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CIE Graduates Keeping it SLOcal: Tastry

Katerina Axelsson, CEO and founder of Tastry, in the lab testing wine.

By Miranda Knight

Can computers taste? Cal Poly chemistry graduate Katerina Axelsson says so — and she has the data-backed artificial intelligence (AI) innovation to prove it.

While doing chemistry work at local wineries in college, Axelsson noticed that wine scoring was inconsistent and subjective, quickly seeing a need for more transparency in the wine industry and a better understanding of what consumers really want.

“I saw an opportunity to make the subjective wine scoring process more objective,” she said. “I figured that, instead of the 100-point critic system of wine scoring, the answer was in the chemistry.”

So, Axelsson went straight to the lab, where she spent two years innovatively testing wine as a human would taste it, rather than simply for quality control like a typical lab.

By the end of this, she had gathered a mass of data that needed processing, so she set up a meeting with Alex Dekhtyar, the head of the computer science master’s program. The proposed thirty-minute meeting ended up lasting four hours, landed her a business partner in Dekhtyar and was the start of her entrepreneurial journey.

“Around that time, I joined the HotHouse Summer Accelerator for a sort of similar product idea, a wine tasting kit that educated people about wine,” she said. “After that, I went into the HotHouse Incubator where we started getting data from the recommender deployments. That’s kind of when the wheels started turning.”

Thus, Axelsson pivoted her concept and turned it into Tastry, the technology-driven AI company she is the CEO and founder of today.

“The data we were gathering on consumer preferences was unprecedented and led us to build an insights dashboard, like a software product,” she explained. “Now we’re in the business of not only telling consumers what to buy, but telling retailers what to stock and wineries what to make and where to sell it.”

During Tastry’s two years in the incubator until its 2017 graduation, and for some time after, the team fully dove into B2B technology to vertically integrate into the wine industry. Now, they have released their BottleBird app and have plans to launch “Powered by Tastry” software on e-commerce wine websites to keep in touch with consumers.

But while the startup has a history of upward success, Axelsson says that it hasn’t always been easy to be seemingly “selling a rocket ship when people were only looking for a faster horse.”

“We’re making some pretty big claims,” she said. “To say that we can predict how a product will perform in the market just based on the chemistry is almost not believable. And I couldn’t just say this is faster and better and cheaper than what the industry was already using because there’s nothing out there like it. I had to really gain customer trust.”

However, Axelsson confidently utilizes efficacy tests to show, rather than tell, that there is validity in Tastry’s technology. Not to mention, Tastry has no shortage of customers on the Central Coast.

“San Luis Obispo [County] is the perfect environment for this type of company because we’re directly embedded into the wine industry, with the added benefit of being right next to Cal Poly which has a lot of talent to pull from,” Axelsson noted. “Plus, having access to the CIE helped surround me with an incredible network of like-minded people, mentors and investors.”

With that being said, Axelsson doesn’t plan on moving Tastry out of San Luis Obispo anytime soon —  there’s still so much opportunity to tap into and plenty of local wine for her computers to taste.

You can find out more about Tastry at https://tastry.com/ or learn how we can help you grow your SLOcal business today through our HotHouse Incubator program.

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One Engineer’s Unexpected Turn to Entrepreneurship | De Oro Devices

Sidney Collin talking to Jack Brill, a Parkinson's patient using the NextStride device.

Sidney Collin never saw herself as an entrepreneur. The biomedical engineering graduate hardly expected to start a business and even when she innovated a device for Parkinson’s patients, she simply saw that as another facet of research.

That is until she got involved in CIE programming.

“I have a very engineering-based mind and don’t think like a businessperson,” explained Collin. “I jumped into entrepreneurship without planning to at all, but I got exposed to this whole other world that I didn’t know existed, that I didn’t know I wanted to be a part of or even felt like I would fit into.”

While working on a Cal Poly engineering project, Collin was introduced to local veteran Jack Brill who was dealing with freezing of gait, a Parkinson’s symptom that hinders movement. 

Knowing about extensive research backing audio and visual cues as a way to combat this, Collin created what is now the NextStride, a medical device under her company De Oro Devices that uses lasers and metronomes to prevent freezing of gait. 

After Brill found it successful, he sparked demand for it in a local Parkinson’s support group.

“It was completely unfathomable to me that something so simple and so well known to be effective didn’t exist already,” Collin said. “I realized that there was a much bigger need for a device like this.”

