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Summer Accelerator Spotlight: AG Sisters

AG Sisters co-founders (from left to right): Madeline Pollock, Kate Lally, Gabrielle Pollock. Photo by Willa Westneat.

Third-year Cal Poly business administration majors Madeline and Gabrielle Pollock and their childhood friend Kate Lally, a second year at Stonehill College, are inspiring creativity with their startup AG Sisters.

AG Sisters encourages young girls to explore their creativity through crafting with subscription craft boxes as well as both in-person and virtual summer camps. The summer camps, led by Madeline, Gabrielle and Kate, provide attendees with a three-day immersive experience centered around crafting doll accessories.

“We’re teaching [young girls] to use their hands, get creative and make their own doll accessories while having a creative experience and being resourceful,” Madeline said.

Madeline, Gabrielle and Kate grew up playing with American Girl dolls, but it wasn’t until 2013, when they were packing away their dolls for storage, that they realized they had crafted most of their doll accessories themselves. The realization inspired them to found AG Sisters and share their crafting expertise with young girls everywhere.

“I’m always blown away by the fact that we were three 13-year-old girls who thought, ‘Let’s make an American Girl doll summer camp’ [and] somehow figured out how to do it,” Madeline said. “It’s just so cool that we’re able to use our hands and our minds and create something to help others.”

AG Sisters experienced significant growth in 2020 when, with the rise of COVID-19 and the implementation of nationwide shelter-in-place orders, parents turned to their virtual summer camp to keep their daughters entertained during the quarantine. This unanticipated growth inspired the AG Sisters to take their idea to the 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 CIE and the Summer Accelerator program provides the AG Sisters team with valuable resources that are helping them grow their startup. The expert mentorship from CIE staff and industry professionals have been especially helpful, said Gabrielle.

“We love the entrepreneurial opportunities here,” she said. “There’s so much freedom to go where we want to go with our company and so much fantastic support… The most helpful resources have been all of the amazing speakers that have come in. We’ve learned so much from them.”

The Summer Accelerator has not only helped the AG Sisters founders develop their business, but has helped them to grow as entrepreneurs, independent from their startup.

“Sometimes I struggle with making decisions and I want someone to tell me what to do,” Kate said. “To be in an environment where people aren’t necessarily telling us what to do, but guiding us, is helping me learn how to [make decisions] myself,” Kate said.

The Summer Accelerator has provided the AG Sisters team with practical lessons in developing a startup, as well as emphasized the value of entrepreneurship.

“The power of entrepreneurship is your ability to create something out of nothing, and I think that’s really powerful,” Gabrielle said. “It’s going to stick with me the rest of my life, knowing I have the power to change things for myself.”

The AG Sisters team intends to continue growing their business, even after the Summer Accelerator comes to a close. The lessons learned through the program will help them to expand their impact efficiently and effectively.

“We are dreamers and we have so many ideas of ways to grow our business,” Madeline said. “I’m excited about bringing these dreams to life and helping inspire more girls to be creative [and] seeing what the three of us can do together.”

Working and growing together, as a team, is important to the AG Sisters team. 

“I think a lot of people talk about how business relationships shouldn’t be personal and you [need to] keep your space,” Gabrielle said. “It’s the opposite for us. If I wasn’t so close to [Madeline and Kate], we wouldn’t be here.”

The AG Sisters founders rely on each other for support when navigating difficulties in entrepreneurship. Their close relationship, they attested, is integral to their success as a startup.

“One thing that motivates us to keep going when we hit a roadblock or an obstacle is each other,” Kate said. “We discuss problems together and make decisions as a team. Working as a team is really important to our dynamic as a business.”

Gabrielle echoed similar sentiments.

“Obviously the AG Sisters means so much to me as a company, but [Madeline and Kate] mean even more,” Gabrielle said. “When we face obstacles in our company, we all have the same values in what this means to us and we’re going to help each other no matter what.”

