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Meet the newest CIE and SBDC staff members!

This summer, the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) is welcoming new staff members. Meet the newest addition to the CIE team below!

Naomi Baron, Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Marketing & Events Intern:

Naomi is a Cal Poly business administration student with a concentration in information systems. Her favorite thing about working with the CIE is the opportunities she has to learn more about business and entrepreneurship. In addition to business, Naomi also has a strong interest in journalism and enjoys reporting whenever she can. In her free time, she enjoys watching “hilariously dumb comedy movies” with her friends and family while enjoying “obscene amounts of candy and junk food.”

Noa Benshabat, CIE Marketing & Events Intern:

Photo by Ruby Wallau.

Noa is a Cal Poly business administration junior with a concentration in marketing and a minor in graphic communication. Her favorite thing about the CIE is the “awesome people” she’s met and the opportunities she’s had to build her network. One of those connections is Pipsticks, a sticker company and Noa’s favorite SLOcal small business. Noa said her notebooks, laptop and water bottle are now covered in Pipsticks stickers. Some things you might not expect about Noa: She loves heavy lifting at the gym and listening to “hardcore Dubstep and bass.”

Schuyler Eley, CIE Public Relations & Digital Marketing Intern:

Photo by Ruby Wallau.

Schuyler is a Cal Poly communications studies senior with a minor in science and risk communication. Her favorite thing about working at the CIE is being around “hard working people striving to make an impact in the world.” In her free time, she spends a lot of time in nature, especially at the beach. She also enjoys reading, and her favorite book is “Normal People” by Sally Rooney.

Lynsey Fowler, SBDC Administrative & Graphic Design Coordinator:

Photo by Ruby Wallau.

Lynsey is the SBDC’s newest full-time staff member. She enjoys working around young entrepreneurs who are passionate about their work. “The way they speak about their businesses is very compelling,” she said. “I’m not rich, but many of them have me wanting to invest!” In her free time, Lynsey enjoys taking walks, swimming, hiking and reading at the beach. On gloomy days, she’ll spend time inside watching movies and TV shows, “mostly about cults.”

Sarah Hirst, CIE Graphic Design Intern:

Photo by Ruby Wallau.

Sarah is a Cal Poly graphic design junior. Her favorite thing about working at the CIE is the “supportive, uplifting community.” She described the people at the CIE as very welcoming and excited about their work. In her free time, Sarah enjoys “anything art-related.” She loves painting, sculpting and animating, as well as dancing and playing her ukulele. She also enjoys watching old, black-and-white musicals, although her favorite movies are currently “La La Land” and “Tangled.”

Sydney Harrison, CIE Marketing & Communications Coordinator:

Sydney is a recent graduate from UC San Diego. She majored in communications and minored environmental studies. Outside of work, Sydney likes to stay active. “In my free time you can find me surfing, hiking, climbing, backpacking, horseback riding or in a hot yoga class,” she said. She also enjoys reading about travel and adventure. Her favorite book is “Swell” by Liz Clark, which documents the author’s solo sailing adventures across the globe.

Mackenzie Ryseff, CIE & SBDC Marketing & Events Intern:

Mackenzie is a Cal Poly journalism senior with a concentration in public relations and a minor in entrepreneurship. Mackenzie’s favorite thing about working at the CIE is the “kind and encouraging” people who she works alongside. Mackenzie is a “BIG coffee lover,” and her favorite SLOcal small business is Skippers Brew Coffee. In her free time, Mackenzie enjoys going to the beach and making jewelry.

Libbie Stone, SBDC Videographer Intern:

Photo by Ruby Wallau.

Libbie is a Cal Poly anthropology and geography senior with minors in dance and media, arts, society and technology (MAST). Her favorite thing about working for the SBDC is working in the CIE’s downtown HotHouse, where “there’s always something new and exciting going on.” In her free time, she enjoys hiking, dancing and practicing yoga. She also enjoys reading, and her favorite book is “Atonement” by Ian McEwan.

Abby Yue, CIE Videographer Intern:

Photo by Ruby Wallau.

Abby is a graphic communication junior with a minor in MAST. Her favorite thing about working with the CIE is being surrounded by a diverse cast of passionate entrepreneurs. Abby’s favorite SLOcal business is Bread Bike. “Their ingredients are locally sourced, and they really care about building community with local farmers and their customers,” she said. Her favorite book is “Beartown” by Fredrik Backman.

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Engineering and business majors create a solution to costly fires in recycling facilities

Four Cal Poly seniors with a devotion towards the environment and the community came together to create a proactive solution for battery-caused fires in recycling facilities.  

They met as students through the Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurial Senior Design Project course (ENGR 465) which allows entrepreneurship students and engineering students to collaborate and create new solutions to real-world problems. 

Early in their senior project course, mechanical engineering majors Stefany James and Sydney Fairchild and business administration majors Penny Lane Case and Thaddeus Ziarkowski recognized each other’s passion for sustainability. 

“We all just met under this common goal of making the world better, cleaner and sustaining our resources,” Case said. 

Their startup, Nexstera Tech, is pushing the boundaries of material differentiation and detection through radar and transforming the way waste management operates. Their first product, Pyrottack, allows customers to detect lithium-ion batteries in the waste stream before they enter trucks and floors of recovery facilities.

