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Coworking Spotlight: HiView Solutions

HiView Solutions team standing in the SLO HotHouse.

For Miles Hischier, coworking with the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) is a vital part in building a remote business in San Luis Obispo.

Hischier is founder and senior partner at HiView Solutions, a Google Cloud consulting partner that helps organizations improve their remote collaboration tools and technologies. Most of his workday is spent in front of his computer, connecting with coworkers and clients over video calls. Coworking at the HotHouse allows Hischier opportunities to connect in-person with other local entrepreneurs and foster a sense of community that his workdays would otherwise lack.

“There’s a lot of good energy from the other community coworkers,” Hischier said. “Everyone is excited to be around colleagues and replicate that feeling of working at a larger company, but really, we’re all working remote.”

The HotHouse and the CIE first caught Hischier’s attention when he moved to San Luis Obispo in 2016, but as a UC Berkeley graduate with no direct ties to Cal Poly, he was unsure if he would be permitted to utilize CIE resources.

One year later, Hischier learned of the CIE’s community coworking program, and he jumped at the chance to get involved.

“When I found out that there’s a community program that accommodates not only coworkers that are working remotely from San Luis Obispo, but also individuals who are starting businesses, I got real excited,” he said.

Hischier was impressed with the resources offered by the HotHouse. Facilities such as the phone rooms and high-speed internet would prove to be valuable assets in building a business based around remote technology.

His decision to start coworking, however, was ultimately propelled by his desire “to be around other like-minded entrepreneurs.”

The HiView team has now worked out of the HotHouse for nearly two years, and Hischier still looks forward to opportunities that will allow him to connect with the other CIE entrepreneurs — especially during the HotHouse Summer Accelerator.

The HotHouse Summer Accelerator program is an intensive 13-week program designed to help Cal Poly students and recent graduates develop their startup ideas into real, sustainable businesses. Participating teams are provided with $10,000 in capital and given access to expert mentorship, tailored workshops and other CIE resources, including a workspace in the HotHouse.

The accelerator brings a unique energy to the HotHouse that, according to Hischier, encourages and inspires the community coworkers.

“Seeing people stay at the office late at night, white-boarding, thinking about what their business could be in five years — that energy is infectious,” Hischier said. “It always gives us lots of fun ideas.”

San Luis Obispo, said Hischier, has proven to be a hotspot for young talent.

“When I first got here in 2016, I remember getting a lot of questions [about] starting a technology company in San Luis Obispo, but now, four plus years later, it’s very commonplace and seems quite obvious,” Hischier said. “Why not live in a fantastic area that has access to a great university that graduates stellar engineering and business talent?”

HiView hires Cal Poly students as interns or part-time workers, sometimes retaining these young professionals as full-time employees after they graduate. 

Kelly Carroll joined the company during her junior year at Cal Poly when she stumbled across an available position for a Sales Development Representative at HiView.

“The position wasn’t quite what I was looking for, [but] their industry and business model caught my interest,” said Carroll.

She submitted her resume, hoping to speak with a representative about other opportunities at HiView. She met with Hischier and his co-founder Narjit Patel for an interview, where she shared samples of her previous marketing and technical writing work. Hischier and Patel then collaborated with Carroll to create a custom position that was best suited to her skillset.

Carroll worked for HiView as a part-time Marketing Coordinator until she graduated from Cal Poly in June of 2020. Following her graduation, she remained with HiView, working part-time as a contractor until February of 2021, when she was promoted to her current position as a full-time Marketing and Customer Success Specialist.

“At HiView, I feel like my career has been jump-started,” Carroll said. “Working alongside my expert team members at HiView, our colleagues at Google and the industry-leading clients we serve, I learn so much every single day.”

Carroll has gained leadership experience in several realms of business throughout her time at HiView, including marketing, account management, user communications and project management. Her most recent project was spearheading the creation of HiView’s new website.

