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When fourth year electrical engineering major Tessa Luzuriaga was approached by a Cal Poly professor struggling to teach his labs in a virtual format, she set out to create a new and more effective method of online learning.
Together with sixth year computer engineering major Ali Mohammad, sixth year graphic design transfer Michaela Whitcomb-Weston and fourth year electrical engineering major Ruben Curiel, Luzuriaga founded OdinXR, an educational virtual reality company developing a virtual sandbox for science, engineering, technology and math (STEM) students and professors.
“We’re focusing on creating a sandbox experience in which professors can teach a lab however they want,” Luzuriaga said. “Students can go into this lab and conduct any experiment that they need to because we’ve created the digital twins, we’ve created the equipment and we’ve given them a space to do so.”
OdinXR will provide STEM students with hands-on learning opportunities that most online classes lack.
“We were inspired by the Cal Poly ‘Learn by Doing’ mantra,” Whitcomb-Weston said. “Virtual learning today is very theory-based. We want to give students the opportunity to work with their hands and understand the practicality and application behind the theory.”
OdinXR was one of nine startup teams accepted into the 2021 Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Summer Accelerator, an intensive, summer-long program that helps Cal Poly students and recent graduates develop their startup ideas into real, sustainable businesses.
The Summer Accelerator is helping the OdinXR team navigate the startup process, providing them with the knowledge and skills needed to build a successful business.
“When we looked into this program, it was made up of professors and other students and people local to San Luis Obispo,” Mohammad said. “It was a lot easier to trust them, and that was really nice because when we were first starting up, there were a lot of things we didn’t know.”
The resources afforded through the Summer Accelerator have proven valuable to the OdinXR team, the funding helping them to further develop their technology and the workshops helping them to develop their business model. The mentors and guest speakers, however, have proven most valuable, according to Luzuriaga.
“The community we build here, that networking is superb,” she said. “It’s so nice to hear from other people and have the insight of successful entrepreneurs who had a lot of failures before they had that one home-run. Seeing that in front of you and meeting those people is so much better than just hearing about their story online.”
While the Summer Accelerator is centered around entrepreneurship, the program offers participants a chance to grow not only as entrepreneurs, but as professionals. The lessons that Whitcomb-Weston has learned through the program feel relevant to a number of disciplines outside of business and entrepreneurship, she said.
“I don’t necessarily know if entrepreneurship is for me in the future,” Whitcomb-Weston admitted. “But I know that everything I’m learning here, these are skills that are going to help me no matter what, not just in entrepreneurship.”
Their introduction to the intricacies of entrepreneurship has also helped the OdinXR team to gain confidence as entrepreneurs.
“The opposite of fear is competency,” Mohammad said. “Once you have the skills, there’s very little reason to be afraid anymore.”
OdinXR helped Luzuriaga find a passion for entrepreneurship and innovation, and she encourages others with that passion to act on it.
“You’ll never accomplish anything by staying in your own head,” Luzuriaga said. “Start making noise. Be as loud as you can and just do it.”