is a real thing,” political science senior Sophie Hosbein, CPE’s VP of outreach and community engagement, acknowledged. “We’re putting together basically a workbook, or a toolkit,… to give people entrepreneurship resources that they can pursue [outside of meetings].” 

While they recognized that joining clubs in this virtual climate may seem strange, Goo and Hosbein said that it’s worth it because their club isn’t just another campus organization. 

To them, CPE is an inclusive and supportive community.

One of the best things about CPE, according to Goo, is that there are no requirements to join; they don’t charge membership fees and there’s no expected major, year or experience level, making it the largest interdisciplinary club on campus.

“CPE is for anyone who is interested in entrepreneurship, and I don’t mean just people who want to start a company,” the president said. “A key part of CPE is even just meeting people who are different from you and understanding their perspectives.”

For Hosbein, joining the club was paramount in her college experience, gaining her friendships with like-minded people despite not being interested in founding a startup herself.

“With every CPE meeting I go to, I leave more energized, more excited,” she said. “I’ve always admired the people that [CPE] brings together who are all very driven and ambitious go-getters, but also very ready to have a good time.”

Goo added that, as a non-business major from the College of Engineering, CPE upgraded his academic endeavors by helping him cultivate an innovative mindset to complement his programming and software studies.

However, aside from the educational perks, Goo’s reason for joining, staying in and becoming president of CPE was always the members — whether they’re bonding over slices of pizza in-person or catching up in virtual breakout rooms.

“These are the people who are passionate and really inspirational and are really different from myself who will challenge me to grow and think about the world in a different way,” he said. “These are the people that I want to surround myself with.”

If you’re looking to grow your entrepreneurial mindset, find your campus community and network beyond the classroom, Cal Poly Entrepreneurs is for you, and they’re always welcoming new members. Check them out at https://cpentrepreneurs.com/

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You Already Launched Your Company, So Why Join an Incubator Program?

Three-person business team working together in the SLO HotHouse Incubator program.

The Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) doesn’t just want to help businesses launch — we want to help businesses thrive. That’s why joining the HotHouse Incubator program can still be a game changer even if your business is already launched and you feel like you can find success on your own. Here’s how our two-year incubator program helps entrepreneurial ventures prosper at any stage.

 

Expert Mentorship

You might be thinking, “I managed to get to where I am by myself, so why would I need a mentor now?” Well, one of our incubator startup founders, David Bartolomucci, put it best when he asked, “Why not learn from others’ mistakes first instead of making them yourself?” At the CIE, we simply believe that there’s no reason not to have mentor guidance along your entrepreneurial journey. For this reason, our HotHouse Incubator program offers one-on-one mentorship from Cal Poly CIE Small Business Development Center (SBDC) expert consultants and Cal Poly alumni to help you celebrate the highs and navigate lows of being a CEO. 

 

Networking for Growth

Gaining connections is oftentimes the ultimate factor for success and the best way to reach people is, well, through other people (and not just on LinkedIn). Being in the incubator program offers access to mentors, investors, seasoned entrepreneurs, innovative Cal Poly students, local businesses and everyone in between. Being a part of the HotHouse community lands you countless opportunities to expand your reach, expand your team and expand your funding… all things that are incredibly important at any stage in business.

 

Encouragement and Accountability

While mentorship and networking bring you business growth, they also bring you human connection. According to one of our former incubator program startup founders, Sierra Scolaro, “What’s really nice about having the CIE as a support system is that they’re not just supporting your business idea, they’re supporting you as an entrepreneur.” Being in the program brings you a community of like-minded people who are excited to watch you grow your business as well as your personal self, all while keeping you accountable in reaching your entrepreneurial goals.

 

“Human Google”

Whether you’re months away from launching or you’ve been in business for years, running a company definitely offers a never-ending level of uncertainty and probably a lot of Google searches. However, incubator company founder Trent Ellingsen calls the HotHouse “human Google” and it makes a great deal of sense. 

Our HotHouse Incubator program allows you to be surrounded by an interdisciplinary and diverse group of people who most likely have an answer to any of your questions (especially the ones that can’t be found with a simple web search). Joining the incubator can relieve you from a ton of uncertainty, confusion and wasted screen time. 

