Cal Poly San Luis Obispo


A Startup’s Guide to Instagram

So you’ve started your own business and know a thing or two about entrepreneurship, but as far as Instagram goes… you’re a little lost. Luckily, navigating this app doesn’t have to be hard, especially with a simple guide for making your startup social media savvy.  

From Basic to Business

The first action you should take after creating your company’s Instagram is heading to your account settings and turning the profile into a business account. With over 25 million business profiles across the world, Instagram is a place to be for startups getting into the social media game. Plus, with a business account, you now get access to perks like data on your posts, follower insights (hello, targeted content!) and extra space for contact information.

Content Creation

A good rule of thumb for Instagram content is quality over quantity. Instagram is a great platform for posting high-resolution photos and videos that showcase the lifestyle side of your brand, highlight your brand voice, and show behind-the-scenes content. Instagram is where the personal meets the professional with a thematic look and often light-hearted spin. Your content should always be of value to your followers and ignite emotions; this way, you can hopefully gain higher engagement rates to prop you up on the Instagram feed.


Instagram stories have become vital to the platform’s users, so you can’t miss this piece of content creation. Stories can be a great place to direct followers to new posts, to your profile page or toward engaging. You can ask followers to vote on fun polls, take mini-quizzes, send in submissions and more. Plus, you can make your stories stand out with countdown widgets, gifs and text. The key to posting stories is to literally tell a story, get more personal with your audience or get your followers to interact with you.

CIE Tip: Save the important or successful stories as highlights on your profile page so anyone viewing your account later can rewatch them.

Caption Creativity

While your photo or video content is the most important part of catching viewers’ eyes, captions are king when it comes to engaging with your followers. They shouldn’t be too long unless necessary, should grab reader attention, and should entice them to like, comment and share the post. Your copy on both feed and story posts is a great way to show your brand voice, spark emotion in your viewers, teach them something new and ask them questions to gain consumer insight. This way you can create a community and brand loyalty by starting a conversation with your audience.

CIE Tip: Inspire engagement rather than ask for it. If you directly tell followers to tag, like, comment, click, etc. on every post, Instagram’s algorithm may knock you down in others’ feeds.

Stay Posted

Instagram is different from platforms like Twitter, where multiple posts a day are a norm; your average for posting to Instagram should be about once a day. It’s best to first check your follower insights to see when the best posting times are, then create a schedule for posting to get peak views and engagements. Getting into a rhythm of posting will help you in the algorithm as well as let your audience know you are consistent and loyal.


Instagram insights will show you your follower age ranges, gender make-up, general location, and peak online times so you can best cater your content to your followers; plus, this can let you know if you are reaching your target audience with posts and advertisements. Insights can also show you your top posts for multiple categories, metrics for individual posts, story analytics and paid promotion data so that you can constantly improve and refine your content.

CIE Tip: Take track of these analytics over time to see your growth and what is or isn’t working for you on Instagram.

Paid Advertising

On Instagram, there are two main ways to go about paid advertising: promotions or Facebook advertisements. For boosted visibility and engagement on a post on Instagram, you can opt for promoting a post. If you want to gain sign-ups, purchases or external views, you should opt for creating ads via Facebook that can be integrated into Instagram for actual conversions from the post to a landing page. From there, you can dive into specific ad looks and layouts to make your ad stand out.

Keep Learning

There is never an end to the knowledge of social media, but at least you now know the basics to get your startup into the Instagram world. Use this guide to launch your account, but always keep advancing your online presence and social media marketing knowledge as the app itself advances.


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Which On-Campus Resource is the Right One for You

The Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) has countless entrepreneurial outlets for students of all interests and goals on Cal Poly’s campus. Whether you just want to see the innovations of fellow Mustangs or immerse yourself in the startup world, the CIE has just the resource for you.


Entrepreneurship Forum Series

Throughout the school year, the CIE holds forums in the Performing Arts Center Pavilion for anyone interested in innovation, startups and small businesses. The forums are open to students and the public alike to bring the community together to see all that is going on with Cal Poly’s entrepreneurial efforts. At these events, attendees can expect guest speakers, Cal Poly student entrepreneurs, pitch competitions and networking.

