Why Diversity Matters
Diversity was largely an “untouched subject” on the Cal Poly campus when Zeeshan Khan started as an undergraduate. It was shortly after photographs of a white student in blackface began […]Read More
Four Cal Poly engineers are working to empower residential solar panel owners to take action and accelerate their return on investment with Slolar, a startup founded by electrical engineering graduate Russell Caletena, mechanical engineering graduate Paul Romano, computer engineering graduate Fernando Estevez and computer engineering fifth year Yash Desai. The Slolar team is developing technology that will provide solar panel owners with predictive data analytics pertaining to their solar panel performance.
“Solar panel owners have absolutely no idea the amount of [money] that they’re losing out on each year,” Desai said. “We hope to bridge that gap so that they get the most out of their panels, and also do good for the planet.”
The idea for Slolar originated in September of 2020, when the co-founders met through Experience Building a Startup, a three-quarter senior project course in which business and engineering students can practice problem-solution skills, customer development, prototyping and user testing by building their own business.
The interdisciplinary nature of the course appealed to the Slolar co-founders, who wanted to expand their education beyond the technical skills taught in their engineering courses.
“The reason why I wanted to pursue business and entrepreneurship is because of Cal Poly’s strong programming,” Caletena said. “I realized, as an engineer, I wanted to broaden my scope and develop some soft skills with respect to developing a business — what it means to take a product to market and everything that happens behind the scenes.”
Cal Poly’s Experience Building a Startup course provided the Slolar team with the unique opportunity to explore the crossover between entrepreneurship and engineering.
“As a mechanical engineering student, I really wanted to bridge the gap between engineering and business… and the entrepreneurship senior project was a great way to do that while still focusing on engineering,” Romano said.
Course professors Dan Weeks and Tom Katona encouraged the co-founders to pursue Slolar as not only a senior project, but as a potential startup endeavor.
In April of 2021, the Slolar team brought their idea to Innovation Quest (iQ), an annual business plan and prototyping competition hosted by the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). Although they did not place, the Slolar team did not let the loss discourage them.
They applied to the CIE Summer Accelerator, an intensive, summer-long program that helps Cal Poly students and recent graduates develop their startup ideas into real, sustainable businesses. They were one of the nine teams accepted to the program.
The Summer Accelerator program provides the Slolar team with opportunities to gain practical experience that helps the team of engineers better understand the processes behind entrepreneurship.
“There’s so much support for the entire startup realm,” Desai said. “You don’t normally see that anywhere else. I mean, this is truly the best extension of Learn by Doing, where you actually are getting the support outside of the classroom needed to apply what you’ve learned inside and take it outside.”
The Summer Accelerator provides the Slolar team with an in-depth view into the startup process, but with a team composed entirely of engineers, their process differs from that of a classic entrepreneur.
“We’re very systematic in our approach towards everything — I think a little more than average because of our engineering backgrounds,” Desai said.
Their engineering backgrounds also influence the way in which the Slolar team approaches problems in entrepreneurship.
“All of us are engineers, so we love the idea of problem-solving,” Estevez said. “We like to break down these complex problems that we might face on the daily, break them into smaller, little pieces and tackle them head on. It’s just what we’ve been taught.”