“It’s been great seeing Kelly’s growth from when she first joined as an intern to now, taking on big projects like overhauling our website [and] running a team of web developers and designers,” Hischier said. “They [were] all reporting into Kelly, who’s only a year out of school, but worked for us 10, 15, 20 hours a week for well over a year before she graduated.”

Coworking has helped shape Carroll’s career at HiView. The HotHouse offers an environment that, according to Carroll, invites collaboration and hard work.

“The friendliness and entrepreneurial spirit of the people working within the HotHouse is inspiring,” Carroll said. “It provides a great in-person working environment that is often missed by remote teams.”

Coworking has similarly shaped Hischier’s startup experience, providing a space in which he can work to grow his company.

“I cannot recommend [coworking] enough for a new entrepreneur,” Hischier said. “If you’re starting a business in San Luis Obispo, I would say the first thing you should do — form your company and then join the HotHouse.”

For more information on coworking or to learn how you can cowork with us, visit https://cie.calpoly.edu/coworking/.

Senior Sequence: Experience Building a Startup

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Business Building

Senior projects are a norm across Cal Poly’s campus. These graduation requirements differ between the university’s six colleges and, in the Orfalea College of Business, differ between concentrations.

Within the realm of entrepreneurship, students are able to choose from one of two “senior sequences.” In one sequence, students get to work with a San Luis Obispo-based startup. In the other, students are given the opportunity to experience building their own company.

The latter sequence, referred to as “Experience Building a Startup,” most directly involves engineering students and business students concentrating in entrepreneurship, but students from all six colleges are welcome to take the course with their respective department’s permission.

For engineering students, the three-quarter Learn by Doing project acts in-totality as their senior project and consists of ENGR-463, ENGR-464 and ENGR-465. For non-engineering students, the sequence involves three, four-unit classes, in which one counts as their senior project credit: BUS-488: Building a Startup Skillset, BUS-487: Launching and Growing the Technology Start-Up, and BUS-464: Applied Senior Project Seminar.

“The course is ideal for anyone who thinks they want to start their own venture and want to see what that’s like, and it’s great for people who want to be a product manager,” explained one of the two course professors, Dr. Tom Katona. “The top feedback I get on why students choose this sequence, though, is that they want to take classes with people they haven’t been taking classes with for the last three years.”

The interdisciplinary nature of the course is what makes building a startup possible.

Over the course of the sequence, students form company teams to practice problem-solution tactics, ideation, customer development, competitive research, prototyping and user testing — all accomplished by having a range of skill sets and backgrounds involved. 

And while some students come into the course with an idea for a startup or product, Dr. Katona says there isn’t a guarantee that a whole team will want to work on it, nor is it as simple as having a cool idea.

“I tend to tell students who say they have an idea of what they want to make that I’m far more interested in hearing about the problem that they want to solve,” he said. “Then we’ll let the time in class help them figure out what the right solution to that is.”

While students can continue to build their startups post-graduation, that isn’t always the outcome — but second sequence professor, and CIE Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Dan Weeks says that continuing on with the company students build isn’t the whole point.

“I think 5% of students will continue on with their created companies and 95% we’re teaching an entrepreneurial mindset to,” Weeks explained. “If you go through a 9-month program with all of the detail we offer, no matter where you work after college, you’re going to look at things differently.”

This is exactly the reason mechanical engineering senior George Luebkeman chose this senior project.

“As an ME student, this option sounded like an excellent way to learn the fundamentals of entrepreneurship, which really sets me apart from other applicants for jobs I am applying to,” he said. “Having a Cal Poly engineering education paired with this entrepreneurship experience makes one a prime candidate for small, disruptive tech companies.”

Similarly, electrical engineering senior Russell Caletena says this senior project was one he couldn’t pass up.

“[The course has] taught me to prioritize empathy, creative thinking, and perseverance when working with others for a shared common goal,” he said. “The skills gained, challenges faced, and people I’ve networked with are all valuable experiences I’ll not only cherish, but also apply to my post-grad plans.”

Luebkeman and Caletena are students who plan to utilize their entrepreneurial mindset within already-established organizations in the future — often called “intrapreneurs.”