Who this is best for: Students interested in entrepreneurship and the CIE.

Cal Poly Entrepreneurs (CPE)

If entrepreneurship sounds daunting, or you don’t have a startup idea of your own but still want to be part of that community, then Cal Poly Entrepreneurs is for you. As the largest interdisciplinary club on Cal Poly’s campus, CPE welcomes students of all backgrounds, ages, majors and interests. The club offers networking, skill-building, resources and more at its weekly meetings and constantly welcomes drop-ins and new members.

Who this is best for: Students looking to meet their entrepreneurial peers and discover how to get involved in the startup world.       

The Hatchery

Oftentimes, students have a great business idea to pursue or want to be part of a startup company. If you fall under this category, the Hatchery program is the perfect way for you to learn the business model canvas, gain entrepreneurial skills, get mentorship and work toward turning an idea into a company—all on your own schedule. With a focus on multidisciplinary teams and hands-on learning, the Hatchery allows for exponential growth in learning and is often a stepping stone to the CIE HotHouse Accelerator program.

Who this is best for: Students with a desire to create and be a part of a startup company.

Innovation Sandbox

Students looking for a workspace to make their product ideas tangible need not look further than the on-campus Innovation Sandbox. The space has prototyping and ideation tools, like a 3D printer, for creativity and innovation to collide. The CIE resource allows students to Learn by Doing and turn their dreams into reality. If you have a business idea that requires prototyping and modeling, the Innovation Sandbox could be your one-stop-shop.

Who this is best for: Students looking for a workspace to create prototypes of innovative product ideas.



The Elevator Pitch Competition (EPC)

When you think you have the next big idea, but you’re not ready to commit to making it happen, the Elevator Pitch Competition is the way to go. Any student is welcome to submit a 90-second elevator pitch of their innovative product or startup idea to our panel of judges, getting them in the running to win the $1,000 prize. The competition does not require tangible business plans or implementation commitments, making it a low-stress and fun way to get involved with the CIE.

Who this is best for: Cal Poly and Cuesta students with innovative ideas and a desire to practice their pitching skills.      

Innovation Quest (iQ)

A little more advanced than the EPC is the Innovation Quest competition, which is for students looking to showcase what they have built, coded, designed or prototyped throughout their efforts at Cal Poly. Participation in iQ gives you the chance to win up to $15,000, so if you have a startup or product in motion and are looking to find investment money, the iQ competition would be great for you and your team. 

Who this is best for: Student teams with a viable startup plan or product creation looking to take their work a step further.

Startup Weekend

With 54 hours to create a startup, this event is perfect for Cal Poly’s ambitious, creative and entrepreneurially-minded students. If you are interested in being part of the startup world, Startup Weekend is your chance to pitch your big idea and build a team to launch it. Culminating in presentations to a panel of judges and investors, Startup Weekend is the best way to meet your peers, elevate your skills and get the opportunity to become an entrepreneur in action.

Who this is best for: Students who want to be part of Cal Poly’s entrepreneurial community and become part of the startup world.

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Where Are They Now? | Boost Acquisition

In 2014, Josh Hirahara, then-senior at California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo, decided to jump into the entrepreneurial world. Within a year, he found himself immersed in his startup idea: a platform to connect for-sale-by-owner vehicle sellers and qualified buyers.

Hirahara began his journey by pitching his idea at Cal Poly Entrepreneurs’ Startup Weekend, later joining the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Hatchery program. Post-graduation, he continued to grow his idea into a functioning company, Boost Acquisition, through the summer-long HotHouse Accelerator program and two-year incubator program. 

“It was my senior year when I was getting into the entrepreneurship stuff, so I was late to the game,” explained Hirahara. “It’s been about five years since graduating and going through that program, but I left the area and my close CIE involvement about two years ago.”

