Cal Poly San Luis Obispo


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6 Reasons Why San Luis Obispo is the Best Place to be an Entrepreneur

By: Lauren Arendt

We think San Luis Obispo is paradise for entrepreneurs. When it’s time to get to work, the vibrant downtown scene offers countless opportunities for inspiration. All the while, scenic outdoors adventures and world-class relaxation destinations await for when you’re ready to take a break from the daily grind.

If you still aren’t convinced, continue reading to see for yourself why San Luis Obispo is the best place to be an entrepreneur.

1. Beaches

Did you know the City of San Luis Obispo is one of the only places in California that has beaches in not one, not two, but three directions? We have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world to the North, West and South of the city, each within only 15 minutes. Drive to the North and find yourself along the Morro Strand, an expansive scenic beach most well-known for the view of Morro Rock, a 581 foot-tall mountain located right along the water’s edge. To the West of the City of San Luis Obispo, Montana de Oro State Park, or as some call it, “Little Big Sur,” rests along the coast. This dramatic coastline offers opportunities to hike, bike and camp, along with all of the traditional beach activities you love, such as surfing and sunbathing. Avila and Pismo Beach, located to the South of the city, make for the perfect relaxation destinations. Equipped with quaint beach towns, soft sands, and perfect waves, these Southern beaches have something to offer everyone. Lucky beachgoers might even spot whales, dolphins, sea otters, seals and sea lions.

The ocean has been said to have innate health benefits. According to Live Science, moving closer to the coast “significantly improves people’s well-being,” including reducing stress and encouraging physical activity. If just one beach has such great benefits, what do three beaches mean for the lucky entrepreneurs that call San Luis Obispo home?

2. Mountains

In many communities throughout California, living on the coast makes it hard to escape city or suburban landscapes to get fresher air. For those living in San Luis Obispo, however, opportunities to explore the mountains and breathe in fresh air are around every corner. The City of San Luis Obispo is surrounded by a “green belt,” meaning that no development is allowed within a certain perimeter of land. What this means for the residents of the county is that there are endless open spaces and hiking trails to explore. Take a quick jaunt up Cerro San Luis for panoramic views of the entire City of San Luis Obispo, or take a more challenging hike up Valencia Peak for spectacular coastal views from the top.

Within only four hours of San Luis Obispo, some of the most spectacular mountains in the country can be accessed. Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia are only a few of the weekend getaways possible for those living in San Luis Obispo. Read THIS blog for more weekend getaway ideas perfect for those living in San Luis Obispo.

3. Restaurants and Local Farmers

Living a healthy lifestyle is crucial for maintaining success and living up to your greatest potential. If “you are what you eat,” those living in San Luis Obispo are headed in the right direction. In Downtown San Luis Obispo, fresh, eclectic, local restaurants and cafes are around every corner. Better yet? Every Thursday evening, Downtown San Luis Obispo hosts one of the largest, most lively farmers markets in the state from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. This is an opportunity to connect with the community, purchase local produce, and grab dinner from a local vendor.

4. Location

Choosing between Los Angeles and the Bay Area can be difficult when deciding where to launch your startup, as both are bustling hubs for business. In San Luis Obispo, you don’t have to make the choice. Located only three hours away from both San Francisco and Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo makes for the perfect hub to get the best of both worlds. There is also an airport located in town, making it effortless to get anywhere, fast. 

5. It’s Up-and-Coming

Every year, more and more startups and larger scale companies plant their roots in San Luis Obispo, including MindBody, iFixit, and even Amazon. Driving through town, new construction projects seem to sprout up every day, bringing new hotels, retail fronts, restaurants and more to San Luis Obispo. It seems that word is starting to get out about the SLO-lifestyle we all know and love.

6. CIE  Resources

The Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) SLO HotHouse is an entrepreneurial hub in San Luis Obispo that offers countless resources designed to empower startups in the community and from the local university. These resources include a two-year long incubator program, a Small Business Development Center, mentors, workshops, forums, coworking space and more. Anyone thinking of launching a startup in San Luis Obispo should know they don’t have to do so alone. The SLO HotHouse exists to contribute to startup success, as well as make San Luis Obispo the best place it can be for entrepreneurs.

