Cal Poly San Luis Obispo


Where Are They Now: Favor

Ben & Zac photos for Fortune

Photo courtesy of Favor


Favor co-founders Ben Doherty and Zac Maurais graduated from the CIE SLO HotHouse in August of 2012. Their app-based service allows customers to get anything they want delivered to their door in under an hour.

“The SLO Hothouse taught us important entrepreneurial lessons and supported us immensely in the early days,” said Maurais. “We’re very grateful for the community they’ve created.”

Whether it’s a tasty dinner from a top restaurant or essentials from the convenience store, Favor’s network of personal assistants can deliver whatever you need in just a couple taps.

Currently, Favor is available in 20 cities across the country, and the company has raised over $30M in funding to fuel their explosive growth. Based in Austin, TX, Favor boasts nearly 200 employees.

“We created a fun and flexible way for people to earn extra money,” said Doherty. “With over 16,000 runners on our platform, it’s rewarding to see how many awesome people are using what we’ve built.”

For more info on Favor, click here.

Where Are They Now: InPress Technologies


Hello everyone!

This last weekend, I was lucky enough to go exploring in a new startup community in Durango, Colorado. I was invited to speak at a handful of events that brought pre-existing business owners, community movers-and-shakers, and university students and faculty together for the first time.

And wow – what excitement and energy!

Witnessing the seeding of a new entrepreneurial ecosystem renewed my gratitude for our own wonderful startup community & InPress’ growth within it. Reflecting on our progress since the summer of 2011 until today, much of what we’ve accomplished has been aided, encouraged and improved by the support of San Luis Obispo entrepreneurial community.

We started as a rag-tag group of not-yet-graduated students with an impossible dream of saving women’s lives around the world. Today, we have and are hiring the best talent available – all of whom are motivated by that same mission.

We started with a few dollars here and there for small expenditures, and not nearly enough to move full steam ahead. Today, we’ve raised three rounds of funding – the last of which set a value for our company and brought in an incredible and experienced cadre of investors that truly double as advisors and advocates.

We started with a sketch of a concept for a new technology and next to no proof that it would work. Today, our company is ISO certified, and manufactures a validated device that has quickly and successfully stopped postpartum hemorrhage for 10 women.

We have come so far, and yet, we have a long way to go.

It is our mission to ensure that this technology is available to every woman that needs it. This company, this team, and this technology would not exist today without the early and constant support of the SLO entrepreneurial community. In the years to come, I expect to say much the same.

Thank you all for contributing to the vibrant and wonderfully supportive SLO startup community. You can bet that we’ll be around – supporting all you as best we can & asking for help when we need it.

See ya around, SLO-ites!

Jessie, Nathan and the whole InPress team.

New Startups Join the SLO HotHouse Incubator Program


After three months in the SLO HotHouse this summer, five accelerator companies will continue their startup journey in the SLO HotHouse Incubator program: Spectrvm, Gatherologie, ObserVR, BoltAbout and Current. They will join the companies currently residing in the incubator program: Reduce. Reuse. Grow., Calivore, Flume, BrandPlug, App Scrolls, Bottlefly and Higea Inc.

While the challenges of building a startup remain, the Incubator offers a diverse support system critical for success in the market.

“Once a startup integrates into our Incubator program, their runway for support and resources has been extended for a full two years,” said Judy Mahan, director of the CIE Incubator.

With access to local mentors and advisors as well as guaranteed office space in the SLO HotHouse, each incubator company holds the tools they need to progress their business.

“We help each startup set up an advisory board, we provide access to capital through our relationships with investors, we continue our coaching and mentoring program, as well as provide ongoing guidance with business planning workshops and boot camps,” said Mahan.

Despite all of the resources at an incubator company’s disposal, the program is designed to promote long-term sustainability.

“We strive to ensure that when these startups graduate from our incubator program they have grown into sustainable and scalable businesses that will thrive locally,” said Mahan.

Since the program’s inception in 2011, nine companies have graduated from the SLO HotHouse Incubator. In 2018, CIE hopes to add five more companies to one of our favorite lists: companies who no longer need our help.