Within those two years, Hirahara moved his business’s base to Salt Lake City, Utah, as well as opened an office in San Diego, California. Although far removed from San Luis Obispo, Hirahara still has connections from his CIE days.

“I’m still close to a lot of the people that I went through the CIE programs with and still keep in touch with people who run the programs,” Hirahara said. “I’m also partnered up with some older Cal Poly alumni and I consider us the founding group when I pitch our company now.”

Not only did Hirahara’s connections from the beginning stages of his career last, but so did the knowledge he gained from the programs.

“I was an industrial technology major, so I had some business background but knew nothing about entrepreneurship coming in,” he said. “It was great being able to go through the successive programs because I was advancing more than I could have by trying to learn everything on my own.”

Hirahara has now gone from learning the basics of the business model canvas to employing over 20 people at Boost Acquisition. His company is currently running market maker technology that connects in-market sellers with potential buyers online and in real-time. 

“We’re growing and it’s a long journey with a lot of pivots,” he expressed. “But it’s awesome seeing people want your product and pay you for it, making enough revenue to grow and hire more employees, and having a clear outlook on your goals for your company.”

While Hirahara and his team put in the work, he attributes the base of his growing company to the support and resources of the CIE, no matter how far he is now from the area it all began.

To read more about Josh Hirahara’s startup, visit

See how you could be the next startup to grow with the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s support at

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5 Reasons Why You Should Cowork

Working from home sounds like a breeze until you get distracted by the TV, try to make conference calls from a bustling coffee shop or feel detached from the social workplace. Luckily, there is a happy medium between being a remote worker and having an office job: coworking. Here are the five reasons why you should make the move into a coworking space.

  1. Boosted Productivity

One thing for certain about working from home is that distractions are everywhere. With a sink full of dishes, pets running around and a new season of your favorite Netflix show all just a few steps away from your desk, it can get hard not to focus on your home life over the work on your computer screen. Utilizing a coworking space lets you leave the distractions behind, devote your attention to your job and better set a routine for work hours, undisrupted by home life. 

  1. Heightened Motivation

Another benefit of the bustle of a coworking space is having fellow remote workers around to give you a sense of community, as well as keep you inspired, social, and motivated. Instead of spending hours in the silence of your own living room, seeing what your peers are achieving will motivate you to keep improving yourself and your business. Nothing compares to the energy of an open office space full of hardworking entrepreneurs, innovators, and remote workers to keep you excited about coming to work every day. 

  1. Community Networking

A major bonus about coworking with a diverse, interdisciplinary group of people is having the ability to build your network. Being able to discuss business or brainstorm with your fellow remote workers and local entrepreneurs can lead to partnerships, project ideas, job opportunities or problem-solving tactics. Every so often you might even find yourself needing someone with skills you don’t excel in; through coworking, you can seek help in your community. Luckily, networking happens consistently in a coworking space.

  1. Professional Growth

Coworking spaces often offer meeting rooms, private phone call spaces, a professional office address and more. Instead of meeting or calling clients at your makeshift home office or a coffee shop, you can utilize designated meeting rooms in your coworking space to relay professionalism. Plus, sending and receiving mail at an office building, rather than your home address, can also create a more business-minded feeling. By giving both you and your clients or customers a heightened sense of professionalism throughout all factors of your business, coworking spaces can lead to growth in your work.

  1. Letting Home Be Home

When you work from home, there’s no longer the idea of “bringing your work home;” instead, work becomes home. On top of feeling isolated in your own business bubble, you can begin to feel trapped in your work as well, constantly pressured to sit down at your desk. By moving your work to a coworking space, you can rediscover the beneficial separation of home and job. Creating a designated workspace with a solid routine will keep you productive at work and more relaxed at home, overall improving your quality of both business and life.

Coworking at The CIE

Fortunately, coworking through the CIE does all of the above and more for San Luis Obispo remote workers, startups and entrepreneurs. With two unique locations, the CIE provides coworking opportunities for everyone. The HotHouse, located in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo, is surrounded by coffee shops and restaurants that are great for casual meetings, client dinners or lunch breaks. Just a few minutes away, at 75 Higuera Street, is the HotHouse Annex, a coworking space featuring a hardware lab that is great for product development, prototyping, early-stage manufacturing and lots more. 