In addition to its off-campus programs, the CIE also offers programs on campus to all Cal Poly students regardless of their major. These programs include the Innovation Sandbox, which is equipped with the latest prototyping and ideation technology. The Hatchery, an on-campus incubator program that provides guidance and resources for students that want to take their business ideas to the next level, and the Cal Poly Entrepreneurs. A student-run club that hosts dozens of entrepreneurial events, activities and special guests.

San Luis Obispo offers a balanced lifestyle for entrepreneurs. In few other cities can you enjoy the perks of a metropolitan lifestyle, but escape to gorgeous coastlines or breathe the fresh air of the mountains on the turn of a dime. In San Luis Obispo, with the help of the CIE entrepreneurs can live in paradise and build the startup of their dreams all at the same time.

To learn more about all of the CIE available resources, go to

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Mantis Composites: a CIE Success Story

Mantis team sitting in bean bag chairs at the SLO HotHouse

By: Lauren Arendt


A local San Luis Obispo startup, Mantis Composites, is reinventing the tech industry with 3D printing. Looking at this four-year-old company now as it works with government entities and truly takes off, one would never believe that Mantis Composites was founded in its entirety by a group of college students on the Cal Poly campus.

Mantis Composites takes parts traditionally made out of machined metals and 3D prints them out of continuous carbon fiber. This not only allows Mantis Composites to manufacture the lightest parts per unit weight available in aerospace and automotive markets but also allows for shapes that would otherwise be impossible to make. This cutting-edge technology has led Mantis Composites to work with government bodies such as the U.S. Department of Defense.

CEO and Cofounder of Mantis Composites Ryan Dunn explained that the company truly came to fruition on the Cal Poly campus while utilizing the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) resources.

“We got involved with the CIE really early in the business,” Dunn said. “In the first two years, CIE resources and support were the primary drivers of what we were doing.”

The group of students that would eventually launch Mantis Composites began their entrepreneurial journey on the Cal Poly campus at the Innovation Sandbox, a CIE on-campus program where students can experiment with world-class technology and test their ideas on their own time, at their own pace, and for no added cost to their tuition. Utilizing the 3D printers at the Innovation Sandbox and collaborating with other students and advisors, the Mantis Composites team was able to run initial tests and validate their ideas. This validation gave them the boost of motivation they needed to jump to the next step in developing their startup.

From the Innovation Sandbox, the team of students went straight to the Summer Accelerator in 2015, a 13 week-long program in the SLO HotHouse where students are given $10,000 and guidance from mentors to help convert their entrepreneurial dreams into tangible realities. In the duration of the program, Mantis Composites was able to solidify their ideas and gear up for the next steps in building their company from the ground up.

Next came the Hatchery, an on-campus hub for students to collaborate with each other and receive guidance from mentors, professors and esteemed alumni. Such a complex startup demanded that the team pool all of the resources possible to build an action plan.

After realizing that funding would be a key factor in obtaining the equipment necessary to launch their startup, the Mantis Composites team entered and competed in the Innovation Quest competition not once, but two times, finishing in first place their second time around. Dunn said that the money awarded to Mantis Composites from Innovation Quest was key, as it was much more flexible than government grants. This flexibility allowed the team to acquire the equipment they needed to launch in a timely fashion.

“The CIE was really important in founding the key aspects of what our company is today,” said Dunn. “We did things a little out of order but worked with the CIE a lot for about two years which really helped us launch our company.”

Mantis Composites and the success they have experienced over the past four years speaks to the unlimited potential for students at Cal Poly to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. With the support of the CIE’s many resources dedicated to student success, no goal is too large and no student is too young to start on the path toward launching a startup.