The closest thing to a solution then involved a physical therapist laying painter’s tape on a patient’s home floor as a pathway for them to walk along.

“But that confined them to those specific lines,” she said. “We’re allowing them to not only be able to wake up in the middle of the night and go to the bathroom by themselves, but also go to the beach or walk around the block. They can take the cues anywhere.”

To serve the larger community seeking this relief, Collin and her advisor needed funding, so they looked into CIE’s Innovation Quest (IQ). Feeling uncertain about pitching her company, she passed it up in 2017, but got involved the following year.

Her device was immediately met with excitement by CIE leaders, inspiring her to gain business skills in the on-campus Hatchery before officially pitching to investors. Ultimately, De Oro Devices didn’t win — but Collin wasn’t shaken.

Instead, she was pushed to apply for the HotHouse Accelerator and got in.

“I came into that thinking there was no way I could be successful because I didn’t fit the entrepreneurial mold,” Collin recalled about her startup journey’s beginning. “But the CIE offers an incredible amount of support and allows students and super early-stage companies to dream big which is so valuable.”

And that value shows. Collin and co-founder Will Thompson went on to take De Oro Devices through the HotHouse Incubator, launch their medical device on a remarkable timeline, win the Central Coast Angel Conference and secure multiple rounds of investments. 

Now post-incubator, the startup remains based in San Luis Obispo as it expands its already-global reach, grows into new disease states and builds out its product line.

“We’re continuously motivated by our customers’ responses saying, ‘I’ve been able to walk for the first time in years, this is amazing, thank you,” Collin said. “It’s crazy to think that there’s no chance I would’ve pursued anything if it wasn’t for the CIE pushing me to realize that there was a business opportunity here and that I could be the one to do it.”

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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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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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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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Graduated Accelerator Company: Wayve, Inc.

Sierra Scolaro went from working on a senior project while finishing her undergraduate degree to becoming a CEO in one year.

What got her there? The HotHouse Summer Accelerator. 

“When we started at the beginning of the summer, we were just three people with an idea and a really not-so-great prototype,” Scolaro, CEO of Wayve, Inc., said. “Going through the accelerator program with all of the mentorship, the dedicated office space and the $10,000 gift really propelled us forward.”

The Wayve team was able to utilize their $10,000 in startup funding from the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) to prototype and patent their idea of a reusable water bottle that allows for filtered water from any spout.

While the business-development side of the program is what directly helped Wayve grow this idea into a company, she also believes the atmosphere of the HotHouse made the summer even more impactful.

“The best thing about the accelerator has to be the community,” the business entrepreneurship graduate said. “When you’re surrounded by all of that energy and other people working on their passions, it makes you all the more excited to pursue your own.”

Scolaro is grateful that she still has the support and motivation she needs to continue advancing her startup since graduating from the accelerator and joining the CIE’s two-year incubator.

“Now that we’re in the incubator program, it’s definitely not as much hand holding as the accelerator, but it’s not like all the support just disappeared,” she explained. “Working out of the HotHouse Annex, surrounded by other entrepreneurs, really provides an energy to keep the momentum going.”

Scolaro says her team really values the mentors, funding opportunities and network of helpful people they have now, but notes that a lot of these resources were first gained through the HotHouse Accelerator. That alone, she said, is enough of a reason to apply for the program.

Plus, she truly loves that the program allowed her to be an entrepreneur.

“I want to enjoy life and I want to enjoy work and I don’t want there to be a distinct separation between the two,” she said. “If I have the opportunity to create that for other people as well, to employ someone who loves what they do and feels like they’re contributing to an overall larger mission for the world, I would love to.”

So, to anyone considering taking their innovative ideas to the next level and building their business community, Scolaro has just one bit of advice for Cal Poly’s aspiring entrepreneurs.

“The HotHouse Summer Accelerator had to be one of the best summers of my life,” she said. “If you’re on the fence, just do it. There’s nothing to lose.” 

Take the leap, launch your dream business, and spend your summer in San Luis Obispo with the HotHouse Summer Accelerator. Find out more and apply for the program at https://cie.calpoly.edu/launch/hothouse-accelerator/

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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 https://cie.calpoly.edu/launch/hothouse-incubator/.

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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 https://www.boostacquisition.com/home.html.

See how you could be the next startup to grow with the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s support at https://cie.calpoly.edu/#launch.

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