Both coworking spaces are accessible 24/7, allowing you to take advantage of your ideal schedule. Plus, we offer a communal kitchen, meeting and phone rooms, event space, lounge area, in-house workshops, and networking events. Coworking out of these CIE locations gives workers a chance to build their local community, learn skills to better their business and network with entrepreneurs and innovative thinkers of all ages and disciplines. 

To learn more on why you should cowork with the CIE and schedule a tour of our vibrant coworking spaces, visit

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CIE Graduates Keeping it SLOcal: BoltAbout

It all started on a summer day when Matt Maxwell, a Cal Poly sophomore at the time, tested out an electric bike at Avila Beach and immediately fell in love with the newfound mode of transportation. Not long after, with the help of his business partner Tavin Boynton, the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), and the City of San Luis Obispo, BoltAbout was born.

Maxwell and Boynton decided to begin turning their love for electric bikes into a career in April of 2016 by joining the CIE’s on-campus Hatchery program. From there, the team landed themselves a spot in both the HotHouse Accelerator and Incubator programs.

“I learned so much just during that three month period [of the Accelerator] that really helped set a strong foundation to build our business into what it is today,” said Maxwell. “After the accelerator program, we were in the incubator for about a year out of the two years of the program because as our business grew, we needed to get a warehouse and a bigger office.”

Now that BoltAbout has left the CIE nest, the company mainly functions out of its location on Broad Street to work on its various services. 

BoltAbout’s main goal is to reduce the barriers to electric transportation adoption in the community through selling and long-term renting electric bikes. The company offers a popular electric bike subscription program that allows customers to rent their own bike and equipment for $79 per month. 

However, the company also has its focus on two services running underneath it.

One of these services is Agile Defense, a program that BoltAbout started in order to aid the local police force and emergency responders.

“It’s a BoltAbout owned business where we up fit police and emergency responder electric bikes,” Maxwell said of the service. “Hopefully, soon when the new budget cycle starts, we’re going to be upgrading their fleet to our Agile Defender electric bikes.”

As their second endeavor, motivated by the location that sparked their business idea, Maxwell and Boynton acquired the Pedego electric bike store in Avila Beach to share their passion for electric transportation with locals and tourists.

With a range of services, BoltAbout is expected to double or triple its number of bike subscriptions in the next Cal Poly academic year, make more contributions to the city, advance the local workforce community and increase its team of employees with the coming months. 

Even though their big advancements happened after moving out of the HotHouse, the co-founders stress that they couldn’t have done it all without local city and the CIE support.

“When we started BoltAbout, it was crazy. There was always this silent hand that was pushing us in the right direction,” said Boynton, BoltAbout co-founder and Director of Customer Experience. “I think if we were doing this in another region or city it might be hard, so we’ve tried to keep everything here in SLO.”

Not only is the quality of community support high in this Central Coast city for the BoltAbout team, so is the quality of life. 

“Most important to us is the happiness and wellbeing of everyone on our team and there’s no happier place in the world than SLO,” added Maxwell. “We’re grateful to have the opportunity to be here and the CIE made that happen for us.”

Looking to begin your next business venture in the vibrant City of San Luis Obispo? Head to and learn about joining the CIE HotHouse Incubator program today.

To see more about BoltAbout’s services and programs, visit

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CIE Graduates Keeping it SLOcal: Restoration Packaging

Once just a senior project, Restoration Packaging is now a nationally and internationally utilized business. Founded by Alex Henige, Restoration Packaging is a one-for-one sustainable packaging company that produces compostable and recyclable cups, to-go containers, utensils and more for the foodservice industry. 

“Essentially, with each product served we plant a plant at a local restoration site,” Henige explained about the company’s one-for-one sustainability aspect. “We partner with local restoration groups in all the territories that our products are served… to design the most effective restoration programs.”