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Innovation Quest Finalists 2018

By: Lauren Arendt

The Innovation Quest finalists have been announced. Check out the following list and find out who will be competing for the $15,000 grand prize this spring:

Fauna Farms

We want helping the environment to be as effortless as preparing a healthy meal with your loved ones. Fauna Farms is creating a much needed marketplace for small, sustainable ranchers to sell their meat to their local markets through its “Fauna Farms Smart Hubs”. These hubs will allow consumers to buy fresh, local, and sustainable meat, while also giving them a taste of the future of grocery shopping via the“click to kitchen” option.

Freezing of Gait Assistive Device

 Developing a medical device that addresses a vital need in an underserved market – freezing of gait in individuals with Parkinson’s disease (PD). By utilizing a unique combination of audio-visual cues, our product allows an individual to immediately relieve a freezing of gait episode. Not only does this restore their mobility, it helps prevent potentially devastating falls and injury.

Gen III Drone

 We have designed and are currently building an autonomous precision agriculture drone that has the capability to fly as well as drive to notify farmers about crop-threatening problems and perform analysis on the problems.

HomeGrown Organics

A new era of home appliance that mixes farming, advanced technologies and functional aesthetics.


 We have developed a product that provides an easy and affordable solution to help Electric Vehicle owners adopt faster (Level 2) EV charging capability in their homes.

Lost Coast Surf Tech

 Creating the world’s highest performance surfboard fin with smart tracking features packaged into a comprehensive mobile app. The smartfin will be constructed and designed with aerospace technologies and leave a smaller carbon footprint than competitive fins on the market.

Massive Obstetric Hemorrhage Indication (MOHI) Device

The MOHI device can quickly indicate if a patient has lost the ability to clot during hemorrhage after childbirth. This device overcomes the cost, complexity, and most importantly, time currently required to assess the need to treat a new mother for this dangerous clotting condition


 A wearable physical therapy device that increases patient compliance through physiological feedback, increased accountability, and convenience for the user


 An appliance which automatically grows produce and herbs indoors by employing NASA-derived aeroponics technology to the growing indoor gardening movement. Users will have access to a steady harvest of up to 24 organic, pesticide-free plants and herbs all year round, no matter where they live nor what size their living space is.


 Private, influencer-curated shopping sites to help group members conform to guidelines while allowing them to express their individuality.


Rooster helps design students easily ideate and create successful visual layouts for screen and print, using a mobile app that seamlessly integrates with Adobe design software — we are targeting this group so that they adopt the technology early in their careers and bring it to the professional realm.


 Provides sexual education and gender based violence education to institutions through sketch comedy shows, online sketch videos, and social media content.

SilverScrub Dish Sponges

SilverScrub utilizes silver nanoparticle technology in products where cleanliness may affect human health. SilverScrub’s first product will be the world’s first truly antimicrobial dish spong

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7 Hikes Around San Luis Obispo You Probably Haven’t Tried

By: Lauren Arendt

One of the major selling points for living and working in San Luis Obispo is the collection of hiking trails it offers all around the county. Possibly surprising to some, San Luis Obispo offers much more than just Bishop Peak and Cerro San Luis when it comes to getting outdoors. Entrepreneurs oftentimes have an adventurous spirit, and living in San Luis Obispo offers them countless opportunities to explore new ground.

We put together a list of some of the most breathtaking, yet underappreciated hiking trails in San Luis Obispo to help entrepreneurs get outside and experience the perks of starting their company on the California Central Coast.

1. Reservoir Canyon

This challenging hike off of the 101 offers a 5.6 mile hike surrounded by unique topography and foliage. From the peaceful waterfall at the base of the hike to the vast, panoramic views from the top, Reservoir Canyon is one of the most scenic hikes in San Luis Obispo. You can opt for the loop that takes hikers up and around the ridge, or for the trail that takes you all the way over the mountain to San Luis Obispo. Either way, spectacular views and fresh air await.