To keep up with AG Sisters, visit theagsisters.com or follow them on Instagram @agsisters_official.

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Summer Accelerator Spotlight: OdinXR

OdinXR co-founders (left to right): Ali Mohammad, Tessa Luzuriaga, Michaela Whitcomb-Weston. Photo by Willa Westneat.

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.”

To keep up with OdinXR, check out www.odinxr.com or follow them on Instagram at @odin.xr.

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Summer Accelerator Spotlight: For Mom Care

For Mom co-founders Camila Monchini (left) and Christina Grigorian (right). Photo by Willa Westneat.

Biomedical engineering master’s student Camila Monchini and 2020 biomedical engineering master’s graduate Christina Grigorian are working to improve the postpartum experience for mothers everywhere with For Mom Care. 

“Moms, postpartum, are not getting sufficient care from their doctors,” Monchini explained. “We’re trying to step in, fill that gap and provide them with the medical support that they need.”

The startup was inspired by a maternal health class taught by Sara Della Ripa, a lecturer in the Cal Poly Biomedical Engineering Department and a biomedical engineer in the FemTech industry.

“The topic of women’s health — specifically maternal health — really resonated with us,” Monchini said.

Monchini and Grigorian learned through Della Ripa’s class that despite growing innovation in the FemTech space, there are very few companies focused on maternal health and postpartum care. They founded For Mom with the intention of bridging that gap.

The pair brought their idea to the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Elevator Pitch Competition (EPC), a fast-paced competition where students are given 90 seconds to pitch their startup and innovation ideas, in November of 2020. For Mom was selected as one of the competition’s 10 finalists, but did not win the $1,000 first place prize.

Following the EPC, Monchini and Grigorian applied for Innovation Quest (iQ), an annual business plan and innovation competition also hosted by the CIE. They were not accepted, but their passion for the project encouraged the pair to pursue For Mom despite the loss.

“You should have a passion for what you’re doing because there will be times when you fail and you hear the word no,” Monchini said. “We’ve heard the word no so many times and yet we’re still here, doing our best and moving forward.”

Grigorian graduated from Cal Poly in December of 2020, and with Monchini set to graduate in December of 2021, the pair decided to apply to the CIE Summer Accelerator program as their “last hurrah with Cal Poly,” said Grigorian.

The Summer Accelerator is an intensive, summer-long program that helps Cal Poly students and recent graduates develop their startup ideas into real, sustainable businesses. For Mom was one of the nine teams accepted into the 2021 program. Their acceptance, according to Grigorian, “was literally like a dream come true.”

The resources afforded through the Summer Accelerator program have proven extremely valuable to the For Mom team, not only in the development of their startup, but in their own professional growth.

“I think [the Summer Accelerator] has helped us understand ourselves better as people and helped us identify our strengths and what we can bring to the table,” Monchini said. “Having all of these different mentors, who are very successful entrepreneurs, be there to guide and encourage us is really good for our development as professionals.”

Their involvement with the CIE also allows the For Mom team to connect with other Cal Poly students working to build their own businesses. 

“The other CIE companies are such big inspirations,” Grigorian said. “De Oro Devices is definitely a big inspiration to us in terms of seeing what can be done through the CIE.”

De Oro Devices is a startup founded by 2019 biomedical engineering graduate Sidney Collin. The startup engineered the NexStride, a device created by Collin herself that helps people with Parkinson’s Disease overcome freezing of gait. De Oro Devices participated in a number of CIE programs, including the 2018 Summer Accelerator.

“Seeing some of our peers that we had classes with, like Sidney Collin for example — seeing that she’s a CEO of her own company is such an inspiration,” Monchini said. “Being a woman-led company, that’s huge. We want to follow in their footsteps.”

The CIE is helping Monchini and Grigorian do just that.

“We really want to get our idea out to women and we really want to help them,” Grigorian said. “The CIE is like a channel to accelerate us forward so that we can help all these women.”

