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Why Diversity Matters

Beige background with gold letters that read "Why Diversity Matters in Entrepreneurship."

Diversity was largely an “untouched subject” on the Cal Poly campus when Zeeshan Khan started as an undergraduate. It was shortly after photographs of a white student in blackface began circulating, a scandal which propelled Cal Poly into the international spotlight and left many traditionally underrepresented students, including Khan, feeling ostracized from the rest of the campus community.

Khan, a computer science undergraduate who was serving on Cal Poly ASI’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee at the time, recognized a lack of sufficient support networks for minority students — so he began building his own network.

Along with two other classmates, Khan founded Color Coded, an on-campus club that provides professional and academic support and resources to minorities and allies in the tech space. The club was especially committed to fostering new opportunities and professional connections for Black and Latinx students. 

“We recognized there was a need for more support, more community, and why not have another place for people to reconnect and feel safe?” Khan said. “We focused on making sure people felt their voices were heard.”

Khan is now the co-founder and CEO of Zoetic Motion, a startup developing a platform for physical therapists to support their patients outside of the clinic. Color Coded influenced the way in which he manages his startup, he said.

Through Color Coded, Khan learned the importance of diverse perspectives. The club taught him that a diverse team can lead to more creative problem-solving since team members from different backgrounds may approach problems differently, he said. 

Two students sit at a table with a laptop in between them. One student is holding a textbook, and the other is leaning over the table to look at it. In the background, a third student writes on a whiteboard covered in sticky notes.

Zoetic Motion CEO Zeeshan Khan (right) with co-founder Ivet Avalos (left) during the 2021 CIE Summer Accelerator.

“Something I make sure to do — and I know it irritates some people — but I make sure everyone says something before the end of our staff meetings,” Khan said.

This not only ensures that everyone’s voice is heard, but can also lead to more innovative ideas, he said.

Zoetic Motion is not the only startup that benefits from a diverse workforce. Recent studies conducted by McKinsey & Company found that companies with greater diversity enjoy greater financial success.

In 2018, McKinsey examined 1,000 public companies from 12 different countries and found that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity were 33% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. Similarly, companies with greater gender diversity were 21% more likely to have financial returns above the same median.

“When you have a diverse team, there’s this plethora of perspective, experience and culture,” said Jose Huitron, a lecturer in the Cal Poly Orfalea College of Business (OCOB) and the Director of Student Innovation Programs with the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE).

Diverse teams within the entrepreneurship space can also translate into diversity within the consumer marketplace, according to Huitron.

Agua Bonita, for example, is a startup that sells agua frescas, beverages made with water and fresh fruits that are especially popular in Mexico and Latin America. Traditionally, agua frescas are sold by street vendors, alongside “culturally nuanced food.”

Agua Bonita founder Kayla Castañeda, however, repurposed the tradition, commercializing the product and selling it as a canned beverage. 

“She found a way to take a staple in our Hispanic culture and bring it into the mainstream,” Huitron said. “Kayla’s perspective and point of view enriches the portfolio of the firm that invested in her startup, brings back capital that she can use to impact her community and broadens the aperture of what’s possible for her community.”

Another example of a startup creating greater diversity and inclusivity in the consumer marketplace is Cheekies, a period-wear company leveraging leak-proof technology to provide menstruators with greater comfort while sleeping on their periods.

The startup is founded by women, for women — but because of this, the startup’s founders often run into difficulties when pitching their business to male investors, who can be unfamiliar with the problem they are attempting to solve.

“We have to be very creative in the way that we sell the product to male investors,” said Cheekies co-founder Mariana Inofuentes, who graduated from Cal Poly with an industrial engineering degree in 2022. “It requires a little bit of extra brainstorming because (male investors) may not relate to the problem.”

Two women stand on stage, smiling in front of a large projector screen that reads "Thank You!"

Cheekies co-founders Mariana Inofuentes (left) and McCall Brinskele (right) after pitching their startup at the CIE’s 2022 Demo Day.

Pitching to female investors is often easier because they are familiar with the discomfort of sleeping on their periods and the lack of effective solutions currently on the market. Rather than explain the problem and solution, Inofuentes and co-founder McCall Brinskele need only explain how their solution is effective.

Brinskele, who is also a Cal Poly graduate student studying engineering management, said working with mentors who share a similar background as their mentee — in Brinskele’s case, women who are familiar with product development, apparel or other aspects of the period-wear industry — can be valuable.

Communication is often easier since the mentor is able to understand their mentee on a more personal level, Brinskele said.