The Value of Philosophy in Entrepreneurship 

A photo by Thomas Kelley.

During my three years at Cal Poly, I’ve studied philosophy while working for the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). During my interview for my position at CIE, I was asked about the relevance of studying philosophy for a job centered around entrepreneurship. This question followed me throughout my collegiate career, and I’ve often joked that my internship at CIE helps ease my parents’ concerns over my major choice.

However, despite widespread notions that studying philosophy is impractical or irrelevant to “real-world” careers (e.g. entrepreneurs and engineers), I’ve personally witnessed that studying philosophy is one of the most practical and relevant pursuits available today, especially for those in the startup world.

A rarely publicized fact, those who studied philosophy in college have founded some of the most successful companies around the world. Philosophy majors founded LinkedIn, Paypal, Slack, Whole Foods, Intel, and Wikipedia.

Damon Horowitz, who serves as Google’s in-house philosopher, founded several successful startups before getting a Ph.D in philosophy, calling it the “best decision he ever made.” Major publications like The Atlantic, Forbes, Bloomberg, and The Huffington Post have written about the increasing impact of philosophy majors on the business world, some going as far to say that philosophy is the most practical major available to college students.

It seems that popular perception fails to account for the immense success of philosophers in the startup world. How does a discipline that focuses on the foundational structure of reality and pride itself in abstract thinking produce such great entrepreneurs?

First, philosophy teaches you how to think. And if you can think well, you can create well, lead well and build well. Further, the study of philosophy demands clear and concise writing as well as rigorous analyses of difficult arguments. These attributes translate directly to an entrepreneurs’ skill set, allowing co-founders to parse through the unnecessary fluff and focus on the crucial elements necessary for the success of their startup. It also enables an entrepreneur to quickly and compellingly communicate the vision of their venture.

However, studying philosophy is not simply an exercise in strengthening your critical thinking abilities. Philosophy’s subject matter immerses itself in the questions that entrepreneurs should be and need to be wresting with—namely, the question of what it means to be human.

In ethics, one of the fundamental pillars of philosophy, we’re attempting to answer the question, “How should we live?” And whether or not you’ve spent time contemplating that question, your startup (and its product or service) represents a de facto answer to ethical concerns.

If you have an app that helps friends communicate through short video messages, you’re promoting certain values (i.e., how time should be spent and how we should relate to other people). Similarly, if you have a clothing startup that donates a percentage of your proceeds to developing countries, you, too, are promoting a certain set of ethical norms. Entrepreneurs who are cognizant of which values and lifestyles their companies endorse, either explicitly or implicitly, will create better startups and a better world.

For some, this kind of thinking may sound idealistic and unnecessary. However, choosing to ignore a philosophical approach to your startup does not entail neutrality on these issues. Simply building a profit-accumulation machine ignorant of its impact on the world amounts to an endorsement of a self-centered and egoistic philosophy. From issues like climate change to working conditions in developing nations, this next generation of entrepreneurs cannot afford to produce philosophically lazy businesses.

In a Bloomberg article, “Philosophy is Back in Business,” Dov Seidman wrote, “Philosophy can help us address the (literally) existential challenges the world currently confronts, but only if we take it off the back burner and apply it as a burning platform in business.”

Asking the more existential questions about your startup, while challenging, provides a sturdy foundation from which the future of your company can build upon. Elon Musk summarizes this approach concisely: “Boil things down to their fundamental truths and reason up from there.” By implementing a more holistic approach to entrepreneurship, we will begin to incorporate an analysis of business success that includes human impact alongside profit margins.

What does this mean for entrepreneurs without a philosophy background? If you haven’t read Plato, does that mean your startup is destined for failure? Clearly not; however, taking an ethics course, reading the classic thinkers or even listening to a podcast on the history of philosophy all present great opportunities for personal growth that will inevitably extend to your startup.