Through a process called hydroseeding, Restoration Packaging, corporately known as Reduce. Reuse. Grow. Inc., mass-plants seeds to make a strong impact in areas of need. The company also works to increase consumer awareness of local restoration efforts so that they can give back through their everyday purchases.

The company’s successes haven’t happened overnight, though, as Henige went through both the HotHouse Accelerator and Incubator programs, with three years in between his departure from those Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) programs and now.

“The accelerator program was a solid foundation for us, really taking the senior project concept and then transforming that into an actual business model,” said Henige. “And then in the incubator program, we were able to take what we learned from the accelerator and… really implement it.”

While building Restoration Packaging in the HotHouse, Henige was able to use CIE resources and networking to get his products into around 45 shop locations, with local Paso Robles company Spearhead Coffee being his first customer. 

In the three years since leaving the incubator program, the number of shops and restaurants using Restoration Packaging products has now risen to over 800 nationwide. The company is even reaching internationally, now partnering with 7-Eleven Canada to advance its sustainable packaging efforts.

As the company’s reach is expanding, so is its product line. Restoration Packaging currently supplies around 40 different products with hopes of expanding closer to 100 in the following couple of years.

Even with all of the expansions, though, Henige says that the CIE is still a key player in his company’s success, as well as a continual inspiration to him. 

“Many of our mentors that we still talk to on a week-to-week basis are very involved with the CIE,” he explained. “I think it’s pretty neat, being still connected with the CIE [and] seeing new companies come in and ultimately flourish into legitimate businesses a couple of years out.”

Flourishing years after starting in the CIE is exactly what Restoration Packaging has done, all while staying locally rooted. 

“The San Luis Obispo community, I think, is perfect to launch a company, especially one like ours that’s in the environmental space,” Henige boasted of the Central Coast city. “If you have a good idea and you’re solving a problem that is applicable not only in our community but could be implemented throughout the world, people are going to want to help out.”

For that reason, Henige decided to keep his business based here in San Luis Obispo, staying close to the community that helped Restoration Packaging grow into what it is now.

If you’re looking to start a business in the supportive San Luis Obispo community, take a look at our HotHouse Incubator program at

To see more on Restoration Packaging and where you can find its products, head to

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CIE Graduates Keeping it SLOcal: Calwise Spirit Co.

Aaron Bergh went from creating homemade liquor in his early college days to being the youngest distillery owner in the United States.

“I just kept pursuing distilling as a hobby,” said Bergh, the owner of Calwise Spirit Co. “Then I recognized that there was an opportunity to grow this into a business.”

To get his bearings of the startup world, Bergh began getting involved with the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), first by pitching his business idea at Innovation Quest and subsequently landing himself a spot in both the HotHouse Accelerator and Incubator programs. 

“Having the resources, the people and the valuable mentorship from the CIE really… taught me how to make my idea an actual business,” he explained. “It was the stepping stone from being a college student to getting connected into the business community and the business network that there is on the Central Coast.” 

While in the HotHouse, Bergh only sold his spirits through the business-to-business model. Now, a year after graduating from the incubator program, Calwise has its own distillery location in Paso Robles that also functions as a brick-and-mortar liquor tasting room and the Central Coast’s first cocktail bar. 

The company’s products are also available across California in stores like Whole Foods, Albertson’s, Vons and BevMo!, but Bergh hopes to launch his spirits nationwide in the near future. Nonetheless, Bergh notes that Calwise’s roots will always be in the San Luis Obispo area.

“I fell in love with SLO when I came here to go to school at Cal Poly,” Bergh explained. “Apart from it being beautiful, the people here are absolutely great.” 

As Calwise continues to grow, starting a spirit and cocktail club and expanding into new types of spirits, Bergh doesn’t plan to move the company’s base from where it was born and fostered.

“The Central Coast has a large number of innovative business thinkers here and especially in my industry, the alcohol industry… it’s just this melting pot of different minds and different schools of thought,” said Bergh. “It’s not like we’re all competitors even, it’s like we’re a family all helping each other out, which really goes back to the culture of the Central Coast.”

