While a pandemic swept over the globe causing universities to go virtual and the economy to take a hit, eight student startups set out to prove that innovation doesn’t stop in the wake of challenges, but rather is ignited by them.
These startups, ranging from an intelligent environmental sensing platform to a curated snack subscription box, are solving real-world problems through the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) HotHouse Accelerator program despite running headfirst toward ever-evolving obstacles.
For Nathan Brickman, agricultural communications graduate and co-founder of accelerator company Bridge, his startup’s mission of improving the mental health care industry has recently become an even more important pursuit amid current world issues.
“We are in a global pandemic, which is a huge public health scare, and associated with that is not just a threat to our physical health, but certainly our mental health as well,” Brickman said. “We expect to see a rise in demand for mental health services, so for us it’s a really important time to help clients that are seeking care.”
Along with Bridge, other accelerator startups have also come to recognize heightened opportunity in the past months.
Imperium, a startup founded by seven students, is working to maximize the usability of coworking spaces through limitless access to power, which the team expects to be increasingly important as the traditional workplace continues to evolve out of work-from-home measures and social distancing.
One of Imperium’s co-founders, mechanical engineering senior Jamie Jenkins, also noted that not only is now an incredible time to innovate industries in need of an upgrade, it’s also a great time to take a leap of faith into entrepreneurship.
“Starting a startup is a really uncertain task in general,” Jenkins said. “But somehow taking on additional risk or starting something in already uncertain times feels kind of reasonable.”
Vince DeSantis, a business administration graduate and founder of accelerator startup Fruji, had the same opportunistic outlook as Jenkins.
“I was challenged by a friend to pursue Fruji and see if it could become something because, well, what did I have to lose?” DeSantis half-joked after explaining that he lost a job offer due to the pandemic. “The job market isn’t great right now… so I decided it was the perfect opportunity to dive right into [the accelerator program.]”
For all of the accelerator companies, any nerves of venturing into the startup world were outweighed by trusting the guidance within the HotHouse Accelerator program.
Plus, with five of this year’s accelerator companies lacking members with a background in business, the CIE plays an integral role in supporting these young entrepreneurs with business mentorship in order for them to make strong innovative changes to the world.
So, while the CIE has always focused on supporting student entrepreneurs through its several programs and resources, that priority has only heightened in this time of rapid change and uncertainty.
To explain the overall feelings of the 2020 accelerator startups, Danielle Petrocelli, a business administration graduate and Imperium co-founder, said it best:
“We’ve all taken the perspective of ‘let’s just do this and learn a lot and give it our all,’” she explained. “Maybe this isn’t the traditional job that we were all expecting, but we’ve all been given the opportunity to really work hard on [our startups] now and I think just having that perspective will work in our favor.”