How to Get Involved with the CIE

By: Lauren Arendt


The Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) serves both Cal Poly students and the surrounding community. From helping entrepreneurs to build leadership skills to generating startup ideas to providing established companies with the tools they need for success, the CIE offers many opportunities to get involved for students, alumni, faculty and community members alike.

Are You a Student?

Due to the various programs, competitions and events offered, there is no linear route into the organization. Rather, it is up to students to pave their own path into the CIE based on their goals and interests.

The Elevator Pitch Competition (EPC)

Every fall, the CIE invites Cal Poly and Cuesta students across all majors to pitch their big idea in front of a panel of entrepreneurs for a chance to win $1,000. The catch? Participants are only allowed 90 seconds to present their pitches.

The competition runs in two stages. In the first stage, students must submit a video application. Video applications are 90 seconds long, as if going up 20 floors in an elevator. They should include details about the idea, product, service or business they have in mind that would spark the interest of potential investors, customers and partners. In stage two, the selected finalists pitch at the CIE’s first forum of the academic year. The design of the competition not only allows participants to formulate their ideas in a supportive environment, but also allows them to network with fellow entrepreneurs and practice their presentation skills.

Cal Poly Entrepreneurs (CPE)

The CPE is a club that invites students from any major to manifest their entrepreneurial skills and collaborate among like-minded peers. During weekly meetings, the CPE invites successful entrepreneurs to share their stories, holds workshops for learning new skills and gives members a hub for networking.

The CPE does not require members to come in with business ideas. The club rather aims to provide a forum for students to network and share ideas in an environment that fosters innovation.

The Hatchery

The Hatchery fosters entrepreneurship initiatives and the development of Cal Poly student-led startups on the Cal Poly campus. The Hatchery achieves its goal of providing students with the tools they need to learn about converting an idea into a company through mentorship, weekly workshops, startup assignments and an array of other activities and events.

Building a business through the Hatchery program is guided by the philosophy that multidisciplinary teams are essential to success. Students interested in building a business and seeking out a hands-on, well-rounded learning experience from any major are welcome to apply.

The SLO HotHouse Accelerator Program

The CIE identifies growable and scalable companies created by Cal Poly students or recent alumni from any major to participate in the accelerator program. A diverse alumni and business leadership pool of mentors and speakers from the startup world, along with weekly workshops, help teach new entrepreneurs the skills they need to grow their companies. In addition, each company accepted in the accelerator program has access to $10,000 in seed funding to start building their business.

Innovation Quest (iQ)

iQ encourages innovators and entrepreneurs to build interdisciplinary teams and take their ideas to prototypes and eventually companies. The competition provides students a platform to showcase what they have built, coded, designed or prototyped throughout their efforts at Cal Poly.  

The winners of the competition receive up to $15,000 of prize money to help them launch their business. Since the competition’s beginning in 2003, more than $300,000 have been awarded in support of Cal Poly innovators and entrepreneurs.  

Innovation Sandbox

The Innovation Sandbox offers students a shared workspace to experience and learn about the latest prototyping and ideation tools. The state-of-the-art equipment, including a 3D printer, allows students to explore new subjects, develop new technologies and share knowledge.

Students from various majors and disciplines formulate and develop their ideas in a collaborative work space, embodying the Learn by Doing philosophy that defines Cal Poly.

Entrepreneurship Forum Series

Once per quarter, the CIE presents a forum targeted to innovators, entrepreneurs, startups and growing, small businesses. The CIE brings together a panel of entrepreneurs with key insights into the challenges and models of success within the entrepreneurial world. The forum series offers widely diversified topics that welcome participants to personally and professionally dig deep in a safe environment.

All forums are free and open to both the students and the public in an effort to provide a vital link between the university and community that unifies entrepreneurs towards the common good of creating a better world.

Are You an Alumni or Community Member?

The SLO HotHouse Incubator

Our innovative community startups receive all of the tools needed for early-stage development into financially stable, high-growth enterprises in the incubator program. Mentorship, monthly peer-to-peer roundtable discussions, an advisory board for each startup, networking opportunities and exclusive access to various entrepreneurial events in the community are among the programs that facilitate smarter and faster growth.

Aside from these programs, all participating businesses may utilize the SLO Hothouse resources, including the Small Business Development Center, office space, conference rooms and an invaluable peer network and mentorship.

Small Business Development Center (SBDC)

By offering no-charge expert consulting and low-cost trainings, this community resource helps local entrepreneurs launch companies, boost the economy, and cross-pollinate with other companies at the SLO HotHouse.

In 2016, the CIE SBDC provided services to 128 companies, through 3,121 hours of no-cost consulting, helping startups and small businesses raise $5.3M in capital and create more than 100 local jobs.