Their dedication to the mission of improving maternal and postpartum care motivates the For Mom team to work hard, regardless of the obstacles they face.

“The people that are going to be using our product are moms,” Monchini said. “To hear the stories of how they struggled and of how some of their health issues were completely ignored really fuels us because we know we’re making this space better.”

Monchini and Grigorian are reimagining the maternal health industry and working to make their dreams of accessible, holistic postpartum care into a reality.

“What it means to be an entrepreneur is somebody that is able to defy the odds, believe in themselves more than anyone else and see the vision at the end of the tunnel,” Monchini said. “Most successful companies are built off of a dream, and to be those people that are able to see the dream before it happens is incredible.”

To keep up with For Mom, follow them on Instagram at @formomcare.

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Summer Accelerator Spotlight: FEARLESS Fitness Kids

 

FEARLESS Fitness Kids co-founders (from left to right): Emily O’Neal, Sara Glaser (front), Clayton Pelz (back), Madison Lewandowski. Photo by Willa Westneat.

FEARLESS Fitness Kids, a startup founded by Sara Glaser, Madison Lewandowski, Emily O’Neal and Clayton Pelz, is working to keep children active with immersive video games that require players to work out as they play.

“We all saw that kids were becoming increasingly sedentary and inactive and we noticed that sitting around on the couch playing video games was becoming the new norm,” Pelz said. “We wondered why video games had to lead to such an unhealthy lifestyle.”

The four co-founders felt that they had a “unique skill-set” between the four of them that made them “the perfect team to solve this problem,” said O’Neal.

O’Neal graduated from Cal Poly in 2021 with a degree in computer science and a concentration in interactive entertainment. Prior to her graduation, she worked on a number of virtual reality and motion tracking projects through the Cal Poly Mixed Reality Lab

“I created a choreography piece using motion tracking, and that’s actually how Sara recruited me for this team,” O’Neal explained. “I was already working with and really excited about this technology and felt like it could be perfectly applied to this problem.”

Glaser also graduated from Cal Poly in 2021, but with a degree in business administration and a minor in dance.

Glaser grew up as a dancer, which led to a long-held interest in health and fitness. During her freshman year at Cal Poly, she became further immersed in the fitness world, becoming a certified personal trainer and yoga instructor.

“I really felt a passion for fitness and wanted to utilize that,” Glaser said. “That’s something I bring to the team because we are trying to keep kids healthy… Also, as a business major, I feel like I’ve learned a lot about business development. Business in general is something I’m passionate about and that I really enjoy doing.”

Lewandowski, a business administration senior, said that her passion for FEARLESS Fitness comes from “making kids happy.” She’s worked with children for over seven years, working as a gymnastics coach, dance teacher and party entertainer. 

She also has a YouTube channel where she has “been able to inspire kids” with lifestyle and DIY videos. Her channel has almost 200,000 subscribers and has attracted over 20 million views.

Pelz, a biomedical engineering junior, was initially interested in exploring the intersection between exercise and video games.

“I’ve always liked sports [and] I’ve also been very interested in game development for a long time,” he said. “The opportunity to pull those two interests together is really exciting.”

The FEARLESS Fitness team has been working to build their startup since 2019, when Glaser, Lewandowski and Pelz met at the Cal Poly Entrepreneurs Startup Marathon, a 54-hour long event at which student innovators work through the weekend to develop a startup idea. 

After Startup Marathon, they took their idea to the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Hatchery, an on-campus resource for Cal Poly students seeking the opportunity to build their own company. They also participated in a number of CIE-sponsored competitions, but rarely placed in the top slots.

“There were a lot of losses for us,” Glaser said. “There were a lot of competitions we didn’t win. While that was hard for us, we used that to help us persevere, move forward and learn from our mistakes.”

Then in April of 2021, they brought their idea to the CIE’s annual business plan and prototyping competition, Innovation Quest (iQ). FEARLESS Fitness won first place, and the team was awarded $15,000 in prize money.