3. Harmony Headlands

Just North of Cayucos and only 20 minutes north of downtown San Luis Obispo on the highway one, the town of Harmony, population 18, is tucked away among the hills. On the west side of the highway in Harmony, a gorgeous State Park offers a flat, 4.5 mile lollipop loop through quaint marshes and peaceful chaparral grasses that ultimately lead to a rugged coastal scene. This trail is perfect for hikers of every level.

3. Irish Hills Natural Preserve

Hiking the Seven Sisters, such as Bishop Peak and Cerro San Luis, is the most common choice, but what if you could take a hike with views of the Seven Sisters? Irish Hills Natural Preserve offers just that and more. Surrounded by oak trees, open meadows, abandoned mines, and babbling streams, this 4.1 mile hike offers hikers with the ultimate trail experience. From the top of the 700 foot elevation gain, expansive views of the Seven Sisters await hikers.

4. Islay Hill

Islay Hill is one of the underappreciated peaks of the Seven Sisters volcanic mountain chain. Other than Black Hill, Islay Hill is the easiest of the Seven Sisters to climb at about 2 miles round trip. Although a more leisurely hike, Islay Hill offers breathtaking views of Edna Valley and all of its vineyards, as well as the Santa Lucia Mountain Range. At the summit of Islay Hill, hikers are met with the perfect photo opportunity: a ten-foot tall wooden pole with iron climbing pegs that resembles the bottom of an electric pole. Climb up to the top of the pole and enjoy 360 degree views of San Luis Obispo.

5. Pismo Preserve

The newly opened Pismo Preserve offers a unique opportunity to explore a section of the California Coast almost entirely untouched. At this point, access to the trail is only permitted during docent led hikes. What was before a 900 acre private ranch is being transformed into an open space to be enjoyed by the public. The 10 miles of brand-new trails offer panoramic, coastal vistas and unlimited opportunities to explore wild places.  

6. Cuesta Ridge Botanical Area

Found only a few minutes North on the highway 101, Cuesta Ridge Botanical Area is tucked away among Cypress and evergreen trees. The hike starts at a high elevation, meaning the views start early and often. Although the trail is high in the Santa Lucia Mountain Range, ocean views await. The challenging six mile hike gains about 1,000 feet of elevation, but is absolutely worth it for the unique views, foliage, topography and wildlife.

7. Salmon Creek

Salmon Creek, although still in San Luis Obispo County, offers a glimpse of what to come from the Big Sur Coast while only having to drive an hour up the highway one. 6.5 miles of hiking trails lined with rich plant-life and rushing creeks are available, however, the most spectacular part of the trail is a short walk from the highway: a breathtaking 120-foot waterfall. Beyond the waterfall, day hiking or overnight backpacking opportunities await for those craving an outdoors adventure in a rugged, lush environment.

Endless opportunities to get outside and breathe fresh air surrounded by wildlife await entrepreneurs living and working in San Luis Obispo. Whether you are in need of a quick morning hike or a weekend expedition, there is a hike in the county for you. So next time you decide it’s time to go for a hike, skip Bishop Peak and explore one of these hikes in San Luis Obispo that you probably haven’t tried yet.

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Hatchery Spotlight: Lost Coast Surf Tech

By: Lauren Arendt

As many Cal Poly students before him, Shaun Wixted, founder of Lost Coast Surf Tech and South Carolina native, fell in love with the Central Coast after his first visit. After a stint with the military, Wixtead transferred to Cal Poly to pursue a major in aerospace engineering.

His passion for surfing, along with a full immersion into the technological advancements in his field of study, lead him to ask why the sport of surfing had hardly evolved over the past 100 years. He noticed that the shape of surfboards was dictated more by the “feel” of one surfboard over another than anything concrete or quantifiable.

“It’s really funny to see surfing stay very traditional,” Wixted said. “There is really no science behind it. We are going to put the science in surf.”

The Lost Coast Surf Tech team’s first goal will be to redesign the fin of the surfboard in a way that can show buyers exactly what to expect from performance in comparison to leading brands based on hard facts. Wixted explained that surfboard fins are exactly like airfoils in the sense that they have different lift and drag coefficients.   