 

Tangible Resources

Along with all of the benefits from interpersonal connections in the program, the HotHouse Incubator program offers incredible workspace resources. Between the downtown SLO HotHouse and the HotHouse Annex, the CIE’s two off-campus locations, you can gain personal office space, private phone booths, tech-savvy conference rooms, spacious lounge areas, kitchen amenities and even a manufacturing lab for your hands-on innovations.

If you’re ready to take your already launched business to the next level, the CIE is here to help. Learn how your company can thrive with our strategic guidance, #SLOcal business network and energetic workspaces at https://cie.calpoly.edu/launch/hothouse-incubator/.

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Calwise Spirits Co. Stays Resilient by Turning Obstacles into Opportunities

Three Calwise Spirits Co. liquor bottles.

The entrepreneurial journey is full of risk, complex challenges and unpredictability, but Aaron Bergh, the founder of Calwise Spirits Co., says that unwavering resilience is what will get a startup through obstacles and on a path toward success.   

Bergh has gone through several Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) programs to grow Calwise into the distillery and tasting room that it is today, encountering several highs and lows along the way. 

Recently, he has met his biggest challenges yet.

“Since I started my business I’ve been very good at predicting things, but the pandemic has turned that all on its head,” Bergh said. “There’s absolutely no way to prepare for what’s going to happen next.”

However, Bergh accepted that instead of preparing for specific market changes and setbacks, all he could do was prepare his business to roll with the punches on a nearly day-to-day basis. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, Calwise was forced to close its doors and Bergh had the heavy burden of laying off his staff. Almost immediately, though, Bergh recognized an opportunity for his distillery.

“I turned my business into something it was never designed to be, which was a hand sanitizer manufacturer,” he said of his temporary pivot. “That allowed me to bring revenue in while a lot of people didn’t have that opportunity. I was able to bring my employees back and build up some funds to move forward and continue to grow my company.” 

As San Luis Obispo began to reopen its economy, Calwise then started to pivot back to business-as-usual but was quickly shot down by the second wave of restrictions on the local business community. Now, Bergh and his team are innovating their practices again by creating outdoor seating for Calwise customers to align with current public health mandates.

But why would he keep pivoting when things could change in an instant? Bergh said it’s just simply what you do as an entrepreneur.

“Having obstacles keeps me on my feet and forces me to constantly have to think and innovate,” he said. “When I’m faced with something tricky that would frankly make a lot of people want to run away and give up, I prefer to rise to the challenge.”

So, while Bergh says he has always been a tenacious problem-solver, going through the CIE HotHouse Accelerator and Incubator programs helped him better understand the need to stay resilient in the startup world.

“As simple as it sounds, the main thing I’ve learned is that everyone has challenges and that you just have to get through it,” he said of working alongside other startups and mentors. “Resilience means being able to survive through whatever is thrown at you and that’s exactly what we’ve been doing.”

Today, Bergh says that his team’s resilience has allowed business to go better than he expected it would during these economically-challenging times and that he’s found a silver lining in being able to steadily continue to sell Calwise spirits and cocktails online.

You can learn more about this persevering entrepreneur’s company at http://www.calwisespirits.com/ or find out how the CIE can help your company navigate the turbulent startup journey at https://cie.calpoly.edu/launch/hothouse-incubator/.

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Why You Must Embrace Failure to Succeed in Entrepreneurship

Sierra Scolaro pitching her startup idea on stage at Demo Day 2019..

“Failure” is nearly inevitable in the startup world, but how an entrepreneur responds to challenges and setbacks is what determines their career prosperity, as well as determines whether or not they have actually failed. This is something Sierra Scolaro strongly believes.

“The definition of failure isn’t whether or not your business succeeded,” the 2019 Cal Poly business administration and entrepreneurship graduate told us. “Failure is a result of not having learned anything.”

In her final year of college, Scolaro started an entrepreneurial senior project to create a device that allowed for quick, on-the-go water filtration. Her team took their idea into the 2019 Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) HotHouse Accelerator program and continued to work on building the startup in the HotHouse Incubator program for nearly a year after. 

However, when Scolaro’s company began hitting several roadblocks and making many pivots, her team recognized that they needed to reevaluate the business and see if their product still aligned with their original mission — they ultimately decided it didn’t.

“We wanted to build a startup that solved the problem we set out to solve,” Scolaro explained. “It got to a point where we realized we didn’t just want to build a business for the sake of building a business.”

So she closed the doors on her startup.