“We won Innovation Quest, and in that moment, we were like, ‘Okay, we’re really onto something,’” Glaser said. “‘People believe in us. We need to make this happen.’”

Winning iQ inspired the FEARLESS Fitness team to apply 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 into the program.

The Summer Accelerator will provide the FEARLESS Fitness team with a comprehensive understanding of the startup process through workshops and mentorship. The lessons learned in the program, said Pelz, “feel so applicable in real life.”

FEARLESS Fitness released a beta-test version of their game in February of 2021. 

“It’s already been so cool to see the reactions to something we’ve built together,” O’Neal said. “It’s so cool seeing kids use our product and I’m really looking forward to seeing the impact that we have.”

Pelz issued similar sentiments, stating, “Our biggest revenue is smiles.”

To keep up with FEARLESS Fitness Kids, visit fearlessfitnesskids.com or follow them on Instagram at @fearlessfitnesskids.

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Summer Accelerator Spotlight: Slolar

Slolar co-founders (from left to right): Russell Caletena, Yash Desai, Paul Romano, Fernando Estevez. Photo by Willa Westneat.

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.”

To keep up with Slolar, visit Slolar.com/Slolar-track-clean-save or follow them on Instagram at @slolar.co.

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Coworking Spotlight: HiView Solutions

HiView Solutions team standing in the SLO HotHouse.

For Miles Hischier, coworking with the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) is a vital part in building a remote business in San Luis Obispo.

Hischier is founder and senior partner at HiView Solutions, a Google Cloud consulting partner that helps organizations improve their remote collaboration tools and technologies. Most of his workday is spent in front of his computer, connecting with coworkers and clients over video calls. Coworking at the HotHouse allows Hischier opportunities to connect in-person with other local entrepreneurs and foster a sense of community that his workdays would otherwise lack.

“There’s a lot of good energy from the other community coworkers,” Hischier said. “Everyone is excited to be around colleagues and replicate that feeling of working at a larger company, but really, we’re all working remote.”

The HotHouse and the CIE first caught Hischier’s attention when he moved to San Luis Obispo in 2016, but as a UC Berkeley graduate with no direct ties to Cal Poly, he was unsure if he would be permitted to utilize CIE resources.

One year later, Hischier learned of the CIE’s community coworking program, and he jumped at the chance to get involved.

“When I found out that there’s a community program that accommodates not only coworkers that are working remotely from San Luis Obispo, but also individuals who are starting businesses, I got real excited,” he said.

Hischier was impressed with the resources offered by the HotHouse. Facilities such as the phone rooms and high-speed internet would prove to be valuable assets in building a business based around remote technology.

His decision to start coworking, however, was ultimately propelled by his desire “to be around other like-minded entrepreneurs.”

The HiView team has now worked out of the HotHouse for nearly two years, and Hischier still looks forward to opportunities that will allow him to connect with the other CIE entrepreneurs — especially during the HotHouse Summer Accelerator.

The HotHouse Summer Accelerator program is an intensive 13-week program designed to help Cal Poly students and recent graduates develop their startup ideas into real, sustainable businesses. Participating teams are provided with $10,000 in capital and given access to expert mentorship, tailored workshops and other CIE resources, including a workspace in the HotHouse.

The accelerator brings a unique energy to the HotHouse that, according to Hischier, encourages and inspires the community coworkers.

“Seeing people stay at the office late at night, white-boarding, thinking about what their business could be in five years — that energy is infectious,” Hischier said. “It always gives us lots of fun ideas.”

San Luis Obispo, said Hischier, has proven to be a hotspot for young talent.

“When I first got here in 2016, I remember getting a lot of questions [about] starting a technology company in San Luis Obispo, but now, four plus years later, it’s very commonplace and seems quite obvious,” Hischier said. “Why not live in a fantastic area that has access to a great university that graduates stellar engineering and business talent?”

HiView hires Cal Poly students as interns or part-time workers, sometimes retaining these young professionals as full-time employees after they graduate. 