“Bringing the surfboard to the twenty-first century” is no easy task. The latest advancements in hydraulics and computational fluid dynamics made it possible to provide the depth needed to design surfboards with specific purposes and features backed by data. Wind and water channel testing similar to the testing used for airplanes and yachts can now be applied to surfboards.

The Navier-Stokes equation, an equation in physics that describes the motion of viscous fluids, serves as a key reason why Wixted and team are able to tackle the problem of outdated surfboards at all. It was completed only in the last 10 years to an extent to which surfboards can be optimized.

Wixted and the Lost Coast Surf Tech team pursue their dream of creating the ultimate surfing experience with the help of the Hatchery and mentors. Wixted even lives in the Cal Poly lofts to fully immerse himself in the entrepreneur scene at Cal Poly.

“The network helped me transition from the military to Cal Poly seamlessly,” Wixted said. “I was welcomed with open arms.”

Beyond welcoming him to the campus community, the Hatchery created opportunities for Wixted to acquire valuable tools to use in growing his curiosity into a business idea with real potential to grow.

“Look at the Hatchery, this place we have is absolutely amazing,” Wixted said. “There are opportunities like being able to sit down with mentors from the SLO HotHouse, attend mixers, and meet with alumni.”  

Wixted explained that the mentors from the Hatchery and Aerospace department helped him get through a steep learning curve and build a team of fellow entrepreneurs.

“Mentors showed me that it’s 2018 and anything is possible if you have that little chip on your shoulder that it can happen,” Wixted said. “Hopefully I can give something back in return.”

The Hatchery accepts applications on a rolling basis and can be found in building 2, room 206. Through the combination of mentorship, weekly workshops, startup assignments, and an array of other activities and events, students will gain hands-on experience in launching a company. They will also develop essential entrepreneurial skills in communication, goal setting, and leadership.

What’s in the SLO HotHouse: Coworking Space

By: Lauren Arendt

It may be true that technology empowers individuals to work from just about anywhere, but that does not make all spaces created equal. Working from coffee shops and cafes can be distracting an unsustainable, and traditional office space is expensive, drab and uninspiring.

Luckily, the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) crafted the ideal coworking space in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo. The SLO HotHouse doors are open to any motivated individuals looking to get some work done in a vibrant, productive and collaborative environment.

Networking Around Every Corner

The community of like-minded, goal-oriented people in the SLO HotHouse coworking space creates endless opportunities to collaborate and network. Odds are, if your startup needs something, a fellow coworker can point you in the right direction.

Many coworkers enjoy the upbeat working environment that manifests when 30 to 40 entrepreneurs come together in one space. The energy and motivation is unmatched by any work space downtown.

Valuable Tools

While the peer network found in the SLO HotHouse coworking space is a valuable tool in itself, many other tools are available in the space.

Several fully equipped conference rooms of different capacities are available to coworkers. This makes it possible to hold private meetings with clients or team members whenever needed.

There is also a phone booth available in the coworking space where private phone calls can be made at any time.

Coworkers also have access to the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which offers low to no-cost professional business consulting from industry experts.

Membership Options and Perks

Utilizing this stylish, efficient space couldn’t be easier: space can be rented on a daily, weekly or monthly basis at competitive rates.

Memberships include access to WiFi, educational and social events, conference rooms and meeting spaces, access to the SBDC consultants, a lounge area and kitchen, and all of the coffee you can drink.

Learn more about pricing, schedule a tour, or sign up today by checking out the CIE website.

What’s on Campus: Innovation Sandbox

By: Lauren Arendt

The Innovation Sandbox offers Cal Poly students a shared workspace to experience the most cutting-edge prototyping and ideation tools, explore new subjects, develop technologies and share knowledge with peers. The use of the wide assortment of tools and technologies is included in each and every Cal Poly student’s tuition, making the work space a rare, yet forgiving opportunity to experience world-class equipment.

