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Yes, You Can Start a Company in an Economic Downturn

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What do the companies WhatsApp, Uber, Instagram, Pinterest and Venmo have in common? They were all born out of America’s Great Recession that began in 2008. In fact, even the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) itself emerged in 2010 amid the massive economic downturn.

While a hit to the economy isn’t something to be celebrated, one thing is for certain: when challenges arise, so do opportunities to innovate. 

As we entered an unprecedented pandemic, many areas of life became ripe for innovation, like health technology, food production, logistics and coordination, and at-home social entertainment, according to Forbes. However, there’s no limit on which industries are due for an entrepreneurial upgrade — nor on when they’re due for it.

“There will never be a ‘best time’ to take your ideas to the next level,” says David Bartolomucci, co-founder and CEO of incubator company Roopairs. “Life doesn’t stop for you because you want to start a business.”

However, Charlotte Maumus, the co-founder and CEO of incubator company memwris, says that making sure you have a plan is a best practice, as diving into the startup world without one will hinder your success. 

That’s where the CIE comes in.

The CIE’s goal is to give the San Luis Obispo community the opportunity and support to turn their problem-solving ideas into viable companies from the get-go, rather than leaving people to navigate the startup journey alone. 

One of the ways the CIE does so is through its two-year startup incubator, a program that has helped launch several startups, ranging from an innovative fashion-tech company to the first multi-cue retrofit device that uses visual and auditory cues to help overcome freezing of gait. 

“Having support is essential to building confidence and keeping the momentum going,” says Haley Pavone, CEO and founder of graduated incubator startup Pashion Footwear. “The resources, mentors and funding that come along with the incubator program will propel your business to the next level.” 

While it may not seem ideal to launch a startup during an economic downturn or global pandemic, innovation and entrepreneurship have always been rooted in problem-solving and there is no better time for that than times of need like now.

“You could be 16, 20, 50, 85, employed, unemployed, in a family, single,” Pavone says of being an entrepreneur. “We can’t control when inspiration strikes, but we can control what we do with it.”

And no matter the circumstances, the CIE is prepared to help you take control when that inspiration does strike so that your ideas can help make a real-world impact now. Learn more about how we’ll do so at https://cie.calpoly.edu/launch/hothouse-incubator/.

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The Books and Podcasts Every Entrepreneur Should Know About

Person holding up phone in front of their laptop, looking through business podcasts.

Part of cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset is about constantly learning, evolving and challenging yourself. Some of the best ways to advance your skills and learn something new every day is by reading books and listening to podcasts. To find out what books and podcasts (or any other sources of information) every entrepreneur needs to know about, we turned to some of our very own entrepreneurs at the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Here are their recommendations.

Have favorites of your own to share with the #SLOcal entrepreneurial community? Let us know by tagging us in your recommendations on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn.

 

Sidney Collin | CEO and founder of De Oro Devices, an Incubator company

Podcast: The Next Big Idea with Rufus Griscom

Book: The Big Picture by Sean Carroll

Honorable Mention: “Kobe Bryant: Mamba Mentality and The Mind of a Champion” episode of The School of Greatness with Lewis Howes 

 

Alexandra Joelson | First-year business administration major | CEO and founder of Intego Sports, a Hatchery company

Podcast: How I Built This with Guy Raz

Book: The 5 AM Club by Robin Sharma and Rise and Grind by Daymond John

 

Spencer Harrison | CEO and co-founder of NeoCharge, an Incubator company  

Podcast: The Tim Ferriss Show with Tim Ferriss

Book: The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker

 

Jose Huitron | The CIE  Director of Student Innovation Programs | Cal Poly Orfalea College of Business Lecturer

Podcast: How I Built This with Guy Raz (again!)

Book: A Whole New Mind by Daniel H. Pink

Honorable Mention: The 20 Minute VC Garry Tan on YouTube

 

Davy Kozuch | Third-year engineering major | CEO and founder of Polycast, a Hatchery company 

Podcast: Snacks Daily with Jack Kramer and Nick Martell

Book: The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

Honorable Mention: Polycast with Davy Kozuch 

 

Sierra Scolaro | The CIE Student Innovation Programs Coordinator | CEO and founder of Wayve, an Incubator company

Podcast: The Pitch with Josh Muccio

Book: Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott 

Honorable Mention: “50 Entrepreneurs Share Priceless Advice

 

Candice Conti | The CIE Marketing and Communications Director 

Podcast: The Daily by New York Times with Michael Barbaro

Book: Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

 

Haley Pavone | CEO and founder of Pashion Footwear, a graduated Incubator company 

Podcast: How I Built This with Guy Raz (third time’s the charm!)