The CIE mentorship program allows students and community members to enrich their educational experience at Cal Poly. Mentors are matched with students at various stages in their entrepreneurial journey in order to help them navigate the many obstacles that come with starting a business. The CIE recognizes the impact that the tangible advice, insight and support from mentors can have on entrepreneurs.

More than 200 Cal Poly alumni and community members have volunteered their time as mentors, coaches and advisors. These people are essential components of the center that extend across nearly every program and event.  


The SLO HotHouse offers coworking space designed to enhance productivity, collaboration and  success for its members. Coworking members enjoy perks such WiFi, educational and social events, conference rooms, meeting spaces, access to SBDC consultants, a lounge and kitchen, and all the free coffee you can drink–all with no leases and 24/7 access.  

Founders Circle

Founders Circle members play a prominent role in helping students through mentoring classroom presentations, judging competitions and hosting internships. Members join a community of dedicated philanthropists who recognize the major benefit that comes from the CIE. They serve as a vital link between students and the entrepreneurial business community. Founders Circle members may even participate virtually due to the geographic dispersion of members.


Anyone who believes in the CIE can make an impact on the program. Like many other nonprofits, the CIE is made possible by the philanthropy of generous donors. Any gift, big or small, helps the CIE to build and support tomorrow’s entrepreneurs.

The CIE offers a large variety of programs and events that uplift students, community members, and the entrepreneurial world as a whole. At first glance, it may seem daunting to get involved with an organization that does so much. After taking the time to get to know the organization, however, it becomes apparent that so much variety is not scary, but rather makes it possible for students, faculty and community members to find a program that fits their specific entrepreneurial needs.

To learn more about CIE, go to or check out the video below. Also, follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to stay up-to-date with upcoming programs, events and opportunities for involvement.

The SLO HotHouse: A Great Venue for Your Next Event

Looking for an awesome event space in SLO without the high price point? Look no farther than the SLO HotHouse! With our inspiring atmosphere, great location, natural light and all around good vibes, the SLO HotHouse is a great venue choice for your next event.

SLO HotHouse’s event space holds up to 100 people. Your company can hold employee training, conferences, award ceremonies, luncheons and more! With our prime location in the heart of downtown SLO and our affordable rates, you can save money in venue costs and use it elsewhere to make your event a success.

“With the SLO HotHouse being located in the center of downtown, we serve as a convenient, easily accessible meeting space for our community,” said Tod Nelson, CIE Executive Director.

Our rates are $100 an hour plus a cleaning fee.  We also offer great discounts to nonprofit organizations.

For more information or to book a tour of our event space, visit

Did you know that Cal Poly OCOB now offers an entrepreneurship minor?!

This minor is open to all students! No matter your college, major or career goals, an entrepreneurship minor could be beneficial in growing your professional skill set. This minor encourages students to embrace the entrepreneur inside of each of us, as students learn to draw on dedication, teamwork, and grit to solve real-world problems and create sustainable businesses.

Watch the video to see for yourself why a minor in entrepreneurship could be the right choice for you! 

Become A CIE Faculty Fellow Today!

CIE Faculty Fellows are essential to the cultivation of entrepreneurship and innovation on Cal Poly’s campus. Their efforts bring entrepreneurial thinking into action through the courses they teach and their co-curricular experiences.

To be a CIE Faculty Fellow means being a part of an interdisciplinary community that shares an interest in innovation and entrepreneurship, and is committed to inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Watch our video below to hear first-hand why this experience is so rewarding, and may be the right fit for you.

For additional information about the CIE Faculty Fellows Program and how to apply, please click here.

Coworking: A Startup’s Competitive Advantage

Michael Allen, CEO and co-founder of Imajize, made a company that provides customers with beautiful, sharp 360 degree images of their product, ready in no time. Their 360º viewer lets customers spin products virtually, online. They sell both 360 degree images and 360 degree image software.

With 360 degree photography being a relatively new industry, coworking at the SLO HotHouse has given Allen the resources he needs to be successful in the field and expand his business fast. Watch our video below to see how coworking at the SLO HotHouse is a great way for your startup to find its competitive advantage.

Social Media: An Essential Tool for Your Startup

When you’re getting your startup off the ground, you spend countless hours working on your business model canvas and value proposition, getting out of the building and looking for customers. It is too often that creating a social media presence for your company takes a backseat to the other tasks on your startup to-do list.  

Don’t let this be the case for your startup! The time to start building your following is NOW! Publicize your company, and let people see first-hand the hard work you are putting in to make your dreams a reality. Social media is a powerful tool! Use it early and use it often. Use it to showcase your work, connect with customers and create opportunity.

Here are a few tips for your startups social media strategy:

1. Don’t try to be on every platform.

One big mistake companies make on social media is spreading themselves too thin. If you can’t keep up with five social media platforms, then don’t spread your reach that far. It’s better to be on one platform and have a really strong presence, than be on multiple and have a mediocre presence.

