Close your eyes and picture an entrepreneur in your mind. Are they strong, powerful, leading the business meeting as their company’s CEO? Naturally. Are they a freshman in college? No?
Then close your eyes and try again. Reimagine what it means to be a CEO, an entrepreneur or the next big innovator. This time, envision yourself, a new undergraduate student, as the one leading your own company’s meeting.
Because it’s possible. In fact, if you have a desire to dive into the startup world, it’s probable.
The Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) is dedicated to helping forward-thinking students reach their highest potential, whether they’re just beginning their collegiate journey or graduating on to their next venture.
One student who dove headfirst into entrepreneurship during her first quarter as a Mustang is Alexandra Joelson, now a business administration sophomore.
“I was at the club fair on campus and saw Cal Poly Entrepreneurs advertising the Elevator Pitch Competition,” she said. “I decided to join the club and participate in the competition, because I was just a freshman and I wanted to get as involved as possible.”
For the competition, Joelson pitched an innovative athletic footwear concept that ultimately won the $1,000 top prize and led her to Cal Poly Entrepreneurs’ (CPE) Startup Marathon, where she formed the team of all first-year students that now makes up her company, Intego Sports.
So, just like that, Joelson found herself becoming a CEO at 18 years old.
“It’s kind of wild trying to balance learning how to start college and live on your own, trying to figure out how to budget your meals, all while also running a company and doing classes,” she explained. “But it was a really good learning experience to figure out how to balance school and life and our company.”
And while Joelson’s entrepreneurial journey centers around her role as company CEO, students don’t have to be the one with the initial vision to get involved in startups.
For one Intego Sports co-founder, aerospace engineer sophomore Jack Browers, joining Joelson gave him the opportunity to meld his love for engineering and entrepreneurship together and get hands-on experience outside of the classroom.
“It was really exciting being a first-year student diving into entrepreneurship,” Browers said. “You get so much flexibility to create whatever you want and there are so many people willing to help you along the way.”
According to both Joelson and Browers, there are two major reasons why freshmen can and should get into entrepreneurship: for the early Learn by Doing experience and because you’ll never have such a large support system and safety net again.
“There’s no risk in it,” Joelson said. “If you start a company that fails, you fall back on a college education. I think that there’s no better time to start a company than now, especially when you’re a freshman.”
However, it’s important to know that entrepreneurship and innovation aren’t just about starting a company; cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset can be key for students with any collegiate goals or career aspirations.
When software engineering junior Kalen Goo first came to Cal Poly, he saw entrepreneurship as a daunting, premier thing reserved for business students. During freshman year, though, Goo joined CPE and realized that entrepreneurship was exactly what he needed.
“Entrepreneurship is about so much more than starting a company,” Goo explained. “Had I not followed through with entrepreneurship, I would’ve been stuck with just my software engineer mindset.”
Two years later, Goo, now the president of CPE, says that having grown his entrepreneurial mindset since freshman year has made all the difference throughout his time in college.
Luckily, if you’re interested in entrepreneurship, there are countless CIE resources available starting from the moment you become a Mustang — whether your goal is to be a startup founder or a future intrapreneur building your innovative community.