“Was it a defeat, a significant bump in the road? Definitely. Is it a little bit of a bummer? Yeah,” Scolaro said. “But I wouldn’t consider this a failure because if you look at everything that has happened in the past year, all of the people that we’ve met, all of the lessons that we’ve learned and all of the people who got the chance to work on a really cool startup in the beginning stages, that is priceless.”

While most startups don’t find ultimate success, resilient entrepreneurs know that it’s the journey and experience gained that really matters. Whether or not a company stays afloat, the invaluable benefits of starting a business make a positive impact. 

And at the end of the day, Scolaro said that simply building something from the ground-up was worth the twists, turns and troubles of navigating the startup world.

“One of the best parts of starting your own business is getting to create something out of nothing,” she said. “To see anything come to fruition because of your hard work and effort is one of the most rewarding things about being an entrepreneur.”

A key element to staying on the entrepreneurial path, according to Scolaro, is having unconditional support and guidance along the way.

She pointed out that a major reason why she is able to bounce back from her “failures” and continue to work in the energetic startup world is that the CIE helped her grow a resilient entrepreneurial mindset and continuously supports her in following her passions.

“What’s really nice about having the CIE as a support system is that they’re not just supporting your business idea, they’re supporting you as an entrepreneur,” she explained. “Even though this particular startup didn’t come to fruition and I’m not having a successful exit… I can take the lessons that I’ve learned to the next venture and I know that the CIE will be there the entire time.”

Now that she has closed one chapter in her journey, Scolaro is staying in San Luis Obispo, which she calls an “entrepreneurial hub,” as she mentors current student entrepreneurs and seeks out her next startup venture.

What does failure mean to you as an entrepreneur? Let us know your definition of failure and give us your best #entrepreneurTIP for staying resilient by tagging us on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

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Eight Student Startups Venture Forward with Entrepreneurship

Sidewalk art reading "Passion led us here"

While a pandemic swept over the globe causing universities to go virtual and the economy to take a hit, eight student startups set out to prove that innovation doesn’t stop in the wake of challenges, but rather is ignited by them.

These startups, ranging from an intelligent environmental sensing platform to a curated snack subscription box, are solving real-world problems through the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) HotHouse Accelerator program despite running headfirst toward ever-evolving obstacles.

For Nathan Brickman, agricultural communications graduate and co-founder of accelerator company Bridge, his startup’s mission of improving the mental health care industry has recently become an even more important pursuit amid current world issues. 

“We are in a global pandemic, which is a huge public health scare, and associated with that is not just a threat to our physical health, but certainly our mental health as well,” Brickman said. “We expect to see a rise in demand for mental health services, so for us it’s a really important time to help clients that are seeking care.”

Along with Bridge, other accelerator startups have also come to recognize heightened opportunity in the past months. 

Imperium, a startup founded by seven students, is working to maximize the usability of coworking spaces through limitless access to power, which the team expects to be increasingly important as the traditional workplace continues to evolve out of work-from-home measures and social distancing.

One of Imperium’s co-founders, mechanical engineering senior Jamie Jenkins, also noted that not only is now an incredible time to innovate industries in need of an upgrade, it’s also a great time to take a leap of faith into entrepreneurship.

“Starting a startup is a really uncertain task in general,” Jenkins said. “But somehow taking on additional risk or starting something in already uncertain times feels kind of reasonable.”

Vince DeSantis, a business administration graduate and founder of accelerator startup Fruji, had the same opportunistic outlook as Jenkins.

“I was challenged by a friend to pursue Fruji and see if it could become something because, well, what did I have to lose?” DeSantis half-joked after explaining that he lost a job offer due to the pandemic. “The job market isn’t great right now… so I decided it was the perfect opportunity to dive right into [the accelerator program.]”

For all of the accelerator companies, any nerves of venturing into the startup world were outweighed by trusting the guidance within the HotHouse Accelerator program.

Plus, with five of this year’s accelerator companies lacking members with a background in business, the CIE plays an integral role in supporting these young entrepreneurs with business mentorship in order for them to make strong innovative changes to the world.

So, while the CIE has always focused on supporting student entrepreneurs through its several programs and resources, that priority has only heightened in this time of rapid change and uncertainty. 

To explain the overall feelings of the 2020 accelerator startups, Danielle Petrocelli, a business administration graduate and Imperium co-founder, said it best:

“We’ve all taken the perspective of ‘let’s just do this and learn a lot and give it our all,’” she explained. “Maybe this isn’t the traditional job that we were all expecting, but we’ve all been given the opportunity to really work hard on [our startups] now and I think just having that perspective will work in our favor.”

