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The 2021 Summer Accelerator Cohort: Where are they now?

It’s been almost nine months since the 2021 Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Summer Accelerator came to an end. During the Accelerator, Cal Poly students and recent graduates spent three months immersed in the startup process, turning their startup ideas into real, scalable businesses.

The program culminated in Demo Day, where the teams showcased their hard work and pitched their companies.

Since Demo Day, our teams have grown as entrepreneurs and industry professionals. Here’s a team-by-team breakdown of what our 2021 Summer Accelerator teams are up to now:


ARTIFEX    For Mom Care    HiLite    Intego Technology    kit & sis    OdinXR

S2 Monitoring Solutions    TractorCloud    Zoetic Motion


ARTIFEX

ARTIFEX co-founder Anna Baytosh (right) and team member Levi Schmitt at AngelCon. Photo by Ruby Wallau. Graphic by Emily Olstad.

ARTIFEX spent their summer creating a custom measuring tool to enable automation in the architecture industry.

Since the Summer Accelerator, ARTIFEX co-founders Elijah Williams and Anna Baytosh have expanded their team. They now have employees assisting with scientific research, technology development, customer development and market development.

According to Baytosh, the ARTIFEX team has been successful establishing their brand in the architecture industry. They are collecting feedback from architects who use their product and using that feedback to improve their innovation.

Baytosh said she also enjoyed “the opportunity to pitch [ARTIFEX’s] progress and talk to the community again” at the Cal Poly CIE Small Business Development Center’s (SBDC) AngelCon competition, held April 21 at SLO Brew Rock.

AngelCon is an annual competition for tech-driven startups on the Central Coast. ARTIFEX was one of the six startups competing for over $100,000 in funding in AngelCon 2022.

Weekly pitch workshops during the Accelerator prepared Baytosh to pitch in competitions like AngelCon, she said.

“The Accelerator helped get us moving and set a foundation for what a really good pitch looks like,” Baytosh said. “Now, being a few months out of the Accelerator and pitching to investors, we know what to say and what not to say.”

 

For Mom Care

For Mom co-founders Christina Grigorian (left) and Camila Monchini (right) at Demo Day. Photo by Joe Johnson. Graphic by Emily Olstad.

The Summer Accelerator helped For Mom Care begin building a postpartum recovery platform to provide mothers with holistic support and ensure they properly heal after birth.

Co-founders Camila Mochini and Christina Grigorian used the program as an opportunity to refine their original idea for For Mom Care, which Monchini described as “a one-stop-shop for postpartum care.”

At the start of the Accelerator, For Mom Care wanted to connect users with physical goods, community, education and a network of medical professionals.

“We had a lot of ambitions, but quickly realized it wasn’t possible to focus on so many aspects at once,” Monchini said.

Monchini and Grigorian, following the advice of their mentors, narrowed their focus to connecting new mothers with postpartum education and a network of postpartum experts.

Monchini said she was excited to showcase her startup’s growth at Demo Day. 

“Pitching at Demo Day was exhilarating and nerve-wracking all wrapped up in one,” Monchini said. “Our eight-minute pitch seemed so long during the practice runs, and yet I felt like our pitch at Demo Day was over in a heartbeat.”

Following Demo Day, For Mom Care was invited to join the CIE Incubator, a two-year program for early-stage companies to develop into financially stable, high-growth enterprises. They are working with the Incubator to refine their business model and create the beta version of the For Mom Care platform, Monchini said.

Monchini said she is applying the lessons she learned during the Accelerator to her current work with For Mom Care.

“I [learned] it is key to surround yourself with people that believe in your team, believe in your mission and will bring positive and constructive energy to the table,” she said.

 

HiLite, formerly PowerMove

HiLite co-founders Sara Glaser (left) and Madison Lewandoski (right) at one of their pop-up classes. Photo courtesy of Madison Lewandowski. Graphic by Emily Olstad.

HiLite entered the Summer Accelerator as FEARLESS Fitness Kids, a startup working to keep children active by creating immersive video games with exercise as their core mechanic.

Over the course of the Accelerator, FEARLESS Fitness Kids rebranded and became PowerMove — and the rebrand was not the startup’s only change. PowerMove began to look at elementary schools as a customer segment, whereas FEARLESS Fitness Kids focused primarily on parents of young children.

Although PowerMove received investor interest at Demo Day, co-founders Sara Glaser and Madison Lewandowski are no longer pursuing the idea. Instead, they are pursuing HiLite.

HiLite — which stands for high-intensity, low-impact training exercise — is a workout methodology that uses patent-pending aerial loops and mini trampolines. It takes inspiration from dance, gymnastics and circus, according to Lewandowski.