Business administration senior Kasey Moffitt, however, plans to take the knowledge she learns in this sequence to one day build her own company.

“As an entrepreneur, my ultimate goal is to one day start my own business,” she explained. “My entrepreneurship courses have given me a glimpse into how to start a business, however this course is giving me the hands-on experience that you can’t get from a textbook.”

Regardless of students’ post-grad game plans, this senior sequence provides them with endless experiential knowledge and the ability to mold the course to their needs.

“This is the good and the bad: there’s a lot of ambiguity in the class,” Dr. Katona said. “We can’t tell these innovative students exactly what to do, but we do understand the process by which these things get off the ground and that’s what [Weeks and I] help with.”

And as daunting as it may sound to build a startup versus taking a more typical senior project, course professors and students alike advocate for the course as the ultimate “Learn by Doing” experience with the safety net of school.

“Our whole attitude here is to fail often, but fail early,” Weeks explained. “You don’t know what you don’t know until you do things. That’s what Cal Poly is all about.”

Through this hands-on senior project, Caletena’s biggest takeaways have been to “think bigger,” “be bold” and “explore beyond your comfort zone.”

“For me, senior project means a lot more to me than a grade on paper,” said Caletena. “The sky is not the limit; the limit is whatever you set it to be and I strongly believe that ideas, no matter how small or big, can truly make a difference in people’s lives as long as we continue to pursue them wholeheartedly to bring them to reality.”

Ultimately, that is the essence of this entrepreneurial senior sequence: setting future intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs up for success and apart from others to make a difference in the real world.

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Senior Sequence: Experience Working in a Startup

Cal Poly campus education building

Across campus, Cal Poly students are asked to complete a senior project prior to graduation. Project requirements differ across Cal Poly’s six colleges and, in the Orfalea College of Business, differ across concentrations.

In their senior years, business students with entrepreneurship concentrations are able to choose from one of two “senior sequences.” In one sequence, students are given the opportunity to build their own startup. In the other, students work with a pre-established startup team in the San Luis Obispo area.

The latter option, often referred to as “Experience Working in a Startup,” is a two-quarter sequence that consists of two, four-unit classes: BUS-488: Building a Startup Skillset and BUS-464: Applied Senior Project Seminar.

“In the first quarter, BUS-488, we have [students] working on the side to make sure they understand the value proposition of the company, the customer segments — the kind of stuff they need to be good entrepreneurs in the future,” explained course professor Jon York. “By the end of the first quarter, they’re pretty embedded in the company, so they really start to rock and roll.”

The overall experience offered by the course differs notably from student to student. The work students are asked to do and the skills they develop are entirely dependent upon the needs of the startup that he or she has been assigned.

Because this assignment is so involved, course professors Jon York and Lynn Metcalf do their best to pair students with startups that they have a genuine interest in. They screen a number of local startup teams, looking for founders who can provide a valuable learning experience to students. Then, they present these companies to the students and, in turn, present descriptions of their students to the startup founders, or “company mentors.”

“There’s sort of an interviewing process, and then we let the cards fall where they fall,” said York. “So, for the most part, students end up choosing who they work with.”

According to business senior Nicholas Thorpe, the company that a student is paired up with heavily influences the value of this assignment. 

Thorpe was initially paired with a startup that he believed could not provide him with the opportunities he had wanted to obtain through his senior project. He voiced his concerns to York, who reassigned him to BlueLine Robotics, a startup founded by two engineering students, Ryan Pfarr and Geoffrey Smith, that manufactures tactile robots for law enforcement use.

Through his work with BlueLine, Thorpe said, he has been “able to stretch my wings and exercise some of the things I’ve been learning at Cal Poly.”

Working with BlueLine has taught Thorpe how to apply the skills he has learned in the classroom to a real-world business. 

“In class, you get the skill set you need, but then the reality of how that plays out is very different sometimes,” he said. “In typical lectures, you don’t see how complicated things can actually be in real life.”