“For a mentor to say, ‘I’ve been where you’ve been and I came out the other side’ is massive,” Brinskele said. “To be able to say, ‘I can achieve this. They came from the same place I did and look the same way I do’ gives people hope, and that’s invaluable in entrepreneurship.”

CIE Student Innovation Outreach Coordinator Anvita Vyas said it is not only important for similar identities as their mentees, but also similar professional backgrounds.

Vyas, currently a business administration junior, is also the founder of Swaay, previously known as Nritya. Swaay is a startup developing a digital platform to connect dancers and choreographers based on emotional intelligence. 

A woman stands in front of a black background, smiling and holding a microphone.

CIE Student Innovation Outreach Coordinator and Swaay founder Anvita Vyas hosting the CIE’s annual Elevator Pitch Competition.

In 2021, Vyas brought Swaay to the CIE Hatchery, an on-campus program that provides students with the resources needed to build a business. The Hatchery connected Vyas to several mentors, all of which she said provided valuable business development advice — but none of which could provide advice specific to the dance industry.

“I really wish there was someone who had been within the dance industry who could have mentored me,” Vyas said. “To speak for the arts or any other industries that don’t have as much presence within the CIE, it would be cool to see pitch competitions or programs for those specific industries.”

Vyas said organizations like the CIE should have a network of diverse mentors in order to provide support to students from across campus and across academic disciplines. If the CIE expanded its network to include mentors from a larger variety of disciplines, it could perhaps foster the growth of startups within those industries, she suggested.

“Entrepreneurship, it’s interdisciplinary,” she said. “It’s tied to everything in many different ways… I think having more mentors from different industries will attract more students to the CIE because the more that you see that entrepreneurship is diverse, the more you’re going to understand that it’s applicable to you.”

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Meet a Hatchery Startup: Disinfect Connect

When problems arise, so do opportunities. That is why five Cal Poly students have used their diverse skills to help build a startup that connects distilleries producing disinfectant products to those who need it most during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the beginning of the virus’s outbreak, third-year wine and viticulture major Gabe Pepper received a call from his brother who told him that while distilleries are now producing hand sanitizer, healthcare facilities and public service organizations are still lacking access to these products.

“Distilleries are making hand sanitizer and pretty much everybody needs it, but there’s no real marketplace or elegant way to connect those two sides,” Pepper said. “There was a great opportunity there to build a connective tissue between the two sides of the issue.”

Pepper, along with three of his roommates and one friend, decided to help build Disinfect Connect, a marketplace platform used to bridge the gap between hand sanitizer customers and producers. After weeks of building out the business, the team applied for the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Hatchery program to further the business’s growth.

“Getting insight into how we can expand our outreach to a national level would be great,” Eric Agresti, a third-year agribusiness student on the team, said. “Also, we have plans to monetize this in some way as the peak of the crisis starts to subside, so getting advice on how to gracefully transform our work into a monetized business will be very helpful.”

Even though their efforts to launch a startup and take it to the Hatchery are happening in these unprecedented times, the entrepreneurial team hasn’t let any challenges hold them back.

“This entire thing has happened in our living room, which is funny to think, but at the same time, it’s been so rewarding to have put a lot of our free time to good use,” Pepper explained. “We’re 100 percent volunteer-based and we’re not taking any cuts of the orders we send out, but right now that’s not really the goal. The goal is to help out.”

Pepper said that despite entering the Hatchery program with more than just an idea to build out, the team knows there is still always room to grow the company. Plus, they have seen how the program continues to be worthwhile even when held virtually during shelter-at-home orders.

“A major portion of what the Hatchery has to offer is access to networking and amazing outreach and none of that goes away in these times,” Agresti said. “We can still tap people’s knowledge and we can still get access to great connections, so it really is valuable.”

As Disinfect Connect continues to work on getting distillery-produced hand sanitizer to what they call “high-risk, high-need” recipients like nursing homes, healthcare facilities, first responders and grocery stores, the team hopes to expand to the general public when critical demand lessens.

To learn more about their mission or support this startup, visit the team’s GoFundMe page or their website at You can discover more about the CIE student-focused startup incubator program at

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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 or to find your entrepreneurial fit.

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A COVID-19 Message from the CIE Executive Director

Dear CIE Family and Friends,

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

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

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

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

We are here to help!