“Our whole mission, since the beginning, is trying to make exercise fun,” Lewandowski said. “HiLite is a lot more in line with that.”

The central focus of HiLite is also more in-line with the co-founders’ expertise. Both Glaser and Lewandowski have backgrounds in dance. Glaser is also a certified personal trainer and yoga instructor.

“We’re now running a company where we are experts on the foundation of the company, whereas before, we had to hire other people to execute [our ideas],” Glaser said. “This is very much in our realm, and we feel confident in it.”

 

Intego Technology

Intego Technology co-founders Sam Andrews (left) and Alexandra Joelson (right) during the Summer Accelerator. Photo by Joe Johnson. Graphic by Emily Olstad.

Intego Technology entered the Summer Accelerator as Intego Sports, a startup striving to create the most durable and sustainable footwear on the market with their own patent-pending technology. 

Their mission remained the same throughout the course of the Accelerator, but they rebranded to Intego Technology after pivoting to sell their technology to manufacturers instead of selling directly to consumers.

Co-founders Alexandra Joelson and Samuel Andrews showcased their pivot at Demo Day. Joelson said she felt accomplished presenting her startup’s progress after months of hard work.

“The feeling on that stage was absolute shock that we’ve made it this far,” Joelson said. “The Accelerator supported us and pushed us to be the best entrepreneurs we could be.”

Since Demo Day, Intego Technology has continued to work with their team in Germany — a connection they established through the Accelerator — to manufacture their product and submit international patent filings.

“Our business became viable over the course of the Accelerator,” Andrews said. “We started the Accelerator with a company which wouldn’t have worked in real life. We still have room to grow, but now feel confident that our business can really work.”

 

kit & sis

kit & sis co-founders (from left to right) Madeline Pollock, Gabrielle Pollock and Kate Lally at their Dollie and Me Holiday Tea, held at the Westin St. Francis Hotel. Photo courtesy of Madeline Pollock. Graphic by Emily Olstad.

kit & sis, a subscription craft kit company helping children explore their creativity and imagination through hands-on crafting, used the Summer Accelerator to fully immerse themselves in the startup process.

The startup, known previously as AG Sisters, was founded by Cal Poly business administration majors Madeline and Gabrielle Pollock and their childhood friend Kate Lally.

It was beneficial to work in a “collaborative space” throughout the summer, alongside “other students who are just as passionate about entrepreneurship,” Madeline Pollock said.

Opportunities like Common Rock were also beneficial, Gabrielle Pollock said. Common Rock is a workshop held at the end of each week of the Accelerator where participants exchange advice and discuss what they learned through their own startup experiences.

Since the Summer Accelerator, kit & sis has begun to sell their craft kits through local retailers in San Francisco. They are also continuing to hold crafting events, both in-person and online. 

kit & sis partnered with the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco to hold a “Dollie and Me Holiday Tea” in December of 2021. The event, which included a sit-down tea and crafting activities for children ages four and up, attracted over 200 attendees.

“Being able to work with the Westin and attract the crowd that we did, it was mind-blowing,” Madeline Pollock said. “It was truly fulfilling. We could see our childhood selves sitting out there in the audience.”

The Holiday Tea allowed the kit & sis co-founders an opportunity to see the real-world impact of their startup.

A mother accompanying three young girls to the event told Gabrielle Pollock that she often tells her daughter, “You could be like kit & sis one day. You can start a business with your best friends.”

“I’ve never seen myself as someone that other people look up to,” Gabrielle Pollock said. “Having that moment was really surreal and emotional and amazing.”

kit & sis intends to hold a similar event in December 2022, also at the Westin.

 

OdinXR

OdinXR founder Tessa Luzuriaga (right) during the Summer Accelerator. Photo by Joe Johnson. Graphic by Emily Olstad.

OdinXR entered the Summer Accelerator as a startup creating virtual reality landscapes for engineering students to conduct hands-on labs during online learning.

OdinXR founder and CEO Tessa Luzuriaga said the Accelerator was “a great place to be for engineers who really didn’t know how to build a business.”

Luzuriaga, a Cal Poly engineering student, learned how to turn her innovation into a viable product and successful company.

“It couldn’t have been a better program for us, being a team of only engineers,” she said.

Since the Summer Accelerator, OdinXR has narrowed its focus. The startup is now providing students with disabilities who cannot attend classes on a daily basis with access to engineering labs. Luzuriaga is working with the Cal Poly Disability Resource Center (DRC) to implement its technology in classrooms, running a pilot lab to determine whether it is beneficial to students.

“To be honest, when I first saw our demo, I cried,” Luzuriaga said. “It is a very, very rewarding experience to see something you’ve worked on for almost two years of your life, that just started as an idea — to finally see it happen.”