Metcalf believes that it is this hands-on learning that makes this senior project such a valuable experience.

“The thing that’s unique about this is it is a ‘Learn by Doing’ experience, but [students] are working alongside a founding team and are really treated as a part of the organization,” she said. “They sit in on important meetings and are privy to the kind of information that makes them feel like a part of the team.”

Students become integral members of the startup teams, sometimes even going on to work for the startup after graduation. 

According to Pfarr, Thorpe and the other students assigned to BlueLine have been valuable assets to his startup and prime examples of how this project is not only beneficial to the students involved, but also the companies.

“[The students] are super talented and well-prepared to a level beyond what I expected,” said Pfarr. “They taught me things that I didn’t even know I needed to know. They’ve both gone above and beyond what the class requires them to do and are great members of the team.”

While Thorpe entered his senior project with a strong understanding of entrepreneurship, working with Pfarr and Smith provided him with a unique perspective on how to run a business.

“Ryan is an encourager,” said Thorpe. “He’s good at seeing what people are good at and thanking them for that. He and Geoffry are intelligent guys. They’re humble and willing to seek out help and advice and mentors, and I think that’s something to look at, see as valuable and try and imitate.”

Throughout the senior sequence, students have both their company mentors and course professors at their disposal for the guidance they need.

“The professors are great,” said Thorpe. “They’re equipping students and then they’re actually there as a resource. I have the ability to connect with them, and because I switched companies, I switched from being under Professor York to being under Professor Metcalf, so I’ve benefited from both.”

York and Metcalf are eager to see their students succeed. Both believe that success in this senior sequence is indicative of a successful career post-graduation.

“This is really about life-long learning and finding resources,” said Metcalf. “[Students] are learning how to keep their skill sets relevant and current, which is what you need to do after you graduate. Nobody is going to give you an assignment. You need to be able to go to someone and say this is what I need in order to do my job better. They’re learning how to do that.”

York echoed similar sentiments.

“For the last 16 years of their life, [students] have lived off of someone telling then when to turn work in and what it should look like — in college, we call that a syllabus,” he said. “If [students] can get to the point where they can create their own goals and objectives and get through it, they’re going to be way above other students who have just been sitting in the classroom.”

Learn more about this senior project course sequence, contact lmetcalf@calpoly.edu.

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Innovation Sandbox Reopens for Entrepreneurial Student Projects

The Innovation Sandbox is an on-campus space that provides students with access to the latest prototyping and ideation tools. It was closed at the start of the current COVID-19 pandemic, but with their COVID-safe reopening on Jan. 25, the student-run organization now hopes to resume its role as a creative hub for the Cal Poly community.

The space, equipped with cutting edge technologies like 3D printers and laser- and vinyl-cutters, fuels creativity and allows students to explore the power and possibilities of innovation.

“We function as a sort of makerspace,” Innovation Sandbox student director Hailey Casino said.

The Innovation Sandbox has reopened with limited capacity and a new safety protocol that has been approved by both the Cal Poly College of Engineering and the university itself. Per this new protocol, no more than one person at a time is allowed within the Sandbox and access to the resources is limited to students participating in approved on-campus activities.

“We’ve been granted approval for limited opening in support of in-person classes and research that has in-person approval,” Tom Katona, faculty director of the Innovation Sandbox, said. “Our operations through the end of this academic year will be in support of these limited activities.”

While select students are able to utilize its resources, they are not permitted to enter the Innovation Sandbox to maximize safety. 

“We’ll have a limited number of Innovation Sandbox officers who will be allowed to run the printers,” Casino explained. “Students who are taking in-person classes will be able to use our services, but they will have to submit parts to us. We’re not going to have any students coming into the room.”

Although the Innovation Sandbox is limited to students with in-person classes, it is open to students of all majors.

“Bringing students from across campus together is hard,” Katona said. “Our intentionality about this helps bring creative, innovative and entrepreneurial students together, but it still requires outreach and students that want to collaborate and learn from others with backgrounds different from their own. We learn more about this each year, and I don’t expect this to change anytime soon.”