The learning possibilities provided by the Innovation Sandbox have the potency to benefit various majors from every college at Cal Poly. From state-of-the-art robotics and mechatronics equipment, to virtual reality programs for drawing and sculpting, the opportunities to experiment are truly endless.

The Technology

The technology found at the Innovation Sandbox truly speaks for itself. 3D printing, virtual reality and milling equipment, as well as a general tool box, all contribute to the potential power garnered from the space by those who utilize it.

Three types of 3D printers are available to students at the Innovation Sandbox: Ultimaker 2 Extended+ systems, Kudo3D Titan 2 SLA DLP printers, and Ultimaker 3 Extended systems. These printers aren’t only useful to engineers, but can be utilized in virtually every field. From aerospace to fashion, 3D printing is changing the way people make prototypes.  

All students need in order to complete their first 3D printed project is to provide the Innovation Sandbox with a .stl file along with their name and major–all for free.

Virtual reality serves just as many purposes as 3D printing. Whether interested students want to make use of the relaxing painting programs, improve their reflexes with exciting action games, or simply see what is new with VR, the Innovation Sandbox has it all, again, at no cost to students.

Specific virtual reality equipment offered includes the HTC Vive, Oculus DK2, and the Oculus Rift with controllers.

Milling is yet another resource offered by the Innovation Sandbox allowing students to create prototypes. Students can set out to make anything from circuit boards to props using the Innovation Sandbox’ technology.

The specific equipment available for free to students include an OtherMill prototype circuit board cutter, X-Carve CNC router system for wood, plastic and metal, and Universal Laser system for cutting and engraving custom parts.

The Innovation Sandbox additionally offers solutions for students in need of more “old-school” equipment. The tool bench is a place where students can access a large assortment of more traditional tools, including hammers, saws, fine jewelry files and dremels. The workbench is always open and always free for students to use.

More than Just a Work Space

Student Director Kirby Ransberger believes that the Innovation Sandbox is special for more than the technology it offers: “The Innovation Sandbox is different from every other student organization and club because we serve the students of the university,” Ransberger said.

Student mentors are available to assist peers in putting projects together, working through designs and prototyping faster and more efficiently, as well as to help students experimenting with the equipment to learn from their mistakes sooner. Promoting creativity is at the center of everything that the Innovation Sandbox does.  

Haley Pavone, Founder and CEO of Pashion Footwear utilized the team and tools at the Innovation Sandbox to create the first tangible, working model of her idea for a convertible heel shoe.

“We used the Innovation Sandbox to develop the first ever 3D printed prototype of our innovative high heel design, and do so within a startup budget,” said Pavone. “We were able to work with the knowledgeable Sandbox staff to create a great initial 3D model, iterate it as necessary, and print it to perfection – all for free.”

The Innovation Sandbox allows students to fully embrace the Learn by Doing motto. The resource offers students a chance to not only try new things, but fail with no strings attached. Students interested in trying out the equipment are encouraged to visit the Innovation Sandbox in the Bonderson Project Center (Building 197), Room 205, anytime from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.

To learn more about the opportunities on campus to foster innovation, visit, or follow the CIE on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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What’s on Campus: The Hatchery

By: Lauren Arendt

Any student interested in learning about what it takes to start a business, or even form an idea for a business, is well suited to apply for the Hatchery, the on-campus hub for entrepreneurial-minded students. The Hatchery’s goal is to foster student entrepreneurship initiatives, whether that be forming a peer network, building relationships with CIE faculty, or learning skills essential to success.

Participating in the Hatchery is not limited to the students of the Orfalea College of Business. Rather, students from all walks of life at Cal Poly come together to collaborate and build upon each other’s ideas in the space.

“We have probably every college at Cal Poly represented in the Hatchery,” said Alexa Rozell, Hatchery Director. “Students from all majors are welcome at the Hatchery.”

Once students are admitted into the Hatchery, they receive 24/7 access to the shared workspace located in the Crochett Education Building. In this space, students have the opportunity to build a peer network, collaborate with mentors and attend weekly workshops.