 

S2 Monitoring Solutions

S2 Monitoring Solutions co-founders Paul Romano, Russell Calentena and Fernando Estevez during the Summer Accelerator. Photo by Joe Johnson. Graphic by Emily Olstad.

S2 Monitoring Solutions spent their time in the Summer Accelerator developing technology to provide residential solar panel owners with analytics on their panels’ performance in order to maximize efficiency.

The startup was founded by a team of recent Cal Poly engineering graduates, Russell Calentena, Paul Romano and Fernando Estevez.

S2 Monitoring Solutions was “constantly changing” throughout the course of the Accelerator, according to Estevez. They entered the Accelerator with the intention of building a robot, but their mentors suggested they focus on software rather than hardware. 

Calentena and Romano began full-time engineering jobs in the weeks leading up to Demo Day, which also led to changes within their startup. 

S2 Monitoring Solutions originally intended for Calentena to present at Demo Day, but due to a scheduling conflict with his full-time position, they made a last-minute decision for Estevez to present instead.

“It was nerve-wracking, but it was a learning experience for me — no matter what, be prepared,” Estevez said. “And I did feel nervous, but I knew the pitch and I didn’t choke.”

While they are no longer working on S2 Monitoring Solutions, each co-founder said they left the Accelerator having learned several valuable lessons.

“My biggest takeaway was this idea of customer obsession,” said Calentena, who now works as a hardware development engineer at Amazon. “Whether it be with S2 Monitoring Solutions or with our respective jobs, it always starts with why we’re doing it.”

 

TractorCloud

TractorCloud co-founders Roxanne Miller (left) and Morgan Swanson (right) during the Summer Accelerator. Photo by Joe Johnson. Graphic by Emily Olstad.

TractorCloud entered the Summer Accelerator on a mission to help farmers maintain their equipment by developing a hardware-software device intended to monitor the predictive maintenance of farm equipment. 

The Summer Accelerator showed TractorCloud co-founder and Cal Poly engineering student Morgan Swanson that an innovative product is not the only aspect of a successful business.

“I’m an engineer, so at the beginning of the Accelerator, I had one engineering problem,” Swanson said. “At the end of the Accelerator, I had 50 business problems.”

Since the Accelerator, Swanson has been working to solve these problems — and he’s been relatively successful.

“Those 50 problems are now down to, like, 12,” he joked.

TractorCloud is currently waiting to receive their hardware prototypes, which are in the process of being shipped to the United States. Once the prototypes arrive, they will be deployed on select farms.

“It’s been over two years since we started the first prototype, so it’s really exciting to finally have something that can be considered a shippable product,” Swanson said.

TractorCloud plans to continue working on the software components of their product, as well as continue to raise funding for the startup.

 

Zoetic Motion

Zoetic Motion team (from left to right) Ivet Avalos, Austin Ma and Zeeshan Khan during the Summer Accelerator. Photo by Joe Johnson. Graphic by Emily Olstad.

Zoetic Motion started the Summer Accelerator as Muscle Ninja, a startup developing wearable injury-prevention technology.

About one month before Demo Day, the startup underwent a massive pivot and began developing a comprehensive physical therapy support platform intended to keep patients engaged and on-track in their recovery.

The Accelerator helped Zoetic Motion navigate this pivot, co-founder Ivet Avalos said.

“Sometimes you need an outside perspective to make sure you’re going down the right path,” Avalos said. “That’s how that transition happened.”

Mentors suggested the Zoetic Motion co-founders improve their original revenue model, which prompted the pivot. The pivot also provided an opportunity for the founders to create a startup that “better aligned with [their] passions and personal interests,” Avalos said.

Zoetic Motion is now continuing to build their startup, working with the CIE Incubator to fast-track their progress. Their current priorities are customer development and product development, according to Avalos.

Avalos works primarily on Zoetic Motion’s business development — a role she would not have predicted for herself when she graduated from Cal Poly in 2021 with a mechanical engineering degree.

“I knew I wanted to do business someday, but I’m an engineer, so I didn’t even know where to start,” Avalos said. “The Accelerator was more than just a start. Now I’m 10 steps ahead and can hit the floor running.”

 


 

It’s now been almost nine months since these nine teams have completed the Summer Accelerator program — but in less than two months, a new cohort will set out on their own startup ventures.

Meet the 2022 Summer Accelerator teams at this year’s May Entrepreneurship Forum, May 16 at 4:30 p.m. in the Cal Poly Performing Arts Center. Tickets are now available.

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Hatchery Spotlight: Nritya

Anvita Vyas has spent most of her life dancing. She found her passion for dance at an early age. Her mother tells her that the “first thing [she] learned to do as a baby” was “moving [her] arms and legs and finding the best way to express [herself],” Vyas said.