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

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

With warm regards,

John Townsend, CIE executive director, and the CIE team

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CIE Graduates Keeping it SLOcal: Kick-it Points

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CIE Graduates Keeping it SLOcal: BoltAbout

It all started on a summer day when Matt Maxwell, a Cal Poly sophomore at the time, tested out an electric bike at Avila Beach and immediately fell in love with the newfound mode of transportation. Not long after, with the help of his business partner Tavin Boynton, the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), and the City of San Luis Obispo, BoltAbout was born.

Maxwell and Boynton decided to begin turning their love for electric bikes into a career in April of 2016 by joining the CIE’s on-campus Hatchery program. From there, the team landed themselves a spot in both the HotHouse Accelerator and Incubator programs.

“I learned so much just during that three month period [of the Accelerator] that really helped set a strong foundation to build our business into what it is today,” said Maxwell. “After the accelerator program, we were in the incubator for about a year out of the two years of the program because as our business grew, we needed to get a warehouse and a bigger office.”

Now that BoltAbout has left the CIE nest, the company mainly functions out of its location on Broad Street to work on its various services. 

BoltAbout’s main goal is to reduce the barriers to electric transportation adoption in the community through selling and long-term renting electric bikes. The company offers a popular electric bike subscription program that allows customers to rent their own bike and equipment for $79 per month. 

However, the company also has its focus on two services running underneath it.

One of these services is Agile Defense, a program that BoltAbout started in order to aid the local police force and emergency responders.

“It’s a BoltAbout owned business where we up fit police and emergency responder electric bikes,” Maxwell said of the service. “Hopefully, soon when the new budget cycle starts, we’re going to be upgrading their fleet to our Agile Defender electric bikes.”

As their second endeavor, motivated by the location that sparked their business idea, Maxwell and Boynton acquired the Pedego electric bike store in Avila Beach to share their passion for electric transportation with locals and tourists.

With a range of services, BoltAbout is expected to double or triple its number of bike subscriptions in the next Cal Poly academic year, make more contributions to the city, advance the local workforce community and increase its team of employees with the coming months. 

Even though their big advancements happened after moving out of the HotHouse, the co-founders stress that they couldn’t have done it all without local city and the CIE support.

“When we started BoltAbout, it was crazy. There was always this silent hand that was pushing us in the right direction,” said Boynton, BoltAbout co-founder and Director of Customer Experience. “I think if we were doing this in another region or city it might be hard, so we’ve tried to keep everything here in SLO.”

Not only is the quality of community support high in this Central Coast city for the BoltAbout team, so is the quality of life. 

“Most important to us is the happiness and wellbeing of everyone on our team and there’s no happier place in the world than SLO,” added Maxwell. “We’re grateful to have the opportunity to be here and the CIE made that happen for us.”

Looking to begin your next business venture in the vibrant City of San Luis Obispo? Head to and learn about joining the CIE HotHouse Incubator program today.

To see more about BoltAbout’s services and programs, visit

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CIE Graduates Keeping it SLOcal: Restoration Packaging

Once just a senior project, Restoration Packaging is now a nationally and internationally utilized business. Founded by Alex Henige, Restoration Packaging is a one-for-one sustainable packaging company that produces compostable and recyclable cups, to-go containers, utensils and more for the foodservice industry. 

“Essentially, with each product served we plant a plant at a local restoration site,” Henige explained about the company’s one-for-one sustainability aspect. “We partner with local restoration groups in all the territories that our products are served… to design the most effective restoration programs.”

Through a process called hydroseeding, Restoration Packaging, corporately known as Reduce. Reuse. Grow. Inc., mass-plants seeds to make a strong impact in areas of need. The company also works to increase consumer awareness of local restoration efforts so that they can give back through their everyday purchases.

The company’s successes haven’t happened overnight, though, as Henige went through both the HotHouse Accelerator and Incubator programs, with three years in between his departure from those Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) programs and now.

“The accelerator program was a solid foundation for us, really taking the senior project concept and then transforming that into an actual business model,” said Henige. “And then in the incubator program, we were able to take what we learned from the accelerator and… really implement it.”

While building Restoration Packaging in the HotHouse, Henige was able to use CIE resources and networking to get his products into around 45 shop locations, with local Paso Robles company Spearhead Coffee being his first customer. 

In the three years since leaving the incubator program, the number of shops and restaurants using Restoration Packaging products has now risen to over 800 nationwide. The company is even reaching internationally, now partnering with 7-Eleven Canada to advance its sustainable packaging efforts.

As the company’s reach is expanding, so is its product line. Restoration Packaging currently supplies around 40 different products with hopes of expanding closer to 100 in the following couple of years.

Even with all of the expansions, though, Henige says that the CIE is still a key player in his company’s success, as well as a continual inspiration to him. 