As obvious as it sounds, only humans do entrepreneurship. This is because only humans can reason, that is, synthesize abstract information, project outcomes and reflect on past decisions. A discovery from Aristotle, this insight remains just a valuable over 2000 years later. When we reason well, we become better people and consequently, better entrepreneurs. Maybe that philosophy course in college was more practical than you thought.

Get Involved With CIE | SLO HotHouse Incubator


Only a fortunate few find themselves in the SLO HotHouse Incubator program. Having endured countless pitch competitions, check-ins for the Hatchery, and accelerator meetings, the SLO HotHouse Incubator, for many startups, represents the culmination of their CIE experience.

Successful graduates of the SLO HotHouse Accelerator program receive the opportunity to apply for the incubator program, but only the best of the accelerators land a spot in CIE’s most prestigious offering. If accepted, startups have access to 24-months of office space at the SLO HotHouse, mentorship from CIE and the SBDC and an expansive network of Cal Poly alumni who walked the startup path before them.

While the incubator in many ways designates the conclusion of a startup’s journey at Cal Poly, it also serves as the final launching pad before complete independence. Since 2010, 13 companies have graduated from the program, ranging from medical startups to food delivery companies. Though some of these startups continue to build their businesses outside of SLO, their experience within the entrepreneurial community of the SLO HotHouse prepared them for the challenges of the startup world.

With all it represents, the SLO HotHouse Incubator occupies a unique space in the CIE program lineup and in San Luis Obispo County. If we’ve done our jobs right, an incubator company won’t need CIE after their 24-month stint. But while we have them, SLO has access to the most innovative thinkers at Cal Poly—an incubator of talent and tenacity. If after your tenure at Cal Poly you find yourself in the incubator program, you’ll know you did something right.

How a Coffee Cup Could Change the World

Over 500,000 people have watched Alex Henige’s Huffington Post feature, and while social media coverage on a national platform seems like the best possible scenario for a young startup, Henige isn’t interested in becoming the latest internet fad. His company, Reduce. Reuse. Grow., is looking to foster long-lasting change in environmental awareness and action.

 The novelty of this innovation sparked national attention from publications like Forbes, Yahoo and as highlighted, The Huffington Post. But for Henige and his company, awareness is just the first step.

I believe there are smarter ways to consume and Reduce. Reuse. Grow. is helping spark this change, said Henige.

Reduce. Reuse. Grow., now an incubating company at the SLO HotHouse, is also a certified Benefit Corporation (B-Corp). As a B-Corp, Reduce. Reuse. Grow. is tasked with environmental and social responsibility, fostering a company that seeks the common good, both internally and externally.

As the company evolves, it continues to expand this vision—producing environmentally conscious packaging and establishing partnerships with coffee shops across California.

Down the road, Henige hopes to see his products across the U.S. Even further, he hopes to see a new generation of environmentally responsible consumers rising to meet the challenges facing our world.

Learn more about Reduce. Reuse. Grow. at

Calivore is Bringing Homegrown Spirits to California


Aaron Bergh’s relationship with Cal Poly is complicated. As an undergrad, Bergh transformed his dorm room into a distillery, making homegrown spirits in a room hardly spacious enough for the two humans living in it. While University Housing was less than thrilled with Bergh’s version of Learn by Doing, the dividends of his research provided the foundation for his current company, Calivore.

Formally known as Wild Coast Spirits, Calivore is the result of a passion for quality spirits and a desire to bring locally produced liquor to the shelves of California. With the recent surge of interest in craft brews, Calivore is looking to take advantage of a market that values high-quality products produced in the U.S.

“Consumer preferences are changing towards desiring things that are made locally and made craft,” said Bergh. “Our product is set apart from the competition in that it’s made entirely in California.”

Calivore has been involved with several CIE programs, including the Innovation Quest competition and the SLO HotHouse Accelerator program. As for his experience in the SLO HotHouse, Bergh cites the availability of mentorship as the most helpful component towards building his startup.

“The mentors didn’t ask anything of me at all,” said Bergh. “But what they do want is a bottle, of course, when our product is actually made.”