With that said, pick your platforms with purpose. What platform is your customer segment on? Is your company interesting visually? If not, steer clear from Instagram. What platforms allow you to connect best? Many investors and business professionals are on Twitter, so this could be a great opportunity to get noticed in the startup world.

2. Be real.

Part of what is so unique to a startup is how it creates a lifestyle for the people who are a part of it. Share your life inside and outside the office. Let your followers get to know you. By being authentic, you will connect with people and draw them in.

3. Everything you share is a part of your brand.

Yes, you should share things in and out of the office, but with that said, make sure everything you share is on brand. Are you a wedding planning company? Share a shot of fresh blooms from the florist you got that day or an artsy cup of coffee you enjoyed at a local coffee shop. A great way to determine whether or not something fits your brand is to determine your company’s top 5 brand buzzwords. An example of a buzzword set could be: adventurous, innovative, fun, creative and happy. If your post doesn’t represent your brand buzzwords, then don’t post it.

4. Create content that adds value.

Social media is about interacting. You won’t gain a great social media presence simply by sharing what your company does. You’ll gain a great following by interacting with your followers and creating content that adds value to their lives. For example, if you’re a bike shop write a blog about how they can fix a flat  with a product you sell when they’re out on the trails. Or, offer Instagram followers a coupon code for their next online purchase. By intertwining your product with special tips and deals, you make sure that the interaction isn’t one-sided. Your followers should experience benefits through following you. This gives them a reason to stay interested.

5. Be consistent. 

A great way to make sure that you post good, frequent content is to make a social media calendar. Plan out your posts and schedule them. By keeping track of your posts in an organized fashion, it’s easier to track analytics and adjust your strategy based on what worked well and what didn’t. Don’t be afraid to change and evolve as you experiment with social media and grow your following.

Experiment with social media. Be bold, have fun and most importantly, engage with people! Also, let’s stay connected; be sure to follow the CIE on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

The CIE’s SBDC Can Help You Grow Your Business

The CIE’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is an amazing resource for both new and established businesses.  They offer no cost professional business consulting from industry experts, low-cost trainings, and many other innovative tools to help startups and small businesses succeed in San Luis Obispo County.

“Taking advantage of the resources SBDC offers has helped us grow fast and smart,” said Matt Maxwell, CEO of BoltAbout, Inc. “The quality of consultants and the mentorship we have received has helped us to avoid costly mistakes and some real pitfalls.”

Judy Mahan is the director of SBDC and the CIE incubator. Watch our vlog below as she explains all that SBDC offers, and how you can utilize these cost-effective resources to grow your company.

Learn, Network and Build With the Cal Poly Entrepreneurs Club

Cal Poly Entrepreneurs (CPE) is a club on campus that promotes innovation, entrepreneurship and the Learn by Doing spirit. CPE President, Alexa Rozell, leads the student-run club. 

In addition to her role at CPE, she is also the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Hatchery coordinator for our on-campus program that fosters entrepreneurship initiatives among the student body, where she helps nurture the development of student-led startups at Cal Poly from idea generation to launch.

CPE and the Hatchery are open to all Cal Poly students. The broad range of majors across all colleges is part of what makes these programs so unique. They provide a great network to meet talented people and form a startup team. 

To learn more about CPE and the Hatchery, watch our video below to see for yourself what the hype is about. 

Graham Doig | CIE Faculty Fellow

Our CIE Faculty Fellows promote innovation and entrepreneurship on and off Cal Poly’s campus. They have passion for the Learn by Doing spirit and are innovators themselves. Graham Doig is no exception to this.

Doig is an assistant professor in the aerospace engineering department and the faculty advisor for Cal Poly’s PROVE project.

PROVE is the prototype vehicle lab on campus. Students are working to build the world’s fastest solar-powered vehicle. Students are currently raising money to continue prototyping and enhancing the design and motor in the vehicle. Through working on this project, students are learning real-world skills; they are not only engineering the vehicle, but also learning the industry and the business.

Doig facilitates this hands-on learning experience. He creates a bridge between Cal Poly and CIE, by encouraging students to think with an entrepreneurial mindset.

Watch our vlog below to get an inside look at PROVE.  See how these students are making this car a reality.


Coworking at the SLO HotHouse

Greg Gibson, CTO of Motimatic, is one of our coworkers at the SLO HotHouse.  He enjoyed launching his company here in SLO, and he is taking advantage of all the benefits coworking has to offer.

He attributes coworking as a factor to his success, “Being a part of this community, an even informal conversation in front of the coffee machine has inspired ideas.  With coworking, you get the benefits of working at a large company as a small startup.”

Click on our video below to learn more about Greg, his company and his experience with coworking.

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