Now a business administration sophomore at Cal Poly, Vyas is experienced in several styles of dance, including classical Indian dance, modern dance, hip hop and jazz.

Although Vyas has enjoyed her time as a dancer, her experience has also revealed a disconnect within the industry. Dancers, Vyas said, often struggle to find and connect with choreographers.

“Collaborating and being able to connect with others is not as easy as it seems,” Vyas said. “Having to commute to dance studios or workshops, it’s just not a convenient or feasible option for everyone.”

Vyas hopes to create a new — and easily accessible — place for dancers and choreographers to connect and collaborate with her startup Nritya.

Nritya is a digital platform working to bring together dancers and choreographers and catalyze growth within the dance industry. Vyas said while most dance-based applications are focused on improving skill or recording dances, Nritya is centralized on building community.

Vyas is building Nritya with the help of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Hatchery, an on-campus resource designed to help Cal Poly students develop their startup ideas.

The Hatchery fosters a “very warm and welcoming community” and is able to connect students with entrepreneurs who can provide mentorship and offer advice on the startup process, Vyas said.

Vyas was familiar with Hatchery resources before she began working on Nritya — she also works for the CIE as a student innovation outreach coordinator. Vyas assists with the coordination and communication of student-oriented programs and events at the CIE.

Nritya was inspired in part by the innovation Vyas witnessed during the CIE Summer Accelerator, an intensive, summer-long program where Cal Poly students and recent graduates are given the resources needed to turn their startup ideas into real, scalable businesses.

“I was meeting nine startup teams who were receiving that guidance and going through that development, and that’s really when my eyes were opened,” Vyas said. “I realized I needed to act on my idea, to do what I can to make a difference.”

Vyas is currently working on customer development. She is reaching out to several dance organizations and using social media to connect with dancers who may be interested in Nritya.

She is also working to grow the Nritya startup team and find potential programmers as she graduates from the customer development stage to the prototyping stage.

Vyas said she hopes Nritya will one day become a valuable asset to the dance community.

“Right now, I’m really focusing on making sure [Nritya] can be something meaningful,” she said.

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Hatchery Spotlight: Clear Bin

Thomas Soares was “talking trash” when inspiration struck. 

Soares wasn’t “talking trash” in the traditional sense. He was discussing the recycling industry and learning which materials are and are not recyclable. That is when he had the idea for Clear Bin.

Clear Bin is a mobile application working to reduce contamination rates for curbside recycling across the United States.

Curbside recycling is considered contaminated when a recycling collection contains materials “not accepted into residents’ curbside program” or acceptable materials with “unacceptable amounts of residue,” according to the Recycling Partnership’s 2020 State of Curbside Recycling Report. More than 30 percent of residential recycling is considered contaminated, according to the same report.

One contributing factor to this high contamination rate is residents not knowing which materials are and are not recyclable, Soares said. Clear Bin is attempting to resolve that issue. 

Clear Bin users can take a picture of an item, and the app will inform them whether the material is recyclable or not. It also informs users whether the item is of acceptable quality, and if it needs to be cleaned, dried or otherwise altered before it can be recycled.

Soares, an architectural engineering senior, is working with computer science seniors Ruhi Prasad and Jack Fales, to build the Clear Bin app.

Soares is also working with the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Hatchery, an on-campus resource designed to help Cal Poly students develop their startup ideas. The Hatchery connected Soares to the resources needed for both Clear Bin’s development and his own professional development.

“The Hatchery has definitely given me a lot of confidence to be able to put myself out there,” he said. 

Students do not need any prior business or entrepreneurship experience before joining the Hatchery. The program provides plenty of opportunities for students like Soares, who started Clear Bin with no formal business education or experience, to learn about entrepreneurship in ways that appeal to them.

“The Hatchery has done a great job of making this more about problem solving,” Soares said. “From an engineering perspective, I love the rational, practical thought, and the Hatchery has been able to break down entrepreneurship like this, in a way that I enjoy.”

The Clear Bin team is currently focusing on app development and working towards launching a program. Soares hopes to eventually help communities throughout the United States reduce their waste.

“There is a big divide with the understanding of what is and is not recyclable,” Soares said. “If we’re able to communicate and work with people and haulers and recycling companies across the United States, that’s when I’ll be able to sleep at night.”

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Hatchery Spotlight: Yardy Shoes

Zander Sheffield spent his high school years purchasing shoes at department and wholesale stores, then reselling them online for a profit. He would then use his profits to buy more shoes.

“I was kind of like a shoe hoarder at one point,” he said.