According to Case, lithium-ion batteries can cause massive fires in recycling facilities that produce harm to the environment, people and resources. These damages cost over $1.2 billion in damages annually to the US and Canada alone, she said. 

Those working in recycling facilities are uncertain whether or not they will be safe, Fairchild explained: “At a moment’s notice, they have to stop sorting, stop doing whatever they’re doing, and become a firefighter for about five minutes, and that’s terrifying,” she said. 

Nexstera Tech is solving a real-world problem for hundreds, if not thousands, of people, Ziarkowski said. He described the potential impact of their technology as “exceptional.” 

After their senior project course, Nexstera Tech participated in Innovation Quest (iQ), a competition hosted by the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) designed to help entrepreneurs grow their startup from an idea into a company. 

“Innovation Quest was absolutely awesome in terms of getting experience pitching,” Fairchild said. “We started realizing we’re going to get a lot of feedback very quickly within this program.” 

Nexstera Tech was one of 14 finalists to pitch their startup at iQ 2023. Although they did not win the competition, iQ allowed them to receive diverse opinions on their business, Fairchild said. 

Following iQ, the Nexstera co-founders decided to pursue their startup and apply to the CIE Summer Accelerator. They were one of eight teams accepted to the program. 

The Summer Accelerator is a 13-week program designed to give Cal Poly students and recent alumni the resources needed to launch a real, scalable company. 

“It’s awesome to get to work around people who are as enthusiastic about their work as we are,” James said. “It’s just very encouraging.” 

Towards the end of the Summer Accelerator, the co-founders are hoping to have a fully functioning prototype that will be used by a recycling facility. This way, they can continue their efforts to become more responsible with the disposal of waste and keeping recycling facility members safe. 

“Protecting these people who I care about genuinely, even if I don’t know them, and the environment at the same time has just propelled me to work with these amazing people as we continue on this journey,” Case said. 

Nexstera Tech, along with the rest of the 2023 Summer Accelerator cohort, will pitch their startup and showcase their progress at Demo Day, on Sept. 8 at 4 p.m. at SLO Brew Rock. Tickets are available here

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Hatchery Spotlight: Central Coast Vintage

Starting as a small clothing pop-up in one of their grandma’s front yard, four Cal Poly students transformed their hobby into a full enterprise, with their very own store in Downtown San Luis Obispo. 

Central Coast Vintage is a vintage clothing company that curates vintage clothing to provide college students with affordable fashion.

The idea for the startup originated after co-owners Nate Smidt, Beau Gamboni, Dominic Gamboni and Austen Hanner started buying their clothes at thrift shops to cut down on expenses. Soon after, they decided to sell their old clothes at a local pop-up event. After collectively making $1,000, they decided to host their own monthly pop-ups.  

Smidt and his partners started their pop-up events in Bakersfield. They eventually moved their pop-ups to San Luis Obispo, selling at the Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market and on Cal Poly’s Dexter Lawn.

Smidt later came in contact with a local landlord and made a deal to open a store in Downtown San Luis Obispo. Central Coast Vintage had its grand opening on February 18, 2023. 

“You couldn’t even walk through the store because everyone we knew from college was there,” Smidt said. “We made 15 times we had ever made before.” 

Following the grand opening, the co-founders joined the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Hatchery.

The CIE Hatchery is an on-campus startup incubator open to all Cal Poly students interested in learning how to take a business from an idea to launch. Student entrepreneurs are provided with resources like mentorship, coaching and weekly workshops.  

Students learn the skills critical to entrepreneurship. Smidt said one of the biggest skills he learned in the program is organization.  

He also explained that working around other driven student entrepreneurs motivates him. 

“You hear so many people that are like, ‘I want to work for myself,’ and it’s really inspiring to hear all of them talking,” he said.  

Smidt and his co-owners now plan on investing the capital raised through Central Coast Vintage into a different business venture. They are working to develop an app that will help students with college housing. Smidt pitched his idea in the Hatchery and was instantly put in contact with an app developer. 

The co-founders hope to start launching more community events where college students can come and re-sell their clothing. They also plan on coming out with their own Central Coast Vintage merchandise.

Central Coast Vintage is excited to grow even more as a business and leverage Hatchery resources.

“If you are struggling to find money but you have the idea, go to the Hatchery,” Smidt said. “It is such a good way to start your business.” 

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From medicine to lawmaking and beyond: How entrepreneurship can benefit all kinds of careers

The words "From Medicine to Lawmaking and Beyond: How entrepreneurship can benefit all kinds of careers" in a green, bold font against a light blue background patterned with white stethoscopes, gavels, planets and stars.

During her first semester of medical school, Rose Badrigian was shocked to learn that 70% of physicians show some level of implicit bias against people of color.

She learned that statistic in class and was then asked to take a test that would uncover her own implicit biases. After she and her classmates completed the test, the instructor simply moved on to a new topic.

Badrigian was taken aback, surprised that the instructor didn’t address how to mitigate implicit biases — so she spoke up and told the instructor just that.

“I said, ‘Can you explain to me why we are taught that this is clearly a huge problem, but you’re not teaching us a single thing about how to not perpetuate that problem?’” Badrigian recounted.