The regulations necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic do pose obstacles for the Innovation Sandbox team. Their reopening requires minimal interaction between students, making it difficult to unite students from across campus or recreate the comfortable, collaborative environment that the Innovation Sandbox fostered prior to the pandemic. 

“Many places for prototyping are intimidating and that’s what keeps students from starting projects they are thinking about,” Katona said. “This is much more difficult in our COVID-19 operating restrictions, but our goal is for students to want to use [the Innovation Sandbox] without feeling intimidated.”

Despite the limitations, however, Casino is excited for the reopening of the Innovation Sandbox.

“I’m looking forward to reopening as much as we can and getting things up and running being able to help students and see the impact we make,” she said.

Casino, a fifth year biomedical engineering major, worked with the Innovation Sandbox as an officer prior to being appointed student director at the start of this academic year.

“I just became student director at the beginning of this quarter, so I haven’t been able to do a lot of the normal tasks that student directors do,” she said. “But I was an officer last year, so I was pretty involved with the way the [Innovation Sandbox] was being run.”

In her time as student director, she has been heavily involved in developing the Innovation Sandbox’s new safety protocol and coordinating communication efforts to promote the upcoming reopening. Her favorite aspect of working with the Innovation Sandbox, however, is not the administrative work, but watching students use Innovation Sandbox resources in creative, inventive ways. 

One standout project, Casino said, was a prosthetic finger that a group of biomedical engineering students manufactured using the 3D printers in the Innovation Sandbox.

“Someone sent us a 3D model of their hands because they were missing a thumb,” Casino recounted. “Biomedical students could then make a prosthetic thumb for him even though that person wasn’t in SLO at the time, which I thought was pretty cool.”

Some have gone beyond using the Innovation Sandbox for academic projects and have instead used its resources to develop their own inventions. 

“We have entrepreneurial students who find the Innovation Sandbox as a space that enables their initial concepts of innovation to be brought to life,” Katona said.

Casino echoed similar sentiments and believes the Innovation Sandbox can be a valuable resource to students looking to start their own business.

“It’s a great resource for students who don’t have big companies backing them,” she said. “It’s a great way to create prototypes to get access to future funding.”

Whether utilizing the space for academic projects or personal endeavors, the Innovation Sandbox will continue to prioritize students’ needs throughout its reopening.

“At the end of the day, the students will continue to drive what and how the Innovation Sandbox serves them,” said Katona. “That is what will ensure it remains relevant as students’ needs change.”

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Cultivating the Entrepreneurial Mindset: Where Creativity Meets Science

For many, entrepreneurship means creating a startup; for others, it’s about being your own boss. But for students like fourth-year biology major Maddie Alexander, it’s about recognizing innovative opportunities in unlikely places.

Although Alexander’s post-graduation plans originally consisted of her becoming a doctor, she felt like her studies lacked creativity and collaboration, two things she really valued.

That’s when she found Cal Poly’s entrepreneurship minor.

“In most of my biology classes, information is super black or white and there’s not a lot of room for creativity and working with other people,” Alexander explained. “I have so many random interests that I want to play off of in my career and the entrepreneurship minor has encouraged me to explore these interests rather than stick to one specific path.”

When she began taking classes for the minor her junior year, Alexander was able to pinpoint exactly what those interests were: innovation, genetics, human connection and business. 

“Wanting to go into healthcare, I was really interested in the empathy aspect, so I always thought I had to be a doctor,” she said. “This minor taught me that I’ll still help people as an entrepreneur by seeing a customer’s needs, putting myself in their shoes and building off of that.”

Although her immediate plans are to gain more hands-on experience in the healthcare industry or continue her studies, Alexander noted that she wants to build her own company in the future. Until then, though, she said that her entrepreneurial knowledge won’t be wasted.

“Cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset is about having the ability to see opportunity in places other people wouldn’t,” Alexander said. “Having that mindset in a biology setting is kind of unique because not everyone is willing to look at the established, black-and-white information as an opportunity to innovate.”