Now a third year industrial technology and packaging major at Cal Poly, Sheffield is using his knowledge of the footwear industry to pursue a new business endeavor and build his own startup, Yardy Shoes.

Yardy Shoes is providing greater longevity for children’s footwear with an extendable shoe system that can be adjusted to several different sizes. It’s a cost-effective solution for the 65% of children who wear ill-fitting shoes, Sheffield said.

Sheffield’s began developing Yardy Shoes in 2020, when he discovered the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Hatchery.

The Hatchery is an on-campus resource designed to help Cal Poly students develop their startup ideas. Sheffield stumbled across the Hatchery while looking through the Cal Poly website during quarantine.

“When COVID first broke out, we all got sent home, and I just didn’t know what to do with my time,” Sheffield said. “I was going through the Cal Poly website and found the Hatchery. I’d always had an idea for a shoe business, so I just thought, ‘Why not?’ and applied.”

The Hatchery introduced Sheffield to the basics of entrepreneurship and provided opportunities to learn and network.

Sheffield also found mentorship through the Hatchery program. CIE director of student innovation programs and Cal Poly Orfalea College of Business lecturer Jose Huitron connects Sheffield to resources that can help grow Yardy Shoes.

Other student entrepreneurs like Alexandra Joelson and Samuel Andrews, co-founders of Intego Technology, a startup creating the most durable and sustainable footwear on the market.

The Intego Technology team began participating in CIE programs in 2019, when Joelson won the CIE Elevator Pitch Competition (EPC). They joined the Hatchery shortly after their win at EPC. 

Now, the Intego Technology team is able to share their experience with new CIE entrepreneurs, like Sheffield.

“They’ve been a big help, especially when I first started out,” Sheffield said. “I had no idea what a patent was, I didn’t know the steps that were needed to make a shoe business. Sam and Alexandra have been a big help mentoring us.”

Sheffield’s team also includes computer science junior Arden Ozdere, general engineering junior Vincent Corella, entrepreneurship sophomore Erin Powers and materials engineering junior Chris Murray.

The startup team is currently working to generate prototype ideas and assess the viability of those ideas. Once their prototypes are completed, they plan to reach out to potential customers — parents whose children can wear the shoes and test the product.

The Yardy Shoes team hopes their product will eventually “change the world in a positive way,” Sheffield said. 

Shoes put, on average, 30 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to Sheffield. Yardy Shoe’s extendible shoe will reduce the overall number of shoes needed, and therefore reduce carbon output.

“Long term, I just want to create something that’s good for the world,” Sheffield said.

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Hatchery Spotlight: Hedron Design

John Shaw’s interest in 3D-printing began when he got his first car.

Shaw drove a Nissan Altima, a model of car with a rubber strip that commonly loosens and disconnects from its place on the underside of the vehicle. The same problem happened to Shaw’s car, but when he approached a mechanic looking to repair the piece, he was told the auto repair shop did not keep those parts in-stock.

Shaw decided to literally create his own solution to the problem, and 3D-print a replacement part. The project was simple and successful and helped Shaw realize 3D-printing could help streamline engineering and manufacturing industries. 

Now a fifth-year aerospace engineering student at Cal Poly, Shaw is working to improve the capabilities of 3D-printing in order to accelerate innovation within the manufacturing industry.

Shaw is founder of Hedron Design, a startup digitizing the supply chain to transform manufacturing into a platform. This is accomplished “by integrating quality control, automation and things like distribution in enterprise resource planning into [manufacturer’s] workflow,” Shaw said.

Shaw later brought the startup to the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Hatchery, an on-campus resource designed to help Cal Poly students develop their startup ideas.

The Hatchery provided Shaw with an introduction into entrepreneurship — a very different discipline than engineering. 

“Being an engineer, everything is about the solution, and there’s usually only one set way to do things, and you’re expected to find a complete answer at the end,” Shaw said. “But with entrepreneurship, you can take so many different avenues and approaches to solving a problem.”

Shaw is also working alongside Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) student Adam Heymann to build Hedron Design.

The Hatchery connected Shaw and Heymann with mentors who can help them navigate the startup process. CIE director of student innovation programs and Cal Poly Orfalea College of Business lecturer Jose Huitron has been a valuable resource, Shaw said.

Huitron advises the Hedron Design team and “not only helps bounce ideas around, but validates that we’re doing the right things at the right time,” Shaw said.

Shaw said he hopes Hedron Design can create a greener manufacturing industry. Traditional manufacturing methods require large machines which cut down a base material into the shape of the part. 3D-printing, meanwhile, begins with fine materials which are built upon until the part is created, so “there is significantly less waste material,” according to Shaw.

Hedron Design has the potential to increase access to 3D-printing, creating a greener manufacturing space.