Questioning the status quo was second nature to Badrigian, whose undergraduate involvement in the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) taught her the epitome of the entrepreneurial mindset — identify the problem and figure out how to solve it. 

“Really successful companies and ideas are the ones who don’t try to fix the wheel. They’re the ones who are like, ‘We don’t need wheels, we can have hoverboards,’” Badrigian said. “My time at the CIE got me really comfortable being like, ‘This is a better option.’”

Badrigian participated in the CIE Summer Accelerator in 2018. The Accelerator is an intensive, three-month program that connects Cal Poly students and recent graduates with the resources needed to build a business, including $10,000 in seed funding. 

Badrigian joined the Summer Accelerator as the founder of BooBees, a startup creating sustainable surf wax. In addition to providing an eco-friendly alternative to petroleum-based surf waxes, BooBees set out to empower women in the male-dominated surf scene.

The Summer Accelerator was a rapid introduction to entrepreneurship for Badrigian, who studied biology as an undergraduate. The program introduced her to “the beauty of entrepreneurship,” she said, and proved that “if you can imagine it, there’s a need for it and it doesn’t already exist, you can create it.”

Badrigian eventually decided to step away from BooBees in order to focus on medical school. However, she never lost her entrepreneurial mindset, which she said is like “a flame that will never stop burning.”

Entrepreneurship can be beneficial to practitioners of any discipline, not just business professionals — as Badrigian demonstrated by applying her entrepreneurial thinking to medicine.

Now in her third year of medical school, Badrigian said she’s noticed several problems in the medical space that could be solved with innovation. She keeps a list of startup ideas that could address the problems she identifies.

“I’ll be forever grateful for everything that I learned through the CIE because it’s so applicable, especially in a field like medicine,” Badrigian said.

Shaun Tanaka, also CIE alumnus, is applying entrepreneurship in another unlikely industry — lawmaking.

Unlike Badrigian, Tanaka never planned to pursue a postgraduate degree. He originally intended to enlist in the military directly after completing his bachelor’s degree in marketing. He enlisted in the Army Component of the California State Guard and served while earning his undergraduate degree, intending to pursue a military career after graduation.

“I thought that four years of school was enough for me,” Tanaka said. “But eventually, I found myself in the field of entrepreneurship and innovation.”

Also as an undergraduate, Tanaka founded a startup now known as Castle Innovations LLC. The startup is developing a firearm safety device for AR-15s, which is now patented. The current iteration of the device, called the CastleLock, uses high-speed biometric locking technology to secure AR-15s from unwanted users and negligent discharges. 

Tanaka brought the original idea for the CastleLock, known then as the GripSafe, to the CIE. He pitched the startup at the CIE’s annual Innovation Quest (iQ), a high-stakes competition where Cal Poly students present their innovations to a panel of judges for the chance to win thousands of dollars. Tanaka won the third-place prize of $5,000.

Tanaka then brought Castle Innovations LLC to the CIE Summer Accelerator after he graduated from Cal Poly.

Instead, with the help of the California Military Department GI Bill, he chose to pursue a master’s degree in public policy.

Cal Poly’s Master of Public Policy program teaches students to approach government and law from an analytical standpoint. Tanaka said he wanted to enroll in the program in order to learn how to navigate the complex legislation in the firearm safety space.

“It was pragmatic for what I was doing with the business,” Tanaka said.

Working in a startup prepared Tanaka to tackle the heavy workload that comes with a master’s program. He improved his time management skills throughout the Summer Accelerator, which he said “acclimated (him) to being busy.”

There are technical similarities between public policy and entrepreneurship, Tanaka said when comparing policy research to market research. He said the biggest similarity between the two, however, is that both are a people-first field.

“Entrepreneurship teaches you the value of people,” Tanaka said. “Being in firearm safety, we’re working with people that are very pro-gun, very anti-gun. However, just like in policy, you have to find a way to meet in the middle.”

Tanaka said he believes practicing entrepreneurship but pursuing an education in a different discipline can be beneficial to founders — and learning about entrepreneurship can be beneficial to anyone, even those with no plans of starting their own business.

“Experimenting with entrepreneurship can be a very valuable thing,” Tanaka said. “If you’re in college and you don’t inherently know what you want to do, entrepreneurship is a great start.”

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Incubator Spotlight: Vetama

A photo of a van with the Vetama logo parked in front of a sunset.

Vetama is a mobile veterinary franchise that provides a convenient pet care option for both animals and their owners. The startup supports veterinarians’ and technicians’ personal success by allowing them to practice independently. 

 The idea for the business originated after co-founder and Cal Poly animal science graduate Jacob Wright shadowed two veterinarians, who soon became his business partners. They discussed the harsh future of the veterinarian industry due to poor quality of life and corporate constraints. Their goal was to find potential ways to help empower future veterinarians. 

 While working together in their mobile veterinary practice, the co-founders sparked the idea of using their mobile practice as a template and soon developed a franchise model. 

 A year later, after Wright received his Masters of Business Administration from Cal Poly, he and his co-founders, Dr. Raffy Dorian and Dr. Daniel Gutman, created Vetama. 