“The Hatchery is a really great place to network with other students, as well as with different CIE faculty,” said Rozell. “Sometimes, we’ll bring in entrepreneurs and residents who talk about their experiences and give advice.”

Weekly startup assignments help entrepreneurial minded students to learn valuable skills in communication, goal-setting and leadership. All of these skills help students cultivate their ideas, as well as prepare them for launching their own companie.

Many of Cal Poly’s most distinguished entrepreneurs got their start at the Hatchery, including Atsa Foods, a current CIE incubating company. Students from various colleges and majors came together to create a cohesive snack food company with a strong social mission. Haley Pavone, Founder and CEO of Pashion Footwear, another current CIE incubating company, also utilized the Hatchery to help launch her business.

Applying to the Hatchery is as simple as filling out a form online and meeting with a faculty advisor to discuss ideas and goals. The advisors will help interested students determine what next steps to take, as well as lend a hand at every stage of the implementation of those steps.

Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, and can be accessed at this LINK. Visit the Hatchery in building 2, room 206 to see future entrepreneurs in action, or visit this LINK to learn about other ways to get involved with the CIE.

What’s on Campus: Cal Poly Entrepreneurs

By: Lauren Arendt

The Cal Poly Entrepreneurs (CPE), one of the most diverse clubs on the Cal Poly campus, offers students a network of like-minded peers and countless learning experiences. The community of creative thinkers works together to manifest their entrepreneurial mindset, and even build world-changing ideas.

An Interdisciplinary Approach

Majors from various colleges are not only allowed, but encouraged to get involved with the CPE. The benefits provided by the club serve far more than only business and engineering students: from political science and journalism, to architecture and forestry, anyone interested in learning the skills associated with an entrepreneurial frame of mind will learn and grow.

“Mechanical engineering students usually don’t get to take businesses classes,” explained mechanical engineering student and third year at Cal Poly, Brannon Smudz. “Hearing about the full project development that happens with entrepreneurship really motivated me to get that experience in the entrepreneurship minor and get plugged in with things like the Hatchery, Elevator Pitch Competition and Startup Weekend.”

All members benefit from the various majors, skillsets and personalities represented in the club. More diversity leads to a richer network and more possibilities for inspiration and collaboration.  

“[The CPE] surrounds me with a group of people that want to take their ideas to the next step and I find a lot of passion and motivation in that,” said Smudz.


The only real qualification to join the CPE is an open mind to entrepreneurship. Coming in with a business idea is not only unnecessary, but rather uncommon. An estimated 60 percent of students in the club don’t have preconceived ideas, but instead an eagerness to surround themselves with the inspiration to build one.

Additionally, there are no club fees, making the club truly open to anyone. The only fees that come up are for optional, highly discounted trips to different cities and states that provide priceless opportunities to network.

Why CPE?

On Tuesday nights, when the CPE meetings are conducted, students from every walk of life at Cal Poly gather to listen to successful entrepreneurs share their stories, hold workshops, learn new skills, network and collaborate.

Atsa Foods, CIE Incubating Company, Offers Much More than a Snack

By: Lauren Arendt

Atsa Foods, one of the SLO HotHouse Incubator companies, not only offers nutritious, flavorful snack products, but utilizes a unique business model aimed at spurring alternative industry development in economically depressed regions of the United States. Key ingredients unique to the United States are sourced from Native American communities and American open spaces.

Rafael Pintor, Atsa Foods president, and Sam Baber, Atsa Foods marketer and designer, came up with the idea for Atsa foods after a long day of surfing. They realized that a lot of snacks available simply did not reach a satisfying balance between healthy, flavorful and sustaining.

“We needed something that filled us up, but also something that we could eat everyday,” Baber said. “A lot of alternatives are good for you but can get hard to eat day in and day out.”

The focus on nutrition that tastes good led the team to look into the “superfoods” trend where consumers oftentimes look for novel sources of protein and nutrition, such as the acai berry and yerba mate plant of South America, and integrate them as staple foods in their diet. What they found is that there are a number of superfoods native to the United States with unique flavors and nutritional benefits.