“The benefits of 3D-printing are not only economically awesome, but also benefit the environment,” Shaw said. “I want to see the future of manufacturing being greener, and I think what we’re doing with Hedron Design can genuinely help with that.”

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Searching for Success in a Male-Dominated Field: The Challenges Faced by the New Generation of Female Entrepreneurs

Female representation within the entrepreneurship industry is steadily growing. The number of women-owned businesses is increasing faster than the number of businesses overall, according to Forbes Business. Despite this trend, however, the space is still male-dominated, with only 36% of small businesses owned by women worldwide

New female entrepreneurs encounter challenges that generally do not exist for their male counterparts. Women — especially young women — don’t align with the traditional image of an entrepreneur. This puts them at a disadvantage when meeting with investors and other industry professionals.

Roxanne Miller is one of three co-founders of TractorCloud, a startup developing a hardware-software solution that will help operations managers monitor the predictive maintenance of their vehicles. The startup is still in its early stages, and Miller and her co-founders, both male, are frequently meeting with potential venture capital investors (VCs). 

Miller found that her co-founders are able to effortlessly connect with VCs, 81% of which are male according to Forbes Business.

“Because VCs tend to be white males, my co-founders can identify with them,” Miller said. “They have a lot of similar interests and experiences. For me, it’s more of a balancing game. I have to think about how I’m presenting myself, and it takes a little bit more effort to figure out how to connect with them.”

Roxanne Miller and her co-founder, Morgan Swanson.

VCs are proven more likely to invest in male-led startups. White males control 93% of venture capital dollars, according to Forbes Business, and only 2% of raised VC backing went to female-founded startups in 2017, according to Entrepreneur Magazine.

For Miller, TractorCloud’s male co-founders can act as allies, and are sometimes able to mitigate this issue.

“My male colleagues can support me, give me the floor when it’s my turn to talk and show potential investors that I’m trusted with our business,” she explained. 

But for female-founded businesses, Miller said, “figuring out how to connect with those male VCs on a level that makes them excited about investing in your company can sometimes be a roadblock.”

Christina Grigorian and Camila Monchini, founders of women-led startup For Mom Care, struggle to not only connect with potential investors, but convince VCs that their mission is worthwhile.

For Mom Care is building a postpartum recovery platform that provides holistic support to ensure mothers properly heal after birth. Since founding the company in April of 2021, Monchini and Grigorian found that most cis-gendered males are unaware of the physical and mental toll of childbirth. 

“Our biggest fear going into this was how we were going to convince a bunch of men that [postpartum care] is really important,” Grigorian said. “It’s an issue that they won’t 100% understand. They’re not women, and because there’s a stigma around not being okay after giving birth, their wives likely haven’t spoken about it.”

Grigorian and Monchini must prove to potential investors that problems exist within the postpartum space before they can showcase their startup as a viable solution. The For Mom Care startup pitch is very problem-centric compared to other early-stage startup pitches.

“If you compare our pitch to other startup teams’ pitches, they talk about their problems for one or two slides,” Grigorian said. “We have six or seven slides on our problem.”

Another challenge when pitching to investors, said Grigorian, is establishing credibility. 

Grigorian and Monchini are both biomedical engineers, but because they are not mothers, VCs and other industry professionals often question why they are interested in postpartum care. Grigorian, who has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in biomedical engineering, believes her credibility is brought into question because of the deep-rooted gender bias in both the entrepreneurship and healthcare industries.

“Women in the healthcare space are not taken seriously,” Grigorian said. “I 100% believe that if there was a man standing behind us on stage, no one would question what makes us credible.”

Graphic by Rachel Weeks

And Grigorian’s belief is not unfounded. A recent study conducted by the Harvard Business Review found that investors prefer startup pitches presented by male entrepreneurs over those presented by female entrepreneurs — even when the content of those pitches is exactly the same.

When pitching their startup, Grigorian and Monchini go out of their way to establish their credibility and stress that they have both the passion and the skills to bring For Mom Care to fruition.

“At the beginning of our pitch, we say we’re the two biomedical engineers so [investors] know we’re not just two random girls standing up there,” Grigorian said. “Saying ‘engineer’ gives you a certain amount of credibility.” 

Tessa Luzuriaga, co-founder and CEO of OdinXR, faces similar challenges. OdinXR is a startup developing a virtual reality where engineering students and professors can conduct hands-on experiments during online learning. Luzuriaga, an electrical engineering student, founded the company after watching her professors struggle to adapt lab classes to an online format during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was her passion for engineering that inspired Luzuriaga to found OdinXR, but people often assume that her interest is rooted in the educational aspects, not the technological components, of the company.

