In 2011, a handful of student-based startups graduated from the pilot SLO HotHouse Accelerator program. There wasn’t much fanfare or any major Silicon Valley venture capitalists in attendance, but five years later, several of those early-stage startups are flourishing in the startup world.
InPress Technologies, who created a device to prevent postpartum hemorrhaging, now resides at the premier biomedical incubator in the Silicon Valley; RepairTech, who developed an automated computer repair software, is looking to bring in $1 million in revenue this year, and Favor, a food delivery service, is operating in two major cities.
As the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) enters its sixth year of operation, now running 12 programs and competitions, the SLO HotHouse Accelerator program continues as the foundational component of CIE’s vision for startups in SLO and at Cal Poly.
“Since the pilot program, the accelerator has attracted the most innovative and dedicated students at Cal Poly,” said Dr. Jon York, co-founder and faculty director for CIE. “After six years of CIE’s on-campus involvement, though, we’re finding that students are coming to the accelerator with more experience and a refined vision.”
For most of the companies, the accelerator marks the first significant step right before or right after graduation, an opportunity to prove and apply skill sets learned over the previous four years.
“As students fresh from graduating, all we had was a product and the passion to bring it to market,” said Kate Mecozzi, co-founder of VegThisWay. “Joining the accelerator program was the best decision we could have made in order to learn how to take our passion and make it into a business.”
Successful applicants into the summer program earn $10,000 in seed funding, access to world-class mentors and advisors and the office space and community of the SLO HotHouse. The seed funding presents an immediate draw but the community of the SLO HotHouse distinguishes the accelerator from other post-college opportunities.
“While the money was helpful to get our company started, the best aspect of the SLO HotHouse Accelerator was the sense of community,” said Mecozzi. “Having experienced entrepreneurs, teachers, local businesses and other start-ups all in the same space, gave us the opportunity to learn how to start a business.”
In many ways, the accelerator serves as a startup bootcamp, forcing young entrepreneurs to embrace and endure the challenges of the startup world while working alongside a network of peers and mentors experiencing the same struggles. Throughout the 10-week program, many startups quickly learn the demands of building a company from scratch.
“On our first day in HotHouse we needed to finish a 30 page grant proposal, said Ryan Dunn, co-founder of Mantis Composites. “Every person stayed from 9:30am to midnight. Between all of our team we clocked 85 man hours before the sun came up the next day.”
Whether it’s meeting deadlines or developing a product, a startup’s success often comes down to their willingness to work beyond a typical 40-hour work week.
“If you want to succeed you have to be willing to devote an innumerable amount of hours to the development of your customers, product and business,” said Eric Adler, CEO of Flume Tech.
Unlike much of the startup world, in the accelerator, you are not alone. The SLO HotHouse functions as a home for ambitious upperclassmen or recent college graduates taking a risk at a passion. And in the process, startups begin to accumulate the necessary tools to survive in the market.
“The support system at the HotHouse is unlike any other and there is a whole community rooting for them to succeed,” said Mecozzi. “That encouragement and mentorship is hard to find, but at the HotHouse you’re surrounded by it.”
“It’s like nothing I have been part of before and I am so grateful for the experience.”
Companies who rise to the challenge of the accelerator receive the opportunity to continue as an incubator company. The SLO HotHouse Incubator exists as a 2-year extension of the accelerator, providing similar resources and mentorship opportunities to more advanced startups.
In 2016, a new class of Accelerator companies will occupy the SLO HotHouse. Within that batch may be a billion-dollar venture, but even if not, those entrepreneurs will leave the SLO HotHouse with an experience that prepared them for any job on the market.