Bergh attributes the ability to start and keep his business in this place he calls home to the CIE’s support that continues even post-incubator program.

To learn how you can start a business in the innovative San Luis Obispo community, check out our HotHouse Incubator program at

To see more about Calwise Spirit Co. and its products, head to

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The Largest Interdisciplinary Club at Cal Poly, Fully Ran by Students | Cal Poly Entrepreneurs

Cal Poly Entrepreneurs (CPE) embodies the ideal of interdisciplinary entrepreneurship. Already heralded as the largest interdisciplinary club, the new leaders of CPE are still consistently working toward further diversification of their membership makeup.

“You need people in liberal arts, people in design, people in engineering, people in business, etcetera,” explained co-president Tal Kornfeld. “Without diversity in background, you can’t really start a successful well-rounded business.”

Sarah Shaffer, co-president alongside Kornfeld, adds to this idea in that the CPE wants to work “to include all genders, all races, all ethnicities, all backgrounds, all majors and all ages to really give everyone an opportunity to be a part of the startup world.”

Since its conception in 2009, under the guidance of the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), CPE has evolved into a multi-faceted community that inspires self-motivation, innovation and tangible entrepreneurship involvement. The leaders of CPE, currently including two co-presidents and an officer board of 12 students, foster the club’s entrepreneurial mindset through weekly meetings, guest speakers, workshops, events, and tours to see successful startups in action.

VP of Tours Jack Pawela is in charge of planning the club’s tours of various company offices to give CPE members an up-close view of what running a startup is like. He explains that he sees this part of the club experience, and CPE as a whole, “as a really amazing way to dip your toes in the water and test [entrepreneurship] out to see if it’s right for you.”

“We recognize that sometimes this club and entrepreneurship, in general, can be a little intimidating and tech-heavy and confusing,” added Sophie Rothenberg, co-vice president of Membership Experience and Recruitment. “We are really just trying to show Cal Poly that anybody with any major is welcome and… we want this to be a warm welcoming experience where you can make friends, build your network and also learn.”

While CPE stands out amongst the club-community on campus for its high level of diversity in disciplines, the club is also special for its functioning as an entirely student-run organization. Kornfeld says that he is grateful for the help that CPE receives from advisors and from the Cal Poly CIE, but he is proud of the club’s internal functioning.

Between his time as a CPE member, CPE co-president, and the CIE Hatchery program participant, Kornfeld says he has learned that one of the key skills for these roles and for entrepreneurship at large is self-motivation.

“[Self-motivation] is one of those things that can’t be taught in the classroom. I think that is definitely one skill you need for either commitment because, at the end of the day, no one is forcing you to do anything,” he says. “You need to take it all into your own hands. Even if you have to make some sacrifices, it will be worth it in the end.”

Self-motivation, diverse networking, tangible experience, and a strong internal and external supportive community are all key components in the entrepreneurial world that can be gained through joining CPE.

To learn more about Cal Poly Entrepreneurs and how to dip your toes in the entrepreneurial world, visit

If you’re looking for ways to take a full dive into your innovative ideas, visit

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From Startups to Corporations to Startups Again | A Faculty Fellow’s Full-Circle Entrepreneurial Career

Life has a way of coming full-circle. Taryn Stanko, a Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Faculty Fellow, spent a portion of her career working for a large corporation, Paramount Pictures, before her involvement with entrepreneurial students and startup companies in San Luis Obispo. However, her career happened to jumpstart in the same realm as her current endeavors.

“When I was an undergrad, I got an internship at a startup doing computer programming and it became a full-time job,” Stanko explained. “I worked there for several years developing customized business solution software, so that’s where I got my first taste of entrepreneurship.”

Even though she left the startup for an established company, Stanko says she never lost her entrepreneurial interests; that’s why she jumped at the chance to be a part of Cal Poly’s entrepreneurship program.

Upon coming to Cal Poly from the University of Oregon, Stanko began teaching courses around business negotiation. Currently, she teaches three separate negotiations courses: one for undergraduate business students, another at the MBA level and a third for entrepreneurship students built-up from scratch by Stanko herself.