“People assume I don’t know anything about computers, when in reality, I’m doing this because I’m an engineer and I know VR hardware to an obsessive amount,” Luzuriaga said. “I’m constantly validating myself. I have to work that much harder to prove that people should be listening to me.”

Tessa Luzuriaga and her co-founder, Ali Mohammad.

Luzuriaga feels that because she is a woman in a male-dominated industry, people expect less of her and hold her to lower standards than they do her male counterparts.

“Sometimes it feels like there’s more positivity than I deserve, and I’ll very candidly say, ‘No, you should not be applauding this right now,’” she admitted. 

When meeting with industry professionals alongside her male co-founder and all-male team of engineers, Luzuriaga works to “not make gender a thing,” and instead “walks into the room with the same confidence that any one of [her] male peers would.”

She hopes that, as female representation in entrepreneurship increases, gender will no longer be an influential factor in the success of an entrepreneur.

“My biggest hope is that when a woman walks into the room, the initial thought isn’t ‘Oh cool, another woman entrepreneur,’” she said. “It’s ‘Oh sweet, there’s another entrepreneur.’”

Camila Monchini of For Mom Care echoed similar sentiments.

“It would be amazing if in the future, when we think of an entrepreneur, there isn’t necessarily a gender assigned to it,” she said. 

More women entering the entrepreneurship space today leads to a more diverse industry tomorrow, and diverse representation makes the space feel more accessible to people of all backgrounds. Monchini hopes that these changes will inspire younger generations and encourage more young women to embark on their own startup endeavours. 

“It’s absolutely incredible to see so many women getting into the [entrepreneurship] space,” she said. “For younger girls, it’s really cool for them to have role models and know they can one day get into the space and pursue their passions.”

For Mom Care, along with OdinXR and TractorCloud, is one of nine participating teams in the 2021 Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Summer Accelerator, an intensive, summer-long program where Cal Poly students and recent graduates are given the resources needed to turn their startup ideas into real, scalable businesses. 

Demographics within the Summer Accelerator reflect the worldwide trend of increased female representation in entrepreneurship. Over half of the co-founders (59%) in the 2021 cohort are women, compared to the previous year, when women made up less than one third (27%) of the entire cohort. 

“It’s really inspiring being constantly surrounded by strong, amazing women who are dealing with the exact same work relation problems as me,” said Luzuriaga. “It’s so nice to have another woman’s shoulder to lean on, especially when I have nothing but guys on my team.”

CIE staff are hopeful that this trend will continue, and more women will get involved with the Summer Accelerator as well as other CIE programming. 

Many CIE programs, including the Summer Accelerator, match students with mentors who can help them to navigate the startup process. These mentors are often CIE alumni and often male. Increased female representation across CIE programs, however, will eventually lead to more female mentors, with current students hoping to become mentors for the next generation of entrepreneurs.

“It’s so exciting to see the flywheel in motion,” said CIE Senior Director of Development Cory Karpin, who often works with CIE mentors and alumni. “In the early days of the CIE, the percentage of female entrepreneurs was far lower than it is today, but each year, the number grows. Those trailblazers in the early days of the CIE inspired other female founders and so on and so forth. Here we are today with more than half of our Summer Accelerator startups founded by women.”

The growth of female representation in the entrepreneurship space is a slow process, but a valuable one — and one that Grigorian believes is key to successful entrepreneurship.

“There’s no way to solve problems that women have without the involvement of female entrepreneurs — and that includes female entrepreneurs of color and of different backgrounds, ethnicities and religions,” Grigorian said. “People of different orientations have such different worldviews and can offer such different perspectives on how to solve a problem.”

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Summer Accelerator Spotlight: ARTIFEX

ARTIFEX co-founders (left to right): Anna Baytosh and Elijah Williams. Photo by Willa Westneat.

Elijah Williams and Anna Baytosh are reimagining the architectural process with their startup ARTIFEX

“The tools that architects use to draw existing buildings are very outdated and don’t represent the technological innovations that have happened in parallel sectors, such as construction, mining and trucking,” Williams said. “All different sorts of technology fields have progressed long past the tools that are used in architecture.”

Williams and Baytosh are introducing similar technology to the architecture sector through easy-to-use, direct workflow integration hardware.

Their first product, the AFX-10, “directly replaces the tools that [architects] already use, so there are no extra steps,” Baytosh said. “No technician needs to come in and teach them how to use it.”

Williams graduated from the Cal Poly College of Architecture and Environmental Design (CAED) in 2020 with an undergraduate degree, then again in 2021 with his master’s degree. 

The idea for ARTIFEX originated during his master’s research. He analyzed the use of Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) scanners, which use light in the form of a pulsed laser to collect measurements. ARTIFEX is now applying this technology to the architectural space, increasing its affordability and accessibility.