 Vetama provides consulting and coaching to help veterinarians run their own business when, how and where they want. 

 Shortly after founding Vetama, the co-founders joined the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Incubator, a two-year program that provides everything necessary for early-stage companies to develop into successful enterprises. The program connects entrepreneurs with resources including mentorship, networking events and funding opportunities.  

 Before joining the Incubator program, Wright said that Vetama had minimal sales, few leads and no exposure to veterinary conferences. The Incubator connected Wright to the proper resources and mentorship to develop their entity into a growing business.

 “The doors just kept opening, it’s almost overwhelming,” Wright said. “You get to talk to crazy smart people, and they offer their time essentially for free for you to pick their brain.” 

 Wright said participating in the Incubator created a sense of community, as well as several opportunities to receive advice from fellow entrepreneurs. 

 “You’re going through the same stress of fundraising, you’re going through the same stress of not knowing, literally not having any templates or anything created for your customers and being around other people in the same situation yields more creative ideas,” Wright explained. 

 Vetama is currently working on developing a new role for technicians to offer ambulatory services in their area. They’ve also recently launched their first location in Salem, Oregon and plan on debuting their second location by July.

Past Incubator participants advised Wright that the more he puts into the program, the more he will get out of it. 

“That could not be more true,” Wright said.

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Where Are They Now: 2022 Summer Accelerator Cohort

Title text that reads: 2022 Summer Accelerator Teams: Where Are They Now

It’s been more than six months since the 2022 Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Summer Accelerator came to an end. During the Accelerator, Cal Poly students and recent graduates spent 13 weeks immersed in the startup process, turning their startup ideas into real, viable businesses.

The program culminated in Demo Day, where the participating teams showcased the progress they made on their startups throughout the summer and pitched their companies.

Since Demo Day, the 2022 Summer Accelerator cohort have embarked on new professional, educational and — of course — entrepreneurial endeavors.

Here’s a team-by-team breakdown of what the cohort is up to now:

Castle Innovations LLC | Cheekies | Quickie | Ryde | Venture Rent | X-Adapt

 

Castle Innovations (Formerly known as Grip Safe)

Castle Innovations LLC founder Shaun Tanaka. Graphic by Sarah Hirst.

Castle Innovations LLC founder Shaun Tanaka entered the Summer Accelerator with an idea to save lives: a patented firearm safety device for AR-15s called GripSafe.

Tanaka said he and his team conducted extensive customer development during the Summer Accelerator. They produced multiple iterations of the product, each one improving upon its predecessor. 

“While our mission never changed, our product changed drastically,” Tanaka said.

Their current iteration, called the CastleLock, uses high-speed biometric locking technology to secure AR-15s from unwanted users and negligent discharges.

Tanaka said he has “dove head first” into the startup process since Demo Day. He was able to secure a round of angel investment, which allowed him to hire mechanical engineers from a design firm and expand the company team. Castle Innovations LLC now has 16 total team members.

“Without the Summer Accelerator, so much of the company wouldn’t have happened,” Tanaka said. “With the help of the CIE, we were able to get angel investment, mentorship, resources, and access to engineering shops that we otherwise would not have had access to.”

Shortly after Demo Day, Tanaka began pursuing his Masters in Public Policy at Cal Poly. He said he has been leveraging his graduate education to best benefit his startup.

“I found myself tailoring my Masters program to my startup,” Tanaka said. “Being in the Masters of Public Policy program, it’s helped me navigate the complexities of firearm legislation, which is currently helping progress the business.”

Dylan Defazio, who worked for Castle Innovations LLC as an independent contractor during the Summer Accelerator, also returned to Cal Poly after Demo Day as a mechanical engineering junior.

Defazio said he picked up several tips and tricks throughout the Summer Accelerator that have helped him as he pursues his degree. Organizational tools like Notion, an online note taking application, and communication techniques he learned through the program have been especially helpful, he said. 

Although Defazio is no longer working with Castle Innovations LLC, he has remained involved with the CIE. He is mentoring students who are interested in applying to the Summer Accelerator, as well as helping students prepare for Innovation Quest (iQ), an innovation competition that Defazio and Tanaka won third place in in 2022. 

Defazio took notes — on Notion, of course — throughout the Summer Accelerator program. He uses those notes to inform his advice to fellow student entrepreneurs. 

He met most of his mentees through the Hatchery, the CIE’s on-campus startup incubator — the same program through which he met Tanaka.

“Seeing a lot of new ideas come through the Hatchery was awesome,” Defazio said. “That’s why I love mentoring — because you’re around the Hatchery. I just love the spirit of entrepreneurship.”

 

Cheekies

Cheekies co-founders McCall Brinskele (left) and Mariana Inofuentes (right). Graphic by Sarah Hirst.

McCall Brinskele, founder of Cheekies, set out to help menstruators sleep comfortably while on their periods by inventing a period sleep short that uses leak-proof technology.

Brinskele, a biomedical engineering major, had minimal business or entrepreneurship experience when entering the Summer Accelerator, but quickly adapted to the startup process.

Throughout the course of the summer, Brinskele became adept at the “business side” of the startup process learning entrepreneurial skills like customer development and, of course, pitching.

“Pitching every single week, I definitely became more confident speaking in front of investors,” she said.