Book: Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

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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 https://disinfectconnect.com/. You can discover more about the CIE student-focused startup incubator program at https://cie.calpoly.edu/prepare/hatchery/.

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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 https://cie.calpoly.edu/ or https://www.cob.calpoly.edu/undergrad/entrepreneurship-minor/ to find your entrepreneurial fit.

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Coworking in the SLO HotHouse | SLO Partners

For Paula Mathias Fryer, coworking at the HotHouse is the link between bettering her business and building a community. As the program director for SLO Partners, an organization dedicated to re-educating people for career changes, Fryer says its important to be in a location like downtown San Luis Obispo.

“The reason why I have an office here at the HotHouse is because, while I am an employee of the SLO County Office of Education, their offices are quite far away,” Fryer explained. “It was really important for me to be in the heart of the business community.”

In order for SLO Partners to run valuable bootcamps, ranging from skill-offerings like software development and precision manufacturing, the team has to be able to efficiently communicate with local businesses on employee demand. Not only does the HotHouse help Fryer be close to businesses, it gives the businesses better access to her.

“If I want to have a meeting, it’s really easy for me to just say, ‘Hey, meet me at the HotHouse,’” she said. “Everybody knows where that is.”

Fryer also said that it can make it easier for those going through her organization’s bootcamps to reach her as well. Plus, by having a designated office space, access to conference rooms and availability of event space, Fryer’s team has several ways to take advantage of the HotHouse for communication needs.

While Fryer loves having the plethora of businesses surrounding the area where she works, she noted that even just within the walls of the HotHouse are tons of businesses and like-minded people, which makes networking easier and the workday more enjoyable. 

“I always promote the HotHouse to people that I find out are looking to start a business or have a home business,” Fryer said. “It can be kind of isolating sometimes when you’re working from home, so this is a great place to not only network with other people that have businesses, but have people that you can talk to, find out about events from or go to the HotHouse workshops with.”

Between the networking opportunities, educational and social events, access to business consultants, and lounge areas, the HotHouse makes for a great alternative to a home office or working from your kitchen table. 

Plus, Fryer appreciates the kitchen amenities and endless free coffee.

“It’s kind of those little things that make you feel like you’re really part of a business community,” she smiled. “I love that about coworking.”

Learn about revamping your work life by coworking with us at https://cie.calpoly.edu/coworking/ and find out more about SLO Partners at https://www.slopartners.org/.

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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 slosbdc@gmail.com. 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 https://coronavirus.calpoly.edu/.

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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7 Tips for Working from Home | COVID-19 Resources for Small Businesses

woman working on her desktop computer

Working from home can bring challenges, especially when you’re used to working at a designated office space. Not to mention, being forced to work at home at a moment’s notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic can make it trickier. 

To help our community of entrepreneurs, coworkers, small business owners and everyone in between, the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship has some helpful tips for those working from home and several resources to help small businesses persevere.

If you utilize these tips, inspire others by posting a picture of your home workspace or how you’re taking advantage of lunch breaks and tagging us on Instagram @ciecalpoly. 

Work-from-home Tips

Set a morning routine

Whether your ideal morning looks like a run through the neighborhood followed by breakfast, or catching up on news while you sip your coffee, make sure you have an enjoyable morning routine to motivate you for the day. With less of the hustle and bustle of getting to work, take a moment for yourself in the morning instead of hopping on the computer right away. 

Designate your workspace

Having a designated workspace is the best way to stay focused and motivated while you work. As enticing as it may sound to switch up your arrangement, like moving your laptop to the couch, it can cause less productivity and much more distraction. Plus, it’s best to keep work as separate from home as possible. Let the couch be your spot for the post-work Netflix binge. 

Business as usual

Work hours are work hours. Working from home doesn’t mean you get to take extra time off, but it also doesn’t mean you should work 12 hours a day. Remember that you can always wrap things up on a project tomorrow and that sometimes you need a fresh take on things the next morning.

Take breaks

A normal workday calls for breaks. Just because you are at home doesn’t mean work is easier, so allow yourself time to destress, call a friend, grab some food or get some fresh air. It’ll be better for your productivity, mind and body. Don’t forget to look away from your screen every once in a while to stay sane and stay healthy.

