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Category: Keeping it SLOcal

Favorite Places in SLO County: Summer 2021

We asked the CIE community to tell us their favorite places here in San Luis Obispo County. Here’s what they had to say:

Hiking Hot Spots

Poly Canyon Trail. Photo by Emily Olstad

Hike Poly Canyon to Architecture Graveyard, a collection of deserted architecture structures built by Cal Poly architecture, engineering and design students.

Prefumo Canyon. Photo by Willa Westneat

The Prefumo Canyon trail leads to a scenic overlook perfect to watch the sunset.

Pismo Preserve. Photo by Stephanie Zombek

Pismo Preserve connects to a number of hiking and biking trails, great for hikers of all levels.

More Outdoor Attractions

Cal Poly Leaning Pine Arboretum. Photo by Alyson Smith

The Leaning Pine Arboretum is a scenic garden on the Cal Poly campus composed of a class projects, lab exercises and senior projects from over a span of 50 years.

Pismo Beach. Photo by Emily Olstad

Located only about 15 minutes from the Cal Poly campus, Pismo Beach is a classic beach town with plenty of outdoor and indoor attractions.

Morro Rock. Photo by Stephanie Zombek

Morro Rock is an iconic Morro Bay landmark formed about 23 million years ago by volcanic plugs.

SLOcal Lunch Spots

Firestone Grill. Photo by Willa Westneat

The Firestone Tri-Tip challenge is when you hike 3 of the major peaks in San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly “P,” Madonna Peak and Bishop Peak) all in one day, then go to Firestone Grill to reward yourself with their famous tri-tip sandwich. 

High Street Market & Deli. Photo by Willa Westneat

Founded in 1927, High Street Deli is a historic San Luis Obispo landmark that was once frequented by railroad workers and their families. 

Sandwich from Old San Luis BBQ. Photo by Old San Luis BBQ

Old San Luis BBQ Company prides themselves on their unique red oak barbecue, hand-trimmed tri-tip and locally farmed, organic vegetables.

Can’t Forget Coffee Shops

Nautical Bean. Photo by Willa Westneat

Nautical Bean has great coffee, great breakfast burritos and a great study atmosphere.

Kreuzberg California. Photo by Willa Westneat

Founded in 2010, Kreuzberg California was inspired by the café scene in the Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin, Germany.

Linnaea’s Cafe. Photo by Willa Westneat

It’s been almost 40 years since it was founded, and Linnaea’s is still going strong.

Scout Coffee. Photo by Scout Coffee

Scout Coffee has two San Luis Obispo locations and will be adding a third right on the Cal Poly campus in fall of 2021.

BlackHorse Espresso & Bakery. Photo by Willa Westneat

BlackHorse Espresso and Bakery is a small business supporting other small businesses, proudly serving coffee from local Paso Robles coffee roasting company Spearhead.

Kin Coffee. Photo by Emily Olstad

Kin Coffee Bar serves coffee, matcha, superfoods and baked goods and works hard to create a welcoming atmosphere for all members of the San Luis Obispo community.

And of course… 

Cal Poly Red Brick Dorms. Photo by Emily Olstad

 

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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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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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CIE Graduates Keeping it SLOcal: Flume, Inc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you’re looking to build your business with all of these SLOcal benefits, explore the CIE HotHouse Incubator program at https://cie.calpoly.edu/launch/hothouse-incubator/.

To see more about Flume, Inc. and its water-monitoring device, head to https://flumetech.com/.

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