Stay tuned to see how these eight student startups continue to venture forward over the 12-week accelerator program on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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CIE Graduates Keeping it SLOcal: Motoroso

Founder of Motoroso sitting on the roof of his black pickup truck on the beach.

Alex Littlewood didn’t land in San Luis Obispo by chance nor did he grow his startup here out of sheer convenience — in fact, he strategically chose the Central Coast over San Diego and Silicon Valley to do so. 

When Littlewood began building his startup Motoroso in 2014, he was based out of the Bay Area, a place that many would cite as the entrepreneurial epicenter. Upon getting accepted into the Techstars Accelerator, he moved the company to San Diego but decided to leave a year later in 2017.

Then, instead of returning to Silicon Valley, Littlewood found himself en route to San Luis Obispo.

“The decision to move to San Luis Obispo was primarily because I wanted to live here and wanted to build a company here,” Littlewood said. “It’s a place where people are realizing that one of the best ways to build a robust local economy is by supporting and growing entrepreneurship in the area.”

About six months after the move, he joined the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) HotHouse Incubator to build Motoroso into what is now the first-ever platform for automotive and powersports enthusiasts to seamlessly share, discover and purchase parts for vehicular projects.

“I really, really like what the CIE and SBDC have done [with the program] in bringing everyone from the campus level to the community level all together into a single space where people can collaborate,” he explained. “Having that environment is what really makes entrepreneurship work.”

Now that Motoroso has graduated from the two-year program and officially launched in 2019, though, has Littlewood thought about leaving the area? 

Not a chance.

He said that while so many people get the impression that they should start a company somewhere small then move it to the Bay Area, he “honestly can’t think of a worse decision.” 

“It’s not a conducive place for startups anymore,” Littlewood explained. “There’s less noise in San Luis Obispo with fewer companies, so it’s much harder for startups that are nonsense to hide out in the mess just because they just have the right connections, like in the Bay Area.”

Despite the Central Coast being known for its wine country, beaches and laid-back outdoorsy appeal, Littlewood also sees the professional perks of the area.

“Even though San Luis Obispo is a small startup ecosystem, you have people who are very intelligent and working very hard and they’re all in one central space,” he said. “That makes for a very strong, robust and supportive environment that I personally think is one of the best I’ve ever seen.”

And that’s coming from an entrepreneur who has worked up and down the coast of California, as well as in Detroit and Austin.

Whether it’s due to being in a place that supports his lifestyle, the way the CIE supports his company’s growth or getting the upper hand in growing a business in a non-diluted location, Littlewood makes a good case for why entrepreneurs should not only come to San Luis Obispo, but why they should stay.

If you’re considering keeping it SLOcal with your startup, let us guide you in the right direction. 

Learn more about our startup incubator at https://cie.calpoly.edu/launch/hothouse-incubator/ or the SLO HotHouse coworking experience for established small businesses, growing startups freelancers and remote workers at https://cie.calpoly.edu/coworking/.

Find out more about Motoroso at https://www.motoroso.com/.

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Why Your Company Should Start Coworking

Several people working on their laptops at desks in the SLO HotHouse.

Coworking is evolving the modern way of work and will continue to do so even as the economy picks up again. While self-employed entrepreneurs have been opting to work in coworking spaces rather than their kitchen table for some time, small businesses and large companies are starting to see the benefits, too. From accessing a larger pool of knowledge to helping your employees work in an office space safely, here are the top reasons your company should consider utilizing coworking spaces like the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) SLO HotHouse and HotHouse Annex.

Make Teleworking Work

While office spaces can begin reopening, telework is still being encouraged and office functions can’t fully revert to the way they once were. Although people love autonomy at work, however, too much of it, like when working from home, can paralyze productivity. 

That’s why employees need somewhere to do their job remotely that has more structure, like in a coworking space. 

“I really like having the separation of work and home,” Lindsey McConaghy, founder of Monde PR, says of her experience with coworking. “I feel like my productivity went through the roof.”

For the sake of your company’s efficiency, as well as the sanity and safety of your employees, there needs to be a balance of structure and flexibility for telework. Rather than having employees work from home, coworking spaces can provide them with flexibility in their workday backed by the structure and routine of coming into an office.