It wasn’t until she was approached by a student midway through her first year at Cal Poly that she found the CIE.

“When I was teaching my MBA class, one of my students had taken on a roll in the CIE and he came to me and said ‘Taryn, you have to come run a workshop for these folks,’” she recalled. “I’ll never forget going to the CIE HotHouse and meeting everyone… The energy, enthusiasm, and level of engagement was contagious.”

That’s exactly how Stanko found herself back in the world of startups. After becoming a faculty fellow at the CIE in 2016, she led workshops for students going through the Hatchery and accelerator program, as well as held one-on-one mentoring with startup teams. Stanko also got involved with businesses in the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), a program hosted by CIE, by mentoring and consulting with local startups and small businesses.

Stanko brings an extensive set of knowledge to the table, often utilizing her negotiations teachings within her mentoring of the entrepreneurs. She notes that negotiations are commonplace for entrepreneurs, between internal team negotiations, day-to-day operational negotiations, and negotiations with external stakeholders.

“I believe there’s special pressure on entrepreneurs to be able to negotiate well,” she states. “Your ability to negotiate good deals and partnerships within your team, and every other relationship with external stakeholders, is going to drive your success.”

While Stanko possesses a great deal of insight into this realm of entrepreneurship, she recognizes that everyone within the CIE is full of unique knowledge and skills from all different areas of expertise.

“One of the best things about the CIE and the faculty fellows program… is that it brings people from across campus together. The CIE fosters this interdisciplinary networking, which means you get exposed to opportunities you never would have been otherwise.”

Between her course teachings, mentoring and workshops, Stanko offers three key takeaways for her students and entrepreneurs. First, ask for what you need. Second, never underestimate the necessity of research and planning. Third,  see the importance of fostering valuable relationships.

Where better to put these lessons to work than at the CIE, a program, and community that Stanko says “gives people a chance to learn, grow, flourish and start something new.”

If you are looking to grow your negotiation skills as an entrepreneur, look out for Stanko’s Introduction to Business Negotiation for Entrepreneurs course, typically offered during Spring quarter.

To apply your entrepreneurial skills and innovative mindset toward starting something new, visit  to explore the programs and resources that the CIE offers.

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Skill Center: Introduction to the Marketing Funnel

By Lauren Arendt

People buy products for the first time based on the quality of your marketing more so than for the quality of what you’re selling. While your product or service must wow customers to inspire repeat purchases or word-of-mouth recommendations, your marketing efforts make or break the first-time purchase of most customers.

Marketing should not be random but rather planned out to keep costs low, maximize touch points* and ultimately convert the most leads into customers. The marketing funnel is a model designed to help businesses organize their marketing tactics to best reach their selling goals.  

But first…

Before determining what tactics work best for your business, it is essential to define your target customer* and the messaging you will use to appeal to them. Segment this customer group as much as possible in order to keep marketing costs low and impact high. Try to imagine a single person you will be speaking to through the campaign so you can craft messaging that perfectly suits their needs.


  • I will target all male and female college students that commute to school.


  • My target customer is Kelly, a 20-year-old, female college student who currently rides the bus to school, as she doesn’t have access to a car and lives too far away to walk. She doesn’t like riding the bus, however, because it is oftentimes running late and crowded, causing her to run late. She aspires to be punctual and perform well in school so that she can get good references and grades for graduate school.  

Which of the above target audiences is easier to create an emotional, compelling, high impact message around? The second option offers many more opportunities to hone in messaging for more successful, resonating campaigns.

Designing your Marketing Funnel

Now that you know who you are trying to attract into the funnel and what you want to say to resonate with them, it is time to design the different marketing tactics you will use to get them through the funnel.


The goal of the awareness phase is to identify a need from within the target audience and show how your product or service can fill that need. Customers likely know little to nothing about your company or what you offer at this stage, so it is all about building trust and establishing thought leadership*.