“We are trying to look inward and find superfoods found [in the United States] in order to help people that have known about these foods for millennia and used them to survive and thrive in this nation,” explained Peter Haverkamp, Atsa Foods product developer.

The United States-native superfood of choice? The New Mexican pinon nut, a European pine nut-like ingredient that contains all 20 amino acids necessary for human growth, healthy proteins and fats, and a savory, buttery flavor. Only a small chocolate company has incorporated the ingredient in the past, making it highly underutilized.

These nuts are harvested once a year in the wild in Native American reservations or American open spaces. This means that no environmental modification is required, making them a sustainable choice. Atsa Foods has secured a supply of New Mexican pinon nuts for several years in the future, thanks to the relationships they have built with suppliers in proximity to Native American reservations.

Harvesting the products on and around Native American reservations is no mistake. The social mission of Atsa Foods is to develop economic opportunities based on the harvesting of sustainable ingredients.

“We want to create an economic engine in areas of the United States that historically have not had that,” said Pintor. “Our social mission is to create intimate partnerships with the people on these reservation communities.”

Once the superfoods are harvested, Atsa Foods combines them with a number of other all-natural, nutritious ingredients to create their snack line. Once they are purchased by consumers, a percentage of the profits will flow back into the Native American communities in order to promote economic development.

The feedback from customers and potential investors has been wildly positive. Their first opportunity to present what they had created to the community was at Demo Day. The team tirelessly worked to produce enough samples of the product that people would love, as well as a presentation that would translate their social mission and inspire support.

“Everyone told us they loved it,” said Haverkamp. “People immediately called us asking for investment meetings and were really excited about what we’re doing.”

Since then, they have had many meetings about investment, come in contact with the president of Yerba Mate and even sponsored a charity golf tournament.

“The CIE has been tremendous to our success,” said Pintor. “It helped us take an idea to a tangible product that we can take to the market.

Atsa Foods started their journey with the CIE in the Hatchery where they were able to collaborate with other entrepreneurs and solidify their ideas. They continued to develop in the accelerator, and even participated in the Innovation Quest (iQ) where they won fourth place and a $1,600 cash prize. The next step would be applying for the CIE’s incubator program.

“Once we got to the Incubator, we grew so fast,” Pintor said.

Neal Gorris, the operations and logistics lead for Atsa Foods, owes much of the growth stimulated by the incubator program to the connections they have made with other entrepreneurs in the incubator program, mentors, and other advisors in legal issues, accounting, marketing and general consulting.

“There are distinguished professionals from Los Angeles and the Bay Area coming in to sit down with us to talk about different issues and questions we might have,” said Pintor.

Despite its previous successes, Atsa Foods has a long way to go before their aspirations have been met. For one, they want to utilize more United States-native superfoods. An example is juniper ash, which contains as much calcium as a glass of milk in just a single gram. The Apache Navajo tribe used the burned trees as a supplement to milk and ended up with stronger bones than the average European woman.

Furthermore, Atsa Foods hopes to spread beyond the South West so that they can help communities in different regions and countries. Becoming a B Corporation will help them keep their goal of helping historically economically deprived communities as the center of what they do.

“Our plan for the future is to become a B Corp,” said Gorris. “This is so that our main priority can be toward the people that we’re trying to help rather than toward our shareholders’ profits.”

The story of Atsa Foods is what the Learn by Doing mantra is all about. Atsa Foods was founded by a team of Cal Poly students from various majors and colleges that utilized the skills they acquired in class to create something bigger than each of them individually. They took advantage of resources on campus, such as the CIE, that not only allowed, but supported and encouraged the team to turn their ideas into realities during their time as students.

Learn more about the various ways of getting involved with the CIE here, and check out how to apply for the incubator program here. Follow the CIE on social media on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn to stay in-touch with the opportunities, programs and events offered.


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