Plus, coworking can allow your employees to begin working in a structured office space again even if the reopening process doesn’t allow you to safely bring the whole team back into your main office space.

Greater Access to Knowledge

There are countless potential employees beyond your company’s backyard, but not all of them are willing to uproot their lives and move hundreds or thousands of miles to work for you —  that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get the job. 

Coworking spaces are the best way to benefit your business with access to a larger pool of employees while accommodating those who would love to work for you from the comfort of their home location.

However, this doesn’t mean coworking spaces are reserved for distant remote workers; they can also allow you to bring more local knowledge onto your team if you want to expand the company beyond your main office’s capacity. 

Efficient Finances

When it comes to running a business, especially now, saving money is a no-brainer. Luckily, coworking spaces can help with that. 

Coworking can save you from paying to relocate employees and cuts costs in case of expansion by allowing you to have employees in a structured office space without the need to transition to a larger building. You can take advantage of monthly membership plans, like at the HotHouse and HotHouse Annex, rather than renting out expensive, long-term office space.

Plus, although it seems cost-efficient (i.e. free) to let employees work from home, that can cause lower productivity, thus a financial loss from inefficiency; coworking spaces keep productivity and returns on capital investment high. 

For Paula Mathias Fryer, the SLO Partners program director, coworking at the HotHouse allows her team, under the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education, to have a workspace best suited for them without causing massive changes for the Office of Education, as “It was really important for [her team] to be in the heart of the business community.” 

Community Building

It’s important to note that coworking spaces aren’t just beneficial to employers to keep employees on track; a massive part of working in an office space is the community. As many people who have worked from home will tell you, it can feel isolating to spend days without interaction from colleagues. 

“While working from home has its benefits, I think the biggest thing that’s missing is feeling like there are people who you can look to for help along the way,” CEO of Wayve Sierra Scolaro says of why she coworks in the HotHouse Annex. 

Coworking spaces give employees access to like-minded people and a feeling of camaraderie. Plus, having the option to socialize, rather than feeling forced to do so in a traditional single-company office space, allows employees to take advantage of networking at a pace that works best for them.

Innovation and Intrapreneurship

The great thing about a coworking space is its innovative atmosphere. Coworking spaces are often full of entrepreneurs and innovators with a wide array of skills. When your employees are able to work in an energetic, interdisciplinary community of coworkers, they will gain heightened motivation, access to strong professional relationships and the opportunity to learn new skills. By networking beyond the scope of one’s own company, employees can become intrapreneurs, helping your company grow and innovate from within.

“Coworking allows me to be around other people who are up to great things in their lives,” Founder of Buddhi Boxx Alisa Reynolds says. “The ebb and flow and exchange of energy between myself and others has helped me come up with some of the best ideas I’ve ever had.”

In the HotHouse and HotHouse Annex, coworkers are bound to benefit from the hustle and bustle inside. These spaces are San Luis Obispo’s entrepreneurial hubs, housing startups, freelancers, teams from local businesses, world travelers and beyond. There is always something to be learned, someone to learn from and the opportunity for your employee to grow their network. 

Coworking helps your company grow by enabling employees, whether within 30 miles or 3,000 miles, to have an enhanced way of work. Find out more about coworking with us at https://cie.calpoly.edu/coworking/.

 

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Pashion Footwear jumps over startup hurdles in heels

Overhead shot of the Pashion Footwear team working on business development and shoe sketches.

Entrepreneurship is never a straight shot to success and Pashion Footwear CEO and founder Haley Pavone knows this all too well. 

Pavone began her startup journey as a college student at Cal Poly, swiftly taking her convertible shoe wear idea through several Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) programs. Since launching her startup, the young entrepreneur has tackled countless challenges, from navigating a trade war to combating deceptive advertisements, but continues to see the hardships as opportunities for growth.

“Each challenge and ‘failure’ is a learning experience that makes us that much smarter the next time around,” Pavone said. “I’ve learned just how much we can handle and survive and it’s a lot more than I would have originally thought.”

While her team hasn’t had to pivot their product beyond the scope of its original concept, she says her business has constantly evolved to accommodate outside factors.

One of these factors involved reworking the prices of her company’s products when the trade war with China caused a 10 to 15 percent hike to be placed on their footwear. Pavone explained that this happened with virtually no notice and no timeline on when the penalties will drop, but that her team pushed through by adapting as needed.