Alexander recognizes that not many of her College of Science and Mathematics classmates are interested in becoming CEOs; however, she said that entrepreneurship really isn’t just for people who want to launch a startup.

“Sure, some people are more drawn to the entrepreneurial mindset, but there’s always room to innovate and come up with ideas and put in new input,” she said. “You can still use the principles of entrepreneurship in your life even if you don’t have the fire in your body to start a company.”

And that’s why thinking like an entrepreneur is truly for anyone. There’s no downside to seeing things from different perspectives and thinking outside of the box.

“Anyone can follow procedures and go through the tasks of a job,” Alexander said. “But it’s the people who can recognize problems and see where growth is needed who help a company or industry progress.” 

You can build these skills for success regardless of your future plans, and we’re here to help. Visit https://cie.calpoly.edu/ or https://www.cob.calpoly.edu/undergrad/entrepreneurship-minor/ to find your entrepreneurial fit.

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Cultivating the Entrepreneurial Mindset: An Intrapreneur’s Journey

The entrepreneurial mindset is about a certain way of thinking — it is about the way in which you approach challenges and mistakes. It is about an inherent drive to improve your skill set and to try and try again.  

But why is this important? The entrepreneurial mindset is what you need to propel yourself forward in building a professional career, even if you’re not aiming to become a business owner in the near future. It can help you become more resourceful, flexible and ready to adapt, regardless of what the current situation is like.

For students like fourth-year computer science major Josiah Pang, that’s what taking on Cal Poly’s entrepreneurship minor is all about.

“I knew that coming out of Cal Poly with a degree in computer science would set me up for success technically, but I think there’s a lot of aspects of a job that aren’t covered by pure technical knowledge,” Pang explained. “I kind of view computer science as a square and the [entrepreneurship] minor is what rounds me out into a circle.”

As Pang believes, entrepreneurship isn’t just for the business student looking to create a startup. Rather, studying entrepreneurship can set anyone up for professional success in all fields.

“No matter what role you’re in, you’re going to be interfacing as a component of a larger structure and understanding that larger structure would never put you at a disadvantage,” he said. “It’s good to understand the entrepreneurial mindset because it gives you more context and I think context is what sets you up for even more success in your role.”

When Pang talks about gaining context through the entrepreneurial mindset, he means having the ability to look at the larger, societal picture and utilize that knowledge to innovate for a company in a meaningful way.

His goal with entrepreneurship has been to develop a mindset that makes him a vital asset to the organization he goes on to work for post-grad. By taking courses like design thinking and interdisciplinary senior project for his minor, Pang has gained experience in critical thinking and working with all types of minds.

“It’s interesting to see how through different majors and disciplines, even though we’re all Cal Poly students, the way in which we’ve been trained is very different,” he said of his senior project team. “To have all of these different perspectives and mindsets in the same room working together 100 percent translates into the workplace.”

But can’t you gain this type of knowledge through other areas of study? 

Not necessarily. When it comes to learning the entrepreneurial mindset, there’s a lot that you would miss out on in other fields. Entrepreneurship ties in business, design, risk-taking, management, empathy, leadership skills, failure-understanding and more. Plus, utilizing the mindset to be an intrapreneur doesn’t leave graduates at a corporate roadblock.

“‘Intrapreneur’ is the word I would use to describe myself; someone who has an entrepreneurial mindset within a larger organization and can tie in new ideas and innovate existing features, but not necessarily start something from the ground up,” Pang explained. “But [starting a business] could be something I want to do later, once I have the experience and the resources that you get from a bigger network and a bigger company.”

Whether your plan is to dive headfirst into your fresh business venture or apply to several established companies, having an entrepreneurial mindset can only advance your opportunity-seeking, problem-solving and innovative success.

Head to https://cie.calpoly.edu/ or https://www.cob.calpoly.edu/undergrad/entrepreneurship-minor/ to start cultivating the entrepreneurial mindset now.

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