Brinskele said she and co-founder Mariana Inofuentes were “pumped” for Demo Day.

“I mean, as you can see in the video (of our pitch), we were having so much fun on that stage,” Brinskele said. “I was really eager to keep going. It was nice to get that recognition for all the work that we had done, and it was very motivating to know that what we were doing was going to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Since Demo Day, Brinskele has continued  to work on Cheekies and is currently gearing up for a pivot. She has not disclosed the details of the pivot, but said that she is currently in the customer development stages.

“(We are) making sure that we’re making a product that’s really going to meet needs and change lives since that was the goal from the beginning,” she said.

Brinskele is also pursuing her Masters in Engineering Management at Cal Poly. Participating in the Summer Accelerator “gave (her) an edge” in her Masters classes, she said.

She is currently working on Cheekies’ pivot as a project for her Masters program.

Brinskele said the Summer Accelerator helped her build the skills needed to tackle the pivot. The program also provided validation that Cheekies, which started as a passion project, has the potential to not only sell, but to change people’s lives for the better.

“Getting that encouragement from the Accelerator, as well as all of the training,” Brinskele said. “I don’t think I would be able to pivot right now if I didn’t have all those tools.”

 

Quickie

Quickie co-founders Matt Menno (left) and Will Tregenza (right). Graphic by Sarah Hirst.

Business administration majors Matt Menno and William Tregenza entered the Summer Accelerator to further develop their startup Quickie, a quick and affordable delivery service for college students that soft-launched in November of 2021. 

“We thought we knew a lot about the business that we were making because we’d already been at it for a few months, but after making it through the Accelerator, we were not even close to experts on Quickie,” Tregenza said. 

Menno spent the summer developing a mobile application for Quickie, while Tregenza focused on marketing — and pitching.

Tregenza said the Summer Accelerator helped him grow comfortable with public speaking.

When the co-founders debuted their startup at the CIE’s May Entrepreneurship Forum before the Summer Accelerator began, Tregenza said he “paused on stage.”

“I literally just got shocked on stage,” Tregenza said. “Then, by the end of the Accelerator (at Demo Day), I was up there doing an eight minute pitch, easy.”

Since Demo Day, Quickie has grown significantly. Their mobile application has reduced customer check-out times from five minutes to roughly 20 seconds. 

Menno said CIE Director of Finance and Operations Damon Watkins recommended Quickie grow their team, telling Menno and Tregenza, “You need time to actually grow the business, whereas right now you guys are running it.”

They now have 12 employees who deliver orders, as well as an app developer and a marketing manager.

Quickie delivers to addresses within a two-mile radius of the Cal Poly campus. They recently acquired a storefront in the middle of that radius, which Menno said has helped Quickie “capitalize on (their) delivery speeds.”

Tregenza and Menno said they plan to expand to another campus within the next year — and use the skills they developed in the Summer Accelerator along the way.

“The skills you learn — the networking, the deep dive you take into your business model — all of that stuff has prepared us to analyze competitors and standardize our model here so that we can copy and paste it at other campuses,” Tregenza said. 

 

Ryde

Ryde co-founders (from left to right) Josh Wong, Johnny Morris and Emily Gavrilenko. Graphic by Sarah Hirst.

Three co-founders joined the Summer Accelerator with their startup Ryde, a travel marketplace connecting college student riders with college student drivers for long-distance travel.

The Summer Accelerator provided the resources to grow Ryde from a student project to a real, scalable business, co-founder and Head of Customer Experience Johnny Morris said.

Ryde officially launched in October 2022. Since then, more than 3,500 Cal Poly students have signed up for the app. Ryde has facilitated more than 1,600 rides and helped students travel more than 450,000 miles. 

“We’re getting so much natural growth just through students telling each other because they love it so much and they had a good experience,” said Ryde co-founder and CTO Josh Wong. “I think that’s the most valuable sign of success.”

The startup also recently won $25,000 in funding at the Sunstone Cal State University (CSU) Startup Launch Competition, an annual pitch competition for CSU students and recent graduates. Competing teams are divided into three categories, including product, service and social enterprise. Ryde won the service track’s first-place prize.

All three co-founders are still working on Ryde — and embarking on their own professional endeavors. 

Wong is now in Houston, Texas working for NASA as a software engineering intern. At NASA, he is able to exercise his entrepreneurship knowledge almost as often as his software engineering skills.

“I hear methods of entrepreneurship — like building a minimally viable product,” Wong said. “I wouldn’t have known anything about that before the Accelerator.”

Morris graduated in June 2022, shortly before the Summer Accelerator began. Since the Accelerator, he has been working full-time on Ryde, as well as working part-time for another Accelerator alum, Quickie.

Morris said that, after having worked alongside Quickie during the Accelerator — not to mention running a startup himself — he is able to “bring something kind of unique to the table” and can “think more process-oriented, more strategically” about Quickie, he said.

Ryde co-founder and CEO Emily Gavrilenko also found an additional job through the Summer Accelerator.

Gavrilenko met an industry professional during the networking portion of Demo Day whose company was hiring. The connection eventually led to her current role as a product manager.

“I got the contact at Demo Day, and now I have a super sweet job,” Gavrilenko said. 