However, that wasn’t the CEO’s only financial challenge; Pashion Footwear almost went bankrupt in 2019.

Pavone says that since there is no historical data on what it should cost to make a convertible heel, the Pashion team has to “guesstimate” their costs with traditional heel costs, plus a buffer for their heels’ unique pieces. A mistake in their estimations landed them out of money four months ahead of schedule.

“This was a very scary time for our business, as we had essentially 30 days to raise over a million dollars,” the CEO said. “Luckily, I was able to keep my head down and grind through dozens of investor meetings and successfully raised the money on essentially the last day before bankruptcy.”

Getting through a high-pressure situation like that has given the now 24-year-old a taste of resiliency that is helping her get through the current economic downturn, which is affecting Pashion Footwear’s supply chains, market advances and investor funding.

And as if finances weren’t enough to tackle, Pavone has even had to deal with competitors putting out fraudulent advertisements masquerading as her company to steal website traffic and attempt to benefit from the brand loyalty and awareness her team has built for over three years.

Despite the endless complications of running a company, Pavone and her team have continued to bounce back by learning from mistakes and seeking entrepreneurial guidance.

“The main thing I’ve learned through CIE programs is that every entrepreneur and startup, with no exception, has had to navigate some kind of ‘failure’ and obstacles in the journey to becoming successful,” she said. “Being able to network with our entrepreneurs when problems arise to collaborate on solutions is extremely beneficial, even if for nothing else than to know you aren’t alone.”

From the team’s strong pursuit toward success, there is a silver lining in the struggles they have faced.

Now in 2020, Pashion Footwear’s monthly revenue has grown roughly 346 percent since the beginning of the year and Pavone has been able to keep her full-time team employed after obtaining a Paycheck Protection Program loan with guidance from the Cal Poly CIE Small Business Development Center. 

These accomplishments are keeping the Pashion team optimistic about dealing with future hindrances and celebrating the successes yet to come, like launching an entirely new line of products in July — pending any pandemic-based delays, of course.

To learn more about Pashion Footwear and keep up with their next launch, head to https://pashionfootwear.com/

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Yes, You Can Start a Company in an Economic Downturn

Woman working on her laptop.

What do the companies WhatsApp, Uber, Instagram, Pinterest and Venmo have in common? They were all born out of America’s Great Recession that began in 2008. In fact, even the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) itself emerged in 2010 amid the massive economic downturn.

While a hit to the economy isn’t something to be celebrated, one thing is for certain: when challenges arise, so do opportunities to innovate. 

As we entered an unprecedented pandemic, many areas of life became ripe for innovation, like health technology, food production, logistics and coordination, and at-home social entertainment, according to Forbes. However, there’s no limit on which industries are due for an entrepreneurial upgrade — nor on when they’re due for it.

“There will never be a ‘best time’ to take your ideas to the next level,” says David Bartolomucci, co-founder and CEO of incubator company Roopairs. “Life doesn’t stop for you because you want to start a business.”

However, Charlotte Maumus, the co-founder and CEO of incubator company memwris, says that making sure you have a plan is a best practice, as diving into the startup world without one will hinder your success. 

That’s where the CIE comes in.

The CIE’s goal is to give the San Luis Obispo community the opportunity and support to turn their problem-solving ideas into viable companies from the get-go, rather than leaving people to navigate the startup journey alone. 

One of the ways the CIE does so is through its two-year startup incubator, a program that has helped launch several startups, ranging from an innovative fashion-tech company to the first multi-cue retrofit device that uses visual and auditory cues to help overcome freezing of gait. 

“Having support is essential to building confidence and keeping the momentum going,” says Haley Pavone, CEO and founder of graduated incubator startup Pashion Footwear. “The resources, mentors and funding that come along with the incubator program will propel your business to the next level.” 

While it may not seem ideal to launch a startup during an economic downturn or global pandemic, innovation and entrepreneurship have always been rooted in problem-solving and there is no better time for that than times of need like now.

“You could be 16, 20, 50, 85, employed, unemployed, in a family, single,” Pavone says of being an entrepreneur. “We can’t control when inspiration strikes, but we can control what we do with it.”

And no matter the circumstances, the CIE is prepared to help you take control when that inspiration does strike so that your ideas can help make a real-world impact now. Learn more about how we’ll do so at https://cie.calpoly.edu/launch/hothouse-incubator/.

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