Kelly Carroll joined the company during her junior year at Cal Poly when she stumbled across an available position for a Sales Development Representative at HiView.

“The position wasn’t quite what I was looking for, [but] their industry and business model caught my interest,” said Carroll.

She submitted her resume, hoping to speak with a representative about other opportunities at HiView. She met with Hischier and his co-founder Narjit Patel for an interview, where she shared samples of her previous marketing and technical writing work. Hischier and Patel then collaborated with Carroll to create a custom position that was best suited to her skillset.

Carroll worked for HiView as a part-time Marketing Coordinator until she graduated from Cal Poly in June of 2020. Following her graduation, she remained with HiView, working part-time as a contractor until February of 2021, when she was promoted to her current position as a full-time Marketing and Customer Success Specialist.

“At HiView, I feel like my career has been jump-started,” Carroll said. “Working alongside my expert team members at HiView, our colleagues at Google and the industry-leading clients we serve, I learn so much every single day.”

Carroll has gained leadership experience in several realms of business throughout her time at HiView, including marketing, account management, user communications and project management. Her most recent project was spearheading the creation of HiView’s new website.

“It’s been great seeing Kelly’s growth from when she first joined as an intern to now, taking on big projects like overhauling our website [and] running a team of web developers and designers,” Hischier said. “They [were] all reporting into Kelly, who’s only a year out of school, but worked for us 10, 15, 20 hours a week for well over a year before she graduated.”

Coworking has helped shape Carroll’s career at HiView. The HotHouse offers an environment that, according to Carroll, invites collaboration and hard work.

“The friendliness and entrepreneurial spirit of the people working within the HotHouse is inspiring,” Carroll said. “It provides a great in-person working environment that is often missed by remote teams.”

Coworking has similarly shaped Hischier’s startup experience, providing a space in which he can work to grow his company.

“I cannot recommend [coworking] enough for a new entrepreneur,” Hischier said. “If you’re starting a business in San Luis Obispo, I would say the first thing you should do — form your company and then join the HotHouse.”

For more information on coworking or to learn how you can cowork with us, visit https://cie.calpoly.edu/coworking/.

Hatchery Spotlight: EVO Athletics

Three former Cal Poly soccer players are turning their passion for fitness into an entrepreneurial endeavor. Fourth year computer science major Michael Bautista has partnered with his friends Zack DiDonato and Rigas Rigopoulos to create EVO Athletics, a startup working to build an iOS application that allows users to explore new ways to achieve their health and fitness goals.

“We had this idea of creating a training facility and an application, and we decided why not try and pursue it as a sort of side project,” said Bautista. “Then one of our members found the Hatchery, and we decided to join and try to pursue it as a startup idea.”

The Hatchery, an on-campus Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) program that helps students develop their innovative ideas into viable startups, has been a valuable asset to the EVO Athletics team. While Bautista and his colleagues entered this project with the technical skills needed to create the EVO Athletics app, building and maintaining a business was entirely new to them. 

I think the Hatchery is a great opportunity for all Cal Poly students,” said Bautista. “We decided to join the Hatchery because we had little to no business knowledge and, being a computer science student, I had very little resources to acquire those business skills. The Hatchery has really helped us in the business side of our company, while I can really focus on the technical side with my degree.”

One undertaking the Hatchery is currently helping the team with is customer acquisition. This means endless strategic interviewing of potential customers to identify the problems they face and innovating solutions for these issues.

Meanwhile, Bautista is developing their iOS application. The app will double as both the first step in the growth of EVO Athletics and Bautista’s senior project. He will be working with a Cal Poly mobile development professor through two quarters to develop the minimum viable product (MVP), or a simplified version of an app that allows a product team to quickly receive user feedback that they can use to improve their product.

“My personal next step for our startup is to get the MVP out, which I’m working on for my senior project,” said Bautista. “In terms of business, our next step would be to pitch to some investors, apply to Innovation Quest and hopefully get into the HotHouse to develop the business.”

