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Incubator Spotlight: TRIC Robotics

Adam Stager stands on a stage, wearing a blue button-up shirt and blazer and holding a microphone. He stands in front of a projected slideshow which shows the words "$84Bn spent on chemicals to control pests and disease" in white font over a picture of strawberries.

TRIC Robotics is revolutionizing pest control, using ultraviolet light in place of chemical pesticides to help farmers control pests and disease.

“You can think of our solution like a giant Roomba,” said TRIC Robotics founder and CEO Adam Stager. “It’s tractor scale, and it carries these lights up and down the rows to control the pests.”

The idea for TRIC Robotics originated while Stager was pursuing his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at the University of Delaware. While in school, Stager met United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists who had spent ten years researching ultraviolet light as a substitute for chemical pesticides. 

Stager eventually decided to turn the innovation into a business — but although the research that inspired TRIC Robotics originated in Delaware, Stager realized his startup might be more successful in California.

California is largely recognized as the leading contributor to United States agriculture, producing 75% of the nation’s fruits and nuts, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture

California also grows 90% of strawberries in the United States, so in 2021, Stager drove across the country to bring TRIC Robotics to West Coast strawberry farms.  

Once in California, Stager discovered the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Incubator, a two year program designed to help early-stage startups develop into financially stable, scalable businesses. The Incubator provides participating startups with mentorship, networking opportunities and resources that help facilitate smarter, faster growth.

TRIC Robotics officially joined the Incubator in August 2021.

The Incubator helped Stager grow his professional network after coming to California, he said. The program also connected Stager with pitch competitions, as well as mentors who helped prepare him to compete.

In 2022, TRIC Robotics enjoyed a notable winning streak, earning the Audience Choice Award at the Central Coast Innovation Awards, the Central Coast Economic Forecast and AngelCon.

AngelCon is an annual competition, hosted by the Cal Poly CIE Small Business Development Center (SBDC) where tech-driven Central Coast startups compete to win $100,000 in equity backed funding. 

“AngelCon was a great experience for us,” Stager said. “The Incubator really prepared us so that we could get into AngelCon and be really competitive, and once we got there, the mentors really helped us prepare for a round of funding.”

The Incubator program is also associated with Cal Poly, whose College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES) is the international leader in undergraduate agriculture education. Stager said he has leveraged this resource, bringing high-achieving CAFES students onto the TRIC Robotics team.

Stager said participating in the Incubator also introduced him to a community of fellow entrepreneurs, many of which are working in a similar industry. He is able to collaborate and engage with other Incubator participants and learn from their experience. 

“It can be a lonely journey of being an entrepreneur, but being a part of the Incubator not only gives you access to resources, mentors and classes that teach you how to take the next steps in your startup, but it’s also a great forum for communicating with other founders,” he said.

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CIE Graduates Keeping it SLOcal: Motoroso

Founder of Motoroso sitting on the roof of his black pickup truck on the beach.

Alex Littlewood didn’t land in San Luis Obispo by chance nor did he grow his startup here out of sheer convenience — in fact, he strategically chose the Central Coast over San Diego and Silicon Valley to do so. 

When Littlewood began building his startup Motoroso in 2014, he was based out of the Bay Area, a place that many would cite as the entrepreneurial epicenter. Upon getting accepted into the Techstars Accelerator, he moved the company to San Diego but decided to leave a year later in 2017.

Then, instead of returning to Silicon Valley, Littlewood found himself en route to San Luis Obispo.

“The decision to move to San Luis Obispo was primarily because I wanted to live here and wanted to build a company here,” Littlewood said. “It’s a place where people are realizing that one of the best ways to build a robust local economy is by supporting and growing entrepreneurship in the area.”

About six months after the move, he joined the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) HotHouse Incubator to build Motoroso into what is now the first-ever platform for automotive and powersports enthusiasts to seamlessly share, discover and purchase parts for vehicular projects.

“I really, really like what the CIE and SBDC have done [with the program] in bringing everyone from the campus level to the community level all together into a single space where people can collaborate,” he explained. “Having that environment is what really makes entrepreneurship work.”

Now that Motoroso has graduated from the two-year program and officially launched in 2019, though, has Littlewood thought about leaving the area? 

Not a chance.

He said that while so many people get the impression that they should start a company somewhere small then move it to the Bay Area, he “honestly can’t think of a worse decision.” 

“It’s not a conducive place for startups anymore,” Littlewood explained. “There’s less noise in San Luis Obispo with fewer companies, so it’s much harder for startups that are nonsense to hide out in the mess just because they just have the right connections, like in the Bay Area.”

Despite the Central Coast being known for its wine country, beaches and laid-back outdoorsy appeal, Littlewood also sees the professional perks of the area.

“Even though San Luis Obispo is a small startup ecosystem, you have people who are very intelligent and working very hard and they’re all in one central space,” he said. “That makes for a very strong, robust and supportive environment that I personally think is one of the best I’ve ever seen.”

And that’s coming from an entrepreneur who has worked up and down the coast of California, as well as in Detroit and Austin.

Whether it’s due to being in a place that supports his lifestyle, the way the CIE supports his company’s growth or getting the upper hand in growing a business in a non-diluted location, Littlewood makes a good case for why entrepreneurs should not only come to San Luis Obispo, but why they should stay.