Communicate

Communication is key in any setting, especially when working from home. Never feel like your weekly webcam meetings are where the office communication has to stop. At a time like this, there is no such a thing as over-communicating about plans or problems. Email and call your coworkers often, and maybe suggest your team uses communication tools like Slack (if they don’t already). Everyone is in this together.

Stay connected

While work-oriented communication is important, so are your usual office conversations. Remember to stay connected with your coworkers about all of the things you usually talk about, like must-see movies, funny stories or how your 10-year-old is begging for an iPhone. The people who make your workday fun might not be a desk over, but they’re just a call or text away.

Take advantage of being home

If working from home isn’t your thing, remember to stay positive and find the perks of your situation. Now that you’re home all day, you can make your breaks more fun by taking the dog for a walk or doing some baking. Not to mention you can put dinner in the oven earlier than 7 p.m. for once and blast music as loud as you want. Despite the challenges of working from home, find a way to make it more enjoyable every day.

 

COVID-19 Resources for Small Businesses

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Graduated Accelerator Company: Wayve, Inc.

Sierra Scolaro went from working on a senior project while finishing her undergraduate degree to becoming a CEO in one year.

What got her there? The HotHouse Summer Accelerator. 

“When we started at the beginning of the summer, we were just three people with an idea and a really not-so-great prototype,” Scolaro, CEO of Wayve, Inc., said. “Going through the accelerator program with all of the mentorship, the dedicated office space and the $10,000 gift really propelled us forward.”

The Wayve team was able to utilize their $10,000 in startup funding from the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) to prototype and patent their idea of a reusable water bottle that allows for filtered water from any spout.

While the business-development side of the program is what directly helped Wayve grow this idea into a company, she also believes the atmosphere of the HotHouse made the summer even more impactful.

“The best thing about the accelerator has to be the community,” the business entrepreneurship graduate said. “When you’re surrounded by all of that energy and other people working on their passions, it makes you all the more excited to pursue your own.”

Scolaro is grateful that she still has the support and motivation she needs to continue advancing her startup since graduating from the accelerator and joining the CIE’s two-year incubator.

“Now that we’re in the incubator program, it’s definitely not as much hand holding as the accelerator, but it’s not like all the support just disappeared,” she explained. “Working out of the HotHouse Annex, surrounded by other entrepreneurs, really provides an energy to keep the momentum going.”

Scolaro says her team really values the mentors, funding opportunities and network of helpful people they have now, but notes that a lot of these resources were first gained through the HotHouse Accelerator. That alone, she said, is enough of a reason to apply for the program.

Plus, she truly loves that the program allowed her to be an entrepreneur.

“I want to enjoy life and I want to enjoy work and I don’t want there to be a distinct separation between the two,” she said. “If I have the opportunity to create that for other people as well, to employ someone who loves what they do and feels like they’re contributing to an overall larger mission for the world, I would love to.”

So, to anyone considering taking their innovative ideas to the next level and building their business community, Scolaro has just one bit of advice for Cal Poly’s aspiring entrepreneurs.

“The HotHouse Summer Accelerator had to be one of the best summers of my life,” she said. “If you’re on the fence, just do it. There’s nothing to lose.” 

Take the leap, launch your dream business, and spend your summer in San Luis Obispo with the HotHouse Summer Accelerator. Find out more and apply for the program at https://cie.calpoly.edu/launch/hothouse-accelerator/

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Meet a Hatchery Startup | Intego Sports

Whether it’s 7 a.m. or midnight, the Intego Sports team can usually be found in the Hatchery. From Elevator Pitch Competition and Startup Marathon, to now being part of the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) on-campus incubator, Intego Sports CEO Alexandra Joelson is on a path to turn her innovative footwear idea into a viable company. 

“The top and bottom of cleats deteriorate at different rates,” she explained. “We are creating cleats with interchangeable soles, so you can just replace the part that wears down instead of buying a whole new pair of cleats.”

Joelson, a first-year business administration major, came to Cal Poly already passionate about solving this problem of quickly-deteriorating athletic footwear.

However, the San Diego native and her team didn’t make this idea come alive overnight. Joelson first took a slightly different idea she had started in high school to the Elevator Pitch Competition, winning the $1,000 prize. She then took her idea to Cal Poly Entrepreneurs’ Startup Marathon, where the all-freshman Intego Sports team was formed.

“There seemed to be a lot of traction for it and people seemed to like the idea, so I got involved in the CIE,” Joelson said of her original idea. “After talking to all of the advisors [in the Hatchery], we came up with a better solution and since me and part of my team play soccer, it was something we were all passionate about. We really want this problem to be solved.”