Although EVO Athletics is still in its early stages, Bautista hopes that he can one day grow his startup into a nationally-recognized brand.

“I’d say one of our long-term goals is to be one of the top health and fitness apps in the app store and maybe create some sort of partnership with an athletic brand, like Nike or Adidas,” he explained.

For now, though, Bautista and his team are focusing on growing EVO Athletics into a sustainable business — one that Bautista hopes he can fully devote himself to after graduation.

“I definitely want to be able to work on this full time,” he said. “My two passions are technology and fitness, and this is the only thing I’ve found that combines the two.”

To keep up with EVO Athletics and other CIE startups, follow us on social media.  Instagram | Facebook | LinkedIn | Twitter

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Senior Sequence: Experience Building a Startup

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Business Building

Senior projects are a norm across Cal Poly’s campus. These graduation requirements differ between the university’s six colleges and, in the Orfalea College of Business, differ between concentrations.

Within the realm of entrepreneurship, students are able to choose from one of two “senior sequences.” In one sequence, students get to work with a San Luis Obispo-based startup. In the other, students are given the opportunity to experience building their own company.

The latter sequence, referred to as “Experience Building a Startup,” most directly involves engineering students and business students concentrating in entrepreneurship, but students from all six colleges are welcome to take the course with their respective department’s permission.

For engineering students, the three-quarter Learn by Doing project acts in-totality as their senior project and consists of ENGR-463, ENGR-464 and ENGR-465. For non-engineering students, the sequence involves three, four-unit classes, in which one counts as their senior project credit: BUS-488: Building a Startup Skillset, BUS-487: Launching and Growing the Technology Start-Up, and BUS-464: Applied Senior Project Seminar.

“The course is ideal for anyone who thinks they want to start their own venture and want to see what that’s like, and it’s great for people who want to be a product manager,” explained one of the two course professors, Dr. Tom Katona. “The top feedback I get on why students choose this sequence, though, is that they want to take classes with people they haven’t been taking classes with for the last three years.”

The interdisciplinary nature of the course is what makes building a startup possible.

Over the course of the sequence, students form company teams to practice problem-solution tactics, ideation, customer development, competitive research, prototyping and user testing — all accomplished by having a range of skill sets and backgrounds involved. 

And while some students come into the course with an idea for a startup or product, Dr. Katona says there isn’t a guarantee that a whole team will want to work on it, nor is it as simple as having a cool idea.

“I tend to tell students who say they have an idea of what they want to make that I’m far more interested in hearing about the problem that they want to solve,” he said. “Then we’ll let the time in class help them figure out what the right solution to that is.”

While students can continue to build their startups post-graduation, that isn’t always the outcome — but second sequence professor, and CIE Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Dan Weeks says that continuing on with the company students build isn’t the whole point.

“I think 5% of students will continue on with their created companies and 95% we’re teaching an entrepreneurial mindset to,” Weeks explained. “If you go through a 9-month program with all of the detail we offer, no matter where you work after college, you’re going to look at things differently.”

This is exactly the reason mechanical engineering senior George Luebkeman chose this senior project.

“As an ME student, this option sounded like an excellent way to learn the fundamentals of entrepreneurship, which really sets me apart from other applicants for jobs I am applying to,” he said. “Having a Cal Poly engineering education paired with this entrepreneurship experience makes one a prime candidate for small, disruptive tech companies.”

Similarly, electrical engineering senior Russell Caletena says this senior project was one he couldn’t pass up.

“[The course has] taught me to prioritize empathy, creative thinking, and perseverance when working with others for a shared common goal,” he said. “The skills gained, challenges faced, and people I’ve networked with are all valuable experiences I’ll not only cherish, but also apply to my post-grad plans.”

Luebkeman and Caletena are students who plan to utilize their entrepreneurial mindset within already-established organizations in the future — often called “intrapreneurs.”

Business administration senior Kasey Moffitt, however, plans to take the knowledge she learns in this sequence to one day build her own company.