If you’re considering keeping it SLOcal with your startup, let us guide you in the right direction. 

Learn more about our startup incubator at https://cie.calpoly.edu/launch/hothouse-incubator/ or the SLO HotHouse coworking experience for established small businesses, growing startups freelancers and remote workers at https://cie.calpoly.edu/coworking/.

Find out more about Motoroso at https://www.motoroso.com/.

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CIE Incubator Company Kick-it Points provides local deals for exploring SLO County

By Dylan Grant

Brett Foreman created a mobile app that offers rewards for being real-world social. CIE Incubator Company Kick-it Points allows users to claim deals from local businesses for engaging in activities exclusive to San Luis Obispo.

Trekking up Bishop Peak, taking a jaunt through Avila Beach or hunkering down to study in Kennedy Library can unlock various rewards and discounts from San Luis Obispo vendors. Users can download the Kick-it Points app for free on the App Store and scroll through an interactive map to find prime deals and activities. After paying a visit to select Kick-it locations, they can then redeem premium discounts from local favorites such as Woodstock’s Pizza, House of Bagels, Frog & Peach and Bull’s Tavern.

While Kick-it Points provides great options for those operating on a budget, the app also offers local businesses a unique opportunity to connect with consumers.

“One of our vendors actually just reached out to me saying that he would like me to move the structure of his deal to a different location in the real world,” Foreman said. “He was actually getting too much traffic.”

Foreman hopes to bring people together by motivating app users to engage with their community. Plans for future development include automating his app to make it easier for business owners to become Kick-it Points merchants. Such advancements could soon spur Kick-it Points rewards in both Santa Barbara and San Francisco.

“Being in the incubator has been a wonderful experience,” Foreman said, comparing the HotHouse to a human Google. “It’s helped my company grow immensely.”

The HotHouse provides the resources and mentorship needed to launch a startup. Join a community of entrepreneurs and apply to be a HotHouse incubator. https://cie.calpoly.edu/launch/hothouse-incubator/

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What’s in the SLO HotHouse: Incubator Program

By: Lauren Arendt

On any given day, the SLO HotHouse crawls with activity and energy. After walking passed the coworking space in the forefront, visitors come to a vibrant plethora of desks, whiteboards, banners, students and community members, or as the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) calls it, the incubator program.

The CIE  SLO HotHouse Incubator is a two-year, full-time program that includes everything needed for early-stage companies to develop into financially stable, high-growth enterprises by providing the tools needed to facilitate smarter, faster growth. Startups from Cal Poly and the community alike are encouraged to apply for the incubator program.

SLO HotHouse Incubator Program Perks

 

Every company in the incubator program receives a mentor and advisory board to help out with the difficult decisions and planning that go into the early stages of development. Whether incubators are confronted with legal struggles, financial challenges or other uncertainties, someone in the SLO HotHouse will be able to guide them through.

Furthermore, startups in the incubator program receive exclusive invitations to various entrepreneurial events in the community. These include pitch nights, forums and networking opportunities only accessible through the network provided by the CIE.

SLO HotHouse Resources

Members of the incubator program also have the vast resources of the SLO HotHouse at their disposal. This includes 24/7 office space located in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo equipped with multiple conference rooms, a full kitchen, and all of the coffee you can drink.

The SLO HotHouse offers more than office space. It serves as a hub for all entrepreneurial activities at Cal Poly and in the San Luis Obispo community. This creates one-of-a-kind networking opportunities for startups in the incubator program. From monthly peer-to-peer roundtable discussions to an invaluable network of fellow entrepreneurs, Cal Poly professors, esteemed alumni, and more.

Entrepreneurs interested in applying for the CIE SLO HotHouse Incubator program can get more information and find the application at https://cie.calpoly.edu/launch/hothouse-incubator/.

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ObserVR is Changing the VR Industry

ObserVR is a virtual reality analytics platform.  The company provides data-driven insights to power truly immersive experiences. ObserVR’s analytics capture behavior, analyze engagement and fuel growth. They analyze consumer data in order to help VR companies improve in-app functions and keep users engaged.

Check out our video blog for the inside scoop on ObserVR. Click below to meet CEO, Lucas Toohey; COO, Justin Cellona and CTO, Jacob Copus; and learn how they are changing the VR industry.

Become a CIE Mentor Today

Here at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), we do a lot of work with teams and companies to help get their venture off the ground. This work includes on-campus programming in The Hatchery, the Summer Accelerator and the two-year Incubator. The cornerstone to all of our programs is mentorship.

We have over 140 mentors working with the CIE who bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to all of our teams and companies. The CIE mentor program includes entrepreneurs from high tech, venture capital, big retail, niche products and more. From San Luis Obispo, Bay Area, Los Angeles and out of state, we have mentors who provide guidance for multiple business types and help young entrepreneurs build, grow and sustain their businesses.

During the past Summer Accelerator, we had over 30 mentors come through the building to host workshops, meet with teams’ one-on-one and lead round table discussions. In addition to this, each of the eight teams had a Lead Mentor who met with them every week as they set milestones, worked through issues and grew their business.

Our amazing mentors make it possible for the CIE to provide a wide range of resources to teams and companies. We are so grateful for all of the time each mentor has given to the program, and look forward to the future!

If you, or someone you know is interested in mentorship, please fill out an application here.