Despite their separate professional endeavors, the Ryde co-founders will continue to work together and leverage the skills they build in the Summer Accelerator to grow their startup. They said they intend to expand beyond Cal Poly, to other college campuses in California, over the next six months.

“We’ve done so much more in the past six months than we did in the first six months,” Gavrilenko said. “After the first six months, we had a super scrappy MVP out there. We hadn’t made a single dime. We’d done maybe 30 rides. No one really knew about us. Now, seeing how far we’ve come, it’s incredible.”

 

Venture Rent

Venture Rent founder Shubh Khandhadia. Graphic by Sarah Hirst.

Business administration major Shubh Khandhadia entered the Summer Accelerator as the co-founder of Venture Rent, a startup developing a mobile application that allows users to quickly and easily rent outdoor equipment, such as kayaks and surfboards. 

Two weeks into the Summer Accelerator, Khandhadia’s co-founder stepped down, and he quickly found himself promoted to CEO. Khandhadia, who also has a minor in computer science, leveraged the information he had learned in a Summer Accelerator workshop about software and technology in order to quickly develop a minimally viable product (MVP).

Developing the MVP allowed Khandhadia to focus on running the business, while his team of software developers continued to work on the product.

“This was my first experience in a startup, leading a team of developers and working with them every week,” Khandhadia said. “I learned throughout the Accelerator how to be an effective leader, how to work well with others and how to find people who compliment you.”

Khandhadia said Demo Day was a rewarding experience and an opportunity to celebrate all he had accomplished over the course of the Summer Accelerator.

Khandhadia compared the Summer Accelerator to studying, and Demo Day to a test.

“For me, leading up to the exam is the most stress. The exam is never stress because at that point, you’re just showing what you know,” Khandhadia said. “So for me, pitching (at Demo Day) wasn’t that bad — it was actually a really fun experience.”

Shortly after Demo Day, Khandhadia wrote down a list of goals for Venture Rent and a list of personal goals. After careful consideration, he decided to take a break from Venture Rent in order to focus on career development.

He decided to apply to graduate school — not for business, but for computer science (CS).

“I’d always wanted to go into computer science,” Khandhadia said. “I switched my major twice. I started in business, went to CS, went back to business, then tried to get back into CS but couldn’t. So I decided I would do a Masters in CS.”

Khandhadia was recently accepted into the University of Southern California (USC) graduate program. He will be studying computer science with a specialization in artificial intelligence (AI).

“My goal was to pair up my business degree with a more technical degree,” Khandhadia said. “Honestly, the startup experience was huge in motivating me to do that because I got to see the importance and value behind being an engineer.”

 

X-Adapt

X-Adapt founder Evan Lalanne. Graphic by Sarah Hirst.

Evan Lalanne entered the Summer Accelerator fresh off of a win at iQ. Lalanne won the first-place prize of $15,000 with his startup Adapted Mobility, now known as X-Adapt.

X-Adapt is a startup working to make “the world more accessible for people with disabilities,” according to Lalanne.

Lalanne’s iQ pitch — and later, his Demo Day pitch — was for a device that modifies commercially available electric unicycles to allow for use by adaptive riders in place of a wheelchair.

The device has greater mobility and capability than most wheelchairs, which allows riders to access environments with tougher terrain, like hiking trails. It is also compact, making it easier for riders to navigate crowded spaces, like bars or parties. The self-balancing feature in the electric unicycle even allows riders to climb up and down stairs — as Lalanne demonstrated at Demo Day during his pitch.

During the Summer Accelerator, Lalanne focused on product development. He also used Accelerator resources to grow his network.

“The best part of the program is definitely the network that you build,” Lalanne said. “You get connected with so many different mentors and people with varying backgrounds that are all motivated to help you out, and that’s huge.”

Since the Summer Accelerator, Lalanne has set up internal product development and prototyping equipment and is now finalizing his first customer-facing MVP’s.

He recently competed at the Sunstone CSU Startup Launch Competition, where X-Adapt won the product track’s second-place prize of $10,000.

Lalanne said he is planning to have early adopters provide feedback on the MVP’s during the second half of 2023 and is targeting early 2024 for early commercial sales.

 

It’s now been more than six months since these student-led startups completed the Summer Accelerator program — but in less than two months, a whole new cohort of promising entrepreneurs will set out on their own startup ventures.

Meet the 2023 Summer Accelerator teams at this year’s May Entrepreneurship Forum, May 16 at 4:30 p.m. in the Cal Poly Performing Arts Center. 

Tickets available for free here!

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Hatchery Spotlight: PeggyAI

Peggy Thorp was a secretary at Rug Doctor, a carpet cleaning franchise.

Thorp was “the glue that held everything together,” said Ethan Beck, whose father owned the Rug Doctor where Thorp worked. She oversaw the logistics of the business, handling administrative work like appointment bookings and timekeeping.

When Thorp eventually retired, Beck’s father attempted to do the work that she had done. Administrative work began to consume his work days.

“He was spread so thin that he had no time at all,” Beck said.

Beck soon realized, however, that a lot of the work that Thorp had done throughout the 1990s could now be automated with software — so Beck, along with his sister Isabella, created PeggyAI, a software workflow solution that automates different business processes, such as timekeeping, equipment tracking and employee safety.