“As an entrepreneur, my ultimate goal is to one day start my own business,” she explained. “My entrepreneurship courses have given me a glimpse into how to start a business, however this course is giving me the hands-on experience that you can’t get from a textbook.”

Regardless of students’ post-grad game plans, this senior sequence provides them with endless experiential knowledge and the ability to mold the course to their needs.

“This is the good and the bad: there’s a lot of ambiguity in the class,” Dr. Katona said. “We can’t tell these innovative students exactly what to do, but we do understand the process by which these things get off the ground and that’s what [Weeks and I] help with.”

And as daunting as it may sound to build a startup versus taking a more typical senior project, course professors and students alike advocate for the course as the ultimate “Learn by Doing” experience with the safety net of school.

“Our whole attitude here is to fail often, but fail early,” Weeks explained. “You don’t know what you don’t know until you do things. That’s what Cal Poly is all about.”

Through this hands-on senior project, Caletena’s biggest takeaways have been to “think bigger,” “be bold” and “explore beyond your comfort zone.”

“For me, senior project means a lot more to me than a grade on paper,” said Caletena. “The sky is not the limit; the limit is whatever you set it to be and I strongly believe that ideas, no matter how small or big, can truly make a difference in people’s lives as long as we continue to pursue them wholeheartedly to bring them to reality.”

Ultimately, that is the essence of this entrepreneurial senior sequence: setting future intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs up for success and apart from others to make a difference in the real world.

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3D Printing for Airplane Pilots in the HotHouse Annex

RAO Ideas Aviation Headset Holders

Ryan O’Toole founded his business RAO Ideas at just 15 years old. While flying in his pilot father’s airplane a few years ago, O’Toole noticed that smaller airplanes weren’t equipped with storage for the expensive headsets needed when flying. That’s when he set out to design and 3D-print a headset holder for his father, who shared the product with others in the flying community. 

RAO Ideas has since developed into a fully functioning business with various headset holder designs available through both their website and the wholesale market. Its current base of operations: the HotHouse Annex.

The HotHouse Annex provides local entrepreneurs, small businesses and remote employees with a professional coworking space that encourages productivity and collaboration. Along with dedicated office spaces, conference rooms and kitchen amenities, the Annex offers coworkers a manufacturing lab fully equipped for product development.

“It’s a great space to induce that workflow,” O’Toole said of the Annex. “Everyone in there has a similar entrepreneurial mindset, and I definitely like that. It gets the brain juices flowing.”

O’Toole, who is currently a freshman at Cal Poly, hadn’t always planned to continue RAO Ideas into college. The 3D printers he uses to create his headset holders, in addition to the packaging materials used to ship his products, wouldn’t exactly fit in his dorm room. But the Annex was the perfect solution.

“I was thinking about seeing if I could get my parents or a friend back home to ship orders for me, but I really couldn’t figure it out,” O’Toole explained. “Then I found the CIE… I reached out and got pointed towards the Annex, found a space here and so far it’s been great.”

The practicality of the Annex is what originally appealed to O’Toole. The Higuera Street location is easily accessible and its manufacturing space allows O’Toole greater creative freedom in how he creates and produces his headset holders. 

It’s the people, however, that have quickly become O’Toole’s favorite aspect of coworking at the Annex.

“Everybody here is super nice, and it’s just a great workspace and environment,” O’Toole said. “I’ve met nothing but amazing, innovative people at the HotHouse.”

The young entrepreneur plans to continue building his business throughout his college years, with hopes to branch out from aviation headset holders and pursue new innovations. Coworking at the Annex is an integral facet of that plan.

“As long as my business is going strong, I’m planning to stay [at the Annex] at least until I’ve graduated from Cal Poly,” O’Toole said. “And maybe even after that. I really don’t know where my business is going to take me next.”

Find out how you can start coworking at one of the CIE’s coworking locations today at https://cie.calpoly.edu/coworking/

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