Joelson stressed how important it is to have a team of people with a common goal but diverse perspectives, even if that poses challenges. 

Intego Sports consists of a business student, aerospace engineer, electrical engineer and a physics major, so their thought processes often differ. However, Joelson says having different minds come together is what helps them progress and grow.

“I think the biggest thing is making sure you’re solving the right problem and then making sure you have the right people to help you do it,” she explained. “As a CEO, I’ve been trying to make sure everyone is motivated and the advisors put us on the right path to get us to the right goals.”

Now that the Intego Sports team has come together and established their place in the Hatchery among several other student startups, what’s in store for them?

First, prototyping at the CIE’s on-campus Innovation Sandbox and filing for a provisional patent. 

Then the team has plans to compete in Innovation Quest to win from $30,000 in cash prizes to help fund their startup, as well as apply for the HotHouse Summer Accelerator. Basically, Joelson and her team are ready to launch their business as soon as possible.

“We’d love to have inventory in our dorm rooms and be running a company out of yakʔitʸutʸu,” she joked. “But we’re all living in the [Cal Poly] Lofts next year as well. We all want to live together and take the company off the ground so we can be college grads with an income. That would be fantastic.”

Until all these future plans come together, though, the team is soaking up every moment in the Hatchery by taking advantage of their access to industry professionals, experienced entrepreneurial advisors and an inspiring community.

“Most people don’t have advice and advisors like this. Either you have to pay someone to do it or do a ton of research to find someone you actually trust, but everyone here truly cares about us and our success,” Joelson explained. “I get to meet a lot of great people and it’s a great place to work and a great environment.” 

Joelson says that anyone with an entrepreneurial aspiration should apply to the Hatchery program because there aren’t any downfalls — just tons of resources and support in a program she dubs “the entrepreneurship hub.”

To stay updated on Intego Sport’s progress, visit https://www.integosports.com/ or find them on Instagram at @integosports. If you’re ready to get after your startup goals and learn more about the program, visit https://cie.calpoly.edu/prepare/hatchery/.

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Entrepreneurship for All: The Graphic Communicator’s Perspective

When Joe Sobrero came to Cal Poly, he was already determined to be an entrepreneur. As surprising as it may sound, that’s exactly why he chose to study graphic communications with a minor in philosophy.

He didn’t even consider being a business major.

“I think the most important thing that an entrepreneur needs to be is a good communicator,” Sobrero reasoned. “If you’re not a good communicator, you won’t be able to get people on your team, get investments or communicate to your customers why they need your product or service.”

As the co-founder of Ropegun, a mobile application that allows rock climbers to track their progress and compete with friends, he says that his knowledge of communicating, branding and UX/UI design has been invaluable, saving them from having to outsource. Sobrero also noted that his studies of philosophy improved his critical thinking skills, getting him through the endless problems he faces as an entrepreneur. 

After graduating in the spring of 2019, Sobrero and his co-founder Nathan Furbeyre went straight into the HotHouse Accelerator program with their startup idea. Since the program’s end, the pair have kept working with mentors and investors in the two-year HotHouse Incubator.

“To get feedback from advisors who know what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur is absolutely essential and has made a huge difference for me,” he said. “It just gives you confidence when they think you’re doing the right thing because there’s so much uncertainty when you’re an entrepreneur.”

As of January 2020, the team has launched the Ropegun app for iPhones, pushing through their entrepreneurial uncertainty with endless support.

So, what does it really take to get through the tumultuous startup world? According to Sobrero, it requires a lot of passion and risk-taking.

“It’s a lot of work, it’s really hard and it’s high risk,” he explained. “But anyone can do it, if they have the passion and the will to do it. You don’t have to be any certain major.”

While entrepreneurship can be high risk, it can also lead to high rewards, especially if you’re creating something you’re enthusiastic about. When it comes to passion, Sobrero emphasizes that an entrepreneur absolutely needs to love what they’re doing.

“There’s definitely a lot of times as an entrepreneur where you lose a little bit of motivation or you don’t get the validation that you wanted,” he says. “But what keeps me motivated to continue with Ropegun is my obsession with climbing and how much I truly care about the climbing community.”

Want to let your passions run wild? No matter your skill set, the entrepreneurial journey might be for you. Visit https://cie.calpoly.edu/launch/hothouse-accelerator/ to learn how you can turn your interests into a career of your own with our HotHouse Summer Accelerator program.

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