“It’s a software to automate what Peggy did,” Beck said. “Thus, PeggyAI.”

The software was originally intended to be used solely for the Becks’ family businesses, but once Beck saw how helpful it could be, he set out to bring PeggyAI to businesses everywhere.

“It’s something that everybody can benefit from,” Beck said. “Because it started with just us, we want to take that to everybody else and help as many people as we can.”

Currently, Beck’s target market is agriculture companies. Through its automated workflows, PeggyAI software allows business owners to focus on other aspects of their companies.

Beck said he wants to provide more freedom to business owners by building a platform that “gives them their time back.”

Beck, who graduated from Cal Poly in 2022 with a degree in business administration, joined the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Hatchery shortly before graduating. The Hatchery teaches Cal Poly students how to build a business by providing resources like mentors, guest speakers and workshops that teach the fundamentals of entrepreneurship. 

“The Hatchery offers so many different resources that you can tap into and really help wherever you need it,” Beck said.

Since joining the Hatchery, Beck has benefitted from coaching and mentorship that has taught him the best practices for pitching his product. He is now able to give an informative and impactful business pitch that has already attracted clients.

PeggyAI is a fully functional product that is currently serving two clients. Beck is now working to attract more users, and he said he eventually hopes to expand PeggyAI to be “the Excel of business processes.” 

PeggyAI was “made for founders,” Beck said, and he hopes to see his startup grant those founders more freedom to focus on the things that matter most.

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Hatchery Spotlight: Swish Lash

Camille Boiteux prepared for high school track meets with water-proof mascara.

She wanted to be picture-ready for the photographers documenting the competition, and since regular mascara often smears when it comes into contact with sweat, Boiteux thought water-proof mascara was the obvious pick for sporting events.

The only issue was that water-proof mascara can be difficult to remove, even when the wearer is trying to remove it.

Boiteux struggled to effectively remove the water-proof mascara, but she didn’t blame the mascara — it was supposed to be long-lasting, after all. Instead, she identified ineffective makeup removal methods as the problem.

Two forms of makeup remover are currently on the market: cleansing pads (like makeup wipes) and oils (like micellar water). Both forms can be insufficient, leaving makeup behind and irritating the user’s eyes, Boiteux said.

So, Boiteux, now a business administration junior at Cal Poly, set out to develop a better, more effective makeup remover and founded Swish Lash.

Swish Lash is a startup developing a makeup removal product specifically for mascara. A sponge brush doused in a makeup remover solution is attached to a metal clamp so that users can swipe their eyelashes in the same motion used to apply to mascara.

Although Boiteux began workshopping the idea during high school, she didn’t begin developing Swish Lash as a business until 2022 at Startup Marathon.

Startup Marathon is a 54-hour event hosted by the Cal Poly Entrepreneurs Club during which student innovators work through the weekend to develop a startup idea. At the event, Boiteux and her co-founder, business administration sophomore Alyson Marzocco, developed the first iterations of the Swish Lash product. Their original prototype ideas included a “PacMan shaped sponge” as well as a clamp similar to an eyelash curler.

Boiteux also participated in the the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Elevator Pitch Competition (EPC), where Cal Poly students have 90 seconds to pitch their innovative ideas for the chance to win cash prizes. Swish Lash won the audience choice award of $500.

“I was so shocked [(when I won]) because I’d just heard so many great pitches,” Boiteux said. “I was literally on cloud nine.”

Boiteux is now working with a group of industrial manufacturing students to develop a working prototype of her product. She hopes to finish the prototype in time for Innovation Quest (iQ), an annual prototyping and business plan competition hosted by the CIE in April. 

“We’ve been on a positive streak from Startup Marathon to Elevator Pitch, so now we really want to compete in Innovation Quest and figure out where we go from there,” Boiteux said.

She is also working with the CIE’s on-campus Hatchery, which provides Cal Poly students with the resources needed to build a business. The program allows students to attend workshops that teach the fundamentals of entrepreneurship and connects them with seasoned entrepreneurs and mentors.

Boiteux said the mentorship she has received through the Hatchery has been “truly invaluable.”

“There’s nothing like the Hatchery that can truly offer free help,” she said. “The Hatchery, as a whole, is a great network and a great community of motivated people.”

With the help of the Hatchery, Boiteux sees Swish Lash releasing an early prototype and beginning to collect customer feedback within the next year.

Eventually, she sees Swish Lash as the one product on drug store shelves that can effortlessly and effectively remove mascara.

“I just really want to see a product that genuinely makes a difference in taking off mascara for everyone that wears it,” Boiteux said.

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Hatchery Spotlight: Card Conjurer

Kyle Burton received a cease and desist letter from Wizards of the Coast in 2022 — a letter that prompted the eventual growth of his startup, Card Conjurer.

While in high school, Burton built a website that allowed him to make custom cards for “Magic: The Gathering,” a popular collectable card game. The website grew as Burton continued to add and improve different customization features — until it grew large enough to catch the attention of Wizards of the Coast, the game’s publisher. 