“Many of our mentors that we still talk to on a week-to-week basis are very involved with the CIE,” he explained. “I think it’s pretty neat, being still connected with the CIE [and] seeing new companies come in and ultimately flourish into legitimate businesses a couple of years out.”

Flourishing years after starting in the CIE is exactly what Restoration Packaging has done, all while staying locally rooted. 

“The San Luis Obispo community, I think, is perfect to launch a company, especially one like ours that’s in the environmental space,” Henige boasted of the Central Coast city. “If you have a good idea and you’re solving a problem that is applicable not only in our community but could be implemented throughout the world, people are going to want to help out.”

For that reason, Henige decided to keep his business based here in San Luis Obispo, staying close to the community that helped Restoration Packaging grow into what it is now.

If you’re looking to start a business in the supportive San Luis Obispo community, take a look at our HotHouse Incubator program at

To see more on Restoration Packaging and where you can find its products, head to

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CIE Graduates Keeping it SLOcal: Calwise Spirit Co.

Aaron Bergh went from creating homemade liquor in his early college days to being the youngest distillery owner in the United States.

“I just kept pursuing distilling as a hobby,” said Bergh, the owner of Calwise Spirit Co. “Then I recognized that there was an opportunity to grow this into a business.”

To get his bearings of the startup world, Bergh began getting involved with the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), first by pitching his business idea at Innovation Quest and subsequently landing himself a spot in both the HotHouse Accelerator and Incubator programs. 

“Having the resources, the people and the valuable mentorship from the CIE really… taught me how to make my idea an actual business,” he explained. “It was the stepping stone from being a college student to getting connected into the business community and the business network that there is on the Central Coast.” 

While in the HotHouse, Bergh only sold his spirits through the business-to-business model. Now, a year after graduating from the incubator program, Calwise has its own distillery location in Paso Robles that also functions as a brick-and-mortar liquor tasting room and the Central Coast’s first cocktail bar. 

The company’s products are also available across California in stores like Whole Foods, Albertson’s, Vons and BevMo!, but Bergh hopes to launch his spirits nationwide in the near future. Nonetheless, Bergh notes that Calwise’s roots will always be in the San Luis Obispo area.

“I fell in love with SLO when I came here to go to school at Cal Poly,” Bergh explained. “Apart from it being beautiful, the people here are absolutely great.” 

As Calwise continues to grow, starting a spirit and cocktail club and expanding into new types of spirits, Bergh doesn’t plan to move the company’s base from where it was born and fostered.

“The Central Coast has a large number of innovative business thinkers here and especially in my industry, the alcohol industry… it’s just this melting pot of different minds and different schools of thought,” said Bergh. “It’s not like we’re all competitors even, it’s like we’re a family all helping each other out, which really goes back to the culture of the Central Coast.”

Bergh attributes the ability to start and keep his business in this place he calls home to the CIE’s support that continues even post-incubator program.

To learn how you can start a business in the innovative San Luis Obispo community, check out our HotHouse Incubator program at

To see more about Calwise Spirit Co. and its products, head to

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The Largest Interdisciplinary Club at Cal Poly, Fully Ran by Students | Cal Poly Entrepreneurs

Cal Poly Entrepreneurs (CPE) embodies the ideal of interdisciplinary entrepreneurship. Already heralded as the largest interdisciplinary club, the new leaders of CPE are still consistently working toward further diversification of their membership makeup.

“You need people in liberal arts, people in design, people in engineering, people in business, etcetera,” explained co-president Tal Kornfeld. “Without diversity in background, you can’t really start a successful well-rounded business.”

Sarah Shaffer, co-president alongside Kornfeld, adds to this idea in that the CPE wants to work “to include all genders, all races, all ethnicities, all backgrounds, all majors and all ages to really give everyone an opportunity to be a part of the startup world.”

Since its conception in 2009, under the guidance of the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), CPE has evolved into a multi-faceted community that inspires self-motivation, innovation and tangible entrepreneurship involvement. The leaders of CPE, currently including two co-presidents and an officer board of 12 students, foster the club’s entrepreneurial mindset through weekly meetings, guest speakers, workshops, events, and tours to see successful startups in action.

VP of Tours Jack Pawela is in charge of planning the club’s tours of various company offices to give CPE members an up-close view of what running a startup is like. He explains that he sees this part of the club experience, and CPE as a whole, “as a really amazing way to dip your toes in the water and test [entrepreneurship] out to see if it’s right for you.”