Since these prospective customers don’t know much about your product or service at this time, product-centric advertising won’t do you much good. Rather than focusing on tangible features and capabilities, create value in your brand with educational, need-centric content.

Do you like it when people are always talking about themselves and ignore your thoughts and feelings? Prospective customers don’t either. They will tune out blatant advertisements about what you’re selling. Rather, become a lead magnet by crafting irresistible content that creates value for prospective customers.


  • Free blog, video, Ebooks or worksheets that focus on or assess consumer problems, not your solution
  • Engagement-centric social media advertisements
  • Events (with social media coverage, of course)


The consideration phase is where you introduce your product or service as the solution to the prospective customers’ need or problem. This will help you build trust and develop a relationship with consumers. This still doesn’t mean it is time to get too salesy, however. Providing consumers with useful information is key in helping them learn more about your product and how it can make a difference in their lives.

In the consideration phase, you have learned much more about who your leads are from the awareness phase, so you can send out much more targeted information. If you effectively captured your leads from the awareness phase by collecting email or other contact information or using the Facebook pixel, you can send these targeted messages directly to them.


  • Targeted social media advertisements
  • Education-based email blast
  • Media placements or influencer marketing
  • Free blogs, videos, Ebooks or worksheets that focus on educating the consumer about your product or service’s ability to solve their problems or fill their needs.


Now it’s time to inspire the final purchase. By now, you have helped consumers realize a problem or need they have, educating them on how your product can solve that problem or need, and have a good idea of who your leads are and how to reach them. All that’s left is to give them one last nudge to buy. Not an irritating push, but a nudge. That means avoiding over inundating consumer with sales calls or promotions, but rather presenting offers they can’t refuse.

In the action phase, it’s important to exhibit why consumers should buy your product rather than an alternative route. This doesn’t mean to get lost in talking about specific features, but rather highlighting what makes your product or solution the perfect fit for this prospective consumer.

Special offers or promotions fit in well at this stage to give that last nudge of incentive to buy. Offer free shipping, 10 percent off, or BOGO with a time limit on the purchase to create urgency and excitement around your promotion. This final touch point is all about the final sale, so make it exciting and irresistible.


  • Send out an email series exhibiting your solution’s benefits and offer email subscribers an exclusive offer
  • Retarget leads from the awareness and consideration phase with an exclusive offer through social media advertising
  • Offer a free trial or sample to valuable


After investing time, effort and budget into guiding a lead all the way through the marketing funnel, the last thing you want to do is lose them. If you don’t have a plan for the loyalty phase, you are likely to lose those hard-earned customers to the next big thing.

It is essential for a business to continue providing customers with opportunities to engage with their brand by providing entertaining or informative content that reminds customers why they love what you do. Subscription models are also excellent vessels for keeping customers close.


  • Tutorials on different uses for the purchased product sent via email
  • Re-post user-generated content on social media to make customers feel appreciated and connected
  • Engage in community management on social to maintain relationships and engage customers
  • Integrate a subscription model to keep customers engaged weekly or monthly.


In this new era of digital marketing, an additional stage of the marketing funnel has emerged called the advocacy stage. This is where businesses have the opportunity to leverage the vast networks and connections across the globe created by email, social media, online reviews, forums, blogs and more. Now, when customers buy a product or service, they have the power to create new customers in a few clicks. That’s right: your customers will bring even more new leads into your marketing funnel for you, and more leads mean more chances for sales.

This leverages the power of word-of-mouth, which is regarded as one of the most powerful conversion factors. According to Nielsen, 92% of people trust recommendations from friends and family over any other type of advertising.


  • When customers buy, incentivize them to post on social media or submit an online review with a discount or bonus.
  • Create a referral or ambassador program. The more customers they help you acquire, the more benefits they receive.
  • Regularly post shareable social media content to create opportunities for advocates to engage

Remember, marketing is not random shots in the dark, free or unattached to specific goals. The marketing funnel is a proven model to plan out touchpoints with consumers in a way that focuses on lead generation and relationship building. There are many other models to explore, so long as you have a solid plan backed by customer development and research.

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