Burton, now a Cal Poly software engineering major, received an email from a Wizards of the Coast representative during Fall Quarter of his junior year. The representative ordered the company’s intellectual property to be removed from Burton’s website.

“It was extremely stressful,” Burton said, “and I immediately came to the Hatchery to find some help.”

The Hatchery is a Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) program that teaches Cal Poly students the fundamentals of building a startup. The program provides students with resources that best fit their needs, including intensive workshops, mentorship and, in Burton’s case, legal counsel. The Hatchery connected Burton with an attorney who provided some insight into intellectual property law and reviewed how Burton could address the cease and desist.

In the end, Burton found that he had two options: remove the parts of the website that included Wizards of the Coast’s intellectual property or take down the website in its entirety.

“And because the site was 99% property owned by Wizards of the Coast, I took it down,” Burton said.

But the website didn’t stay down for long. Luckily, Burton already happened to be working on a remake of the website when he received the cease and desist letter.

He launched a new version of his website within the next month.

Card Conjurer is no longer a “Magic: The Gathering” card customizer — it’s a website where users can craft their own custom game cards.

“It’s very generalized,” Burton said. “It’s not a ‘Pokémon’ card maker or a ‘Magic: The Gathering’ card maker… It’s for someone who wants to design their own card game or make something fun, like throwing their pet into their own custom game card.”

The Card Conjurer website allows users to select a template, then start customizing. They can upload their own images; change the colors of the cards; or edit the style, spacing and size of the text. 

The website is fully functional, but Burton is using the connections he’s built in the Hatchery to turn Card Conjurer into a sustainable business. 

“The Hatchery has helped me grow as an entrepreneur, primarily by forming connections and being a really great place to network,” Burton said. “I’ve been able to get some really great advice from the mentors at the Hatchery regarding monetization.”

The Card Conjurer website is currently free and runs entirely on donations. Burton’s advisors at the Hatchery are helping him identify the best method of monetization for the website. He is currently leaning towards “the freemium route,” which would allow users to continue accessing the website for free and unlock additional features for a small fee.

Burton said he is starting to integrate those paid features into the website. Once the website is fully updated, he said he intends to focus on advertising, leveraging social media and influencer partnerships to drive users to Card Conjurer.

He said he intends to put in the work necessary to make Card Conjurer the new standard for game card customization by scaling the website to include all of the features needed to make a complete card game, then promoting the finished website.

“I want Card Conjurer to be the name that people think of whenever they want to start designing a custom card game,” he said.

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Incubator Spotlight: ARTIFEX

Three people stand behind a table smiling. On the table are blueprint pages and a tablet with the name ARTIFEX displayed on it.

ARTIFEX is creating a data processing software that allows architects and designers to input data points and receive automated floor plans. Users can then export that data and use it to inform the next stage of the design process.

The idea for the tool stemmed from research that co-founder Elijah Williams conducted while pursuing a Master of Science in Architecture with Cal Poly. Williams’ original idea was for a hardware device that used a laser to collect measurement data. He brought that idea to the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) in 2021 and joined the CIE’s Hatchery, a startup incubator for Cal Poly students.

Around that same time, Anna Baytosh, a Cal Poly Masters in Business Administration student at the time, approached the CIE looking to get involved and learn more about the startup process. The CIE connected her with Williams, and she joined ARTIFEX just in time to apply for the CIE’s Summer Accelerator program.

The Summer Accelerator is a three-month program that provides Cal Poly students and recent graduates with the resources needed to build a business, including $10,000 in seed funding. ARTIFEX was one of the nine startups accepted into the program in 2021.

By the end of the Summer Accelerator, ARTIFEX had successfully raised a small round of pre-seed capital. Baytosh, who had originally planned to leave ARTIFEX after completing the program, joined Williams as an official co-founder and became the startup’s COO.

Following the Summer Accelerator, ARTIFEX joined the CIE’s two-year Incubator program, which is designed to help early-stage startups develop into financially stable and scalable businesses. It connects founders with resources that can help facilitate growth, such as mentorship, networking events and funding opportunities.

“The Incubator provides a wealth of resources, from accounting, legal, marketing, finance — anything you really need to get your startup off the ground,” Baytosh said. “For us, it was about the Incubator helping us build that structure around what we had already created in the Summer Accelerator.”

Since joining the Incubator, ARTIFEX has pivoted from their original hardware idea to a software solution. They’ve also begun fundraising.

The Incubator has connected ARTIFEX with several fundraising opportunities, including AngelCon, an annual pitch competition hosted by the Cal Poly CIE Small Business Development Center (SBDC), where tech-driven startups from California’s Central Coast compete to win equity-backed funding.

ARTIFEX participated in AngelCon in 2022, and although they did not raise funding from the competition, Baytosh said it was still “an awesome experience.”

She described the preparation for the competition as a “pitch bootcamp.”

“We were able to hone our pitch and our strategy,” she said. “And we were able to meet more people that we were able to raise funds from later.”

In addition to helping the ARTIFEX co-founders meet prospective investors, the Incubator also introduced them to a community of fellow entrepreneurs.

“I would say, for a venture-backed startup, a network of advisors, investors and fellow founders is absolutely crucial because that’s what’s going to keep you going,” Baytosh said. “Those network connections are going to get you to the next step.”

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