This year Bergh released Calivore’s first batch of a blonde rum, a spiced rum, and their Big Sur Gin.

“Right now, it’s all about finally getting my product out there…seeing how it takes to the marketplace and making any necessary adjustments,” said Bergh.

Though the future is bright for Calivore, remembering the journey that brought Bergh and his team this far provides some perspective.

“If I hadn’t been involved in the CIE,” said Bergh. “I would probably still be making moonshine in my apartment.”

How to Get Involved with CIE | SLO HotHouse Accelerator


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.

Steadfast Innovation: Life After the SLO HotHouse Incubator


Where are we now that Steadfast Innovation has graduated from the SLO HotHouse Incubator program? Well, we haven’t gotten very far location-wise. We moved into an office less that a block from both the old and new HotHouse buildings! In addition to our new space, we have a new name for our handwritten note-taking app for Android and Windows: Squid (formerly Papyrus).

Squid is still our primary focus, and we’ve been very busy making improvements and adding new features. We just recently launched Squid 3.0 for Android, which introduced many new paper backgrounds such as engineering, logarithmic, Cornell, music staff, and sports. We also launched a new subscription model to provide a way for our users to unlock all the premium features of Squid for a low monthly or yearly price. This new business model will help us continue to innovate and provide updates to our users.

We have a lot planned for 2016 to keep us busy. Since we first released Squid for Android in March 2012, we’ve had over 3 million downloads across both Android and Windows. Squid now comes preinstalled on the Nvidia Shield Tablet K1 and we’re currently working with a new partner to provide Squid with all premium features unlocked on their devices. We hope to develop more relationships like these and continue to make Squid the de facto standard for handwritten digital note-taking.

It’s been really great growing here in SLO, especially with Cal Poly providing an excellent source of talented students. We’ve enjoyed working with both engineering and graphic design students and giving them a taste of real world experience they don’t get in their classes.

We’re so grateful to the SLO HotHouse and Cal Poly CIE for their support over the years and for the opportunity to participate in the inaugural SLO HotHouse Summer Accelerator program!

How AppScrolls is Changing Mobile Gaming


If you spend any time on the list of “top grossing” apps in the App Store, you will notice two unusual commonalties among the apps prestigious enough to earn that label: they’re mostly free and they’re mostly games. How is this possible?

Most mobile games earn their profit through in-game purchases, which allow players to progress more rapidly and effectively through levels and virtual accomplishments. Bottom line: if you spend money, you earn a more prominent role in an international community of online gamers.

The challenge for gaming companies, however, is the task of engaging and retaining online mobile gamers. Unless a substantial community forms around a specific game, it will disappear without a trace.

Chad Kihm, founder of AppScrolls, a startup that builds online mobile communities for top grossing games, observed that gaming communities form around gaming guides—a “map” that explains how to progress through the challenges of a particular game. The mobile gaming companies noticed, too, relying heavily on the gamers themselves to produce (for free) fan-based guides that serve both the community and the company. But what happens when those guides never get written?

Kihm realized that he could develop a business model centered on bridging the gap between online gaming communities and the games that produce those communities by creating guides sponsored by the gaming companies themselves. AppScrolls, in effect, establishes a partnership with gaming companies in order to ensure these gaming guides are written and distributed to mobile gamers.

In October of 2014, around 200 members of the Cal Poly community heard Kihm pitch AppScrolls for the first time at the Elevator Pitch Competition. It was unique, it was an untapped market and it was good enough to win him a trip to Florida to compete in the national competition. In Florida, a panel of expert judges and business leaders further validated and inspired Kihm to develop AppScrolls.

This validation continued through a second place finish in Innovation Quest, and a spot in the SLO HotHouse Accelerator program, which ultimately resulted in a transition to the incubator program, where Kihm and AppScrolls currently reside.

“This program is really invaluable because of the professional support we can get for free,” said Kihm. “It’s knowledge that’s really hard to come by otherwise.”

Over the next year, Kihm hopes to land two more gaming companies in AppScrolls’ customer portfolio.

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