“We recognize that sometimes this club and entrepreneurship, in general, can be a little intimidating and tech-heavy and confusing,” added Sophie Rothenberg, co-vice president of Membership Experience and Recruitment. “We are really just trying to show Cal Poly that anybody with any major is welcome and… we want this to be a warm welcoming experience where you can make friends, build your network and also learn.”

While CPE stands out amongst the club-community on campus for its high level of diversity in disciplines, the club is also special for its functioning as an entirely student-run organization. Kornfeld says that he is grateful for the help that CPE receives from advisors and from the Cal Poly CIE, but he is proud of the club’s internal functioning.

Between his time as a CPE member, CPE co-president, and the CIE Hatchery program participant, Kornfeld says he has learned that one of the key skills for these roles and for entrepreneurship at large is self-motivation.

“[Self-motivation] is one of those things that can’t be taught in the classroom. I think that is definitely one skill you need for either commitment because, at the end of the day, no one is forcing you to do anything,” he says. “You need to take it all into your own hands. Even if you have to make some sacrifices, it will be worth it in the end.”

Self-motivation, diverse networking, tangible experience, and a strong internal and external supportive community are all key components in the entrepreneurial world that can be gained through joining CPE.

To learn more about Cal Poly Entrepreneurs and how to dip your toes in the entrepreneurial world, visit

If you’re looking for ways to take a full dive into your innovative ideas, visit

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From Startups to Corporations to Startups Again | A Faculty Fellow’s Full-Circle Entrepreneurial Career

Life has a way of coming full-circle. Taryn Stanko, a Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Faculty Fellow, spent a portion of her career working for a large corporation, Paramount Pictures, before her involvement with entrepreneurial students and startup companies in San Luis Obispo. However, her career happened to jumpstart in the same realm as her current endeavors.

“When I was an undergrad, I got an internship at a startup doing computer programming and it became a full-time job,” Stanko explained. “I worked there for several years developing customized business solution software, so that’s where I got my first taste of entrepreneurship.”

Even though she left the startup for an established company, Stanko says she never lost her entrepreneurial interests; that’s why she jumped at the chance to be a part of Cal Poly’s entrepreneurship program.

Upon coming to Cal Poly from the University of Oregon, Stanko began teaching courses around business negotiation. Currently, she teaches three separate negotiations courses: one for undergraduate business students, another at the MBA level and a third for entrepreneurship students built-up from scratch by Stanko herself.

It wasn’t until she was approached by a student midway through her first year at Cal Poly that she found the CIE.

“When I was teaching my MBA class, one of my students had taken on a roll in the CIE and he came to me and said ‘Taryn, you have to come run a workshop for these folks,’” she recalled. “I’ll never forget going to the CIE HotHouse and meeting everyone… The energy, enthusiasm, and level of engagement was contagious.”

That’s exactly how Stanko found herself back in the world of startups. After becoming a faculty fellow at the CIE in 2016, she led workshops for students going through the Hatchery and accelerator program, as well as held one-on-one mentoring with startup teams. Stanko also got involved with businesses in the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), a program hosted by CIE, by mentoring and consulting with local startups and small businesses.

Stanko brings an extensive set of knowledge to the table, often utilizing her negotiations teachings within her mentoring of the entrepreneurs. She notes that negotiations are commonplace for entrepreneurs, between internal team negotiations, day-to-day operational negotiations, and negotiations with external stakeholders.

“I believe there’s special pressure on entrepreneurs to be able to negotiate well,” she states. “Your ability to negotiate good deals and partnerships within your team, and every other relationship with external stakeholders, is going to drive your success.”

While Stanko possesses a great deal of insight into this realm of entrepreneurship, she recognizes that everyone within the CIE is full of unique knowledge and skills from all different areas of expertise.

“One of the best things about the CIE and the faculty fellows program… is that it brings people from across campus together. The CIE fosters this interdisciplinary networking, which means you get exposed to opportunities you never would have been otherwise.”

Between her course teachings, mentoring and workshops, Stanko offers three key takeaways for her students and entrepreneurs. First, ask for what you need. Second, never underestimate the necessity of research and planning. Third,  see the importance of fostering valuable relationships.

Where better to put these lessons to work than at the CIE, a program, and community that Stanko says “gives people a chance to learn, grow, flourish and start something new.”

If you are looking to grow your negotiation skills as an entrepreneur, look out for Stanko’s Introduction to Business Negotiation for Entrepreneurs course, typically offered during Spring quarter.

To apply your entrepreneurial skills and innovative mindset toward starting something new, visit  to explore the programs and resources that the CIE offers.

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