Williams took the idea for ARTIFEX to the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Hatchery, an on-campus incubator that connects Cal Poly students with the resources needed for a startup to succeed, where he met Baytosh.

Baytosh graduated from Chico State in 2018 with a degree in journalism with an emphasis in public relations. Following her graduation, she worked in New York at an investor relations firm before returning to California to earn her Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) from Cal Poly

“I really love the process of creating a company by building a business model around passionately representing the solution to an industry-specific problem,” Baytosh said. 

She reached out to CIE Director of Student Innovation Programs, Jose Huitron, who connected her with Williams.

“Elijah needed a business context for his in-depth research, and I wanted to do something entrepreneurial, but didn’t have an idea to work with,” Baytosh said. 

ARTIFEX competed in Innovation Quest (iQ), an annual business plan and prototyping competition hosted by the CIE, in April of 2021. They won the second-place prize of $10,000.

Following their success at iQ, the team joined the CIE Summer Accelerator, an intensive, summer-long program that helps Cal Poly students and recent graduates turn their startup ideas into real, viable business ventures. 

ARTIFEX was one of nine startup teams, and the only remote team, accepted into the Summer Accelerator. 

The Summer Accelerator connects participating teams with mentors who share their expertise and experience. This mentorship is proving valuable to the ARTIFEX team, providing Williams and Baytosh with insight into both the startup industry and the architecture industry.

“The people who they pair us with are so experienced and share such a vast array of knowledge,” Baytosh said. “They were not only deeply involved in their respective industries, but were entrepreneurial within those sectors, which takes extra courage, collaboration and teamwork.”

ARTIFEX is also working with their mentors to prepare for Demo Day, the culmination of the Summer Accelerator program where the teams showcase what they have accomplished throughout the summer and pitch their startup plans. Their mentors are helping the ARTIFEX team fine-tune their business plan and pitch deck before Demo Day on September 14.

Working with their mentors is “good practice” for pitching to investors, according to Baytosh.

“These 13 weeks are just one big practice session for the real deal,” she said.

To keep up with ARTIFEX, visit artifex.tools  or catch them at Demo Day on Sept. 14.

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Summer Accelerator Spotlight: TractorCloud

TractorCloud team. Left to right, back: Jin Huang, Morgan Swanson, Kyle Kesler. Left to right, front: Takumi Arai, Harrison Whitaker, Roxanne Miller. Photo by Willa Westneat.

Morgan Swanson, Harrison Whitaker and Roxanne Miller are helping farmers manage their equipment with greater ease and efficiency. Their startup TractorCloud is developing a hardware-software solution that will help operations managers monitor predictive maintenance of their vehicles. 

The idea for TractorCloud originated when Swanson, who will be graduating from Cal Poly in 2022 with a B.S. in computer engineering and an M.S. in computer science, learned that there was a widespread problem in the agricultural community, with farmers not knowing how to repair their own equipment.

“As an engineer, I thought there had to be a technological solution to this problem, and I worked really hard to find that solution,” said Swanson, TractorCloud’s CEO. “Eventually, I found a bunch of other problems that farmers were having with their equipment and I got really attached to the idea of helping farmers manage their equipment better.”

Swanson never expected to become involved in entrepreneurship prior to TractorCloud.

“I never wanted to be an entrepreneur,” he admitted. “It wasn’t until I realized that I would have to start a company in order to achieve my goals, that I realized I would have to learn these skills of entrepreneurship.”

Entrepreneurship was also an unexpected choice for Miller, who graduated from Cal Poly in 2021 with a B.S. in animal science and an M.S. in computer science. Her computer science education, however, taught her the value of product development, which prepared her for her current role as TractorCloud’s head of product.

“Through my computer science education, I realized that I really value being able to build something that I care about,” she said. “Being able to connect with customers and deliver them something that is going to change their lives ended up meaning a lot to me.”

Whitaker, on the other hand, grew up around entrepreneurship.

“You could say it runs in the family,” he said. “My dad and my mom both started their own businesses and were very successful in their fields. That certainly gave me the confidence [to pursue entrepreneurship], seeing them go through their own processes.”

Whitaker graduated from Cal Poly in 2021 with a degree in industrial technology and packaging. He is now COO of TractorCloud and also helps manage the startup’s marketing and finances.

The three co-founders recruited 2021 liberal arts and engineering studies graduate Takumi Arai and 2021 electrical engineering graduates Jin Huang and Kyle Kesler to develop their product.

The TractorCloud team is now working with the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) to further develop their startup. They were one of nine startup teams chosen to participate in 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.

“We saw [the Summer Accelerator] as a great opportunity to elevate our product to the level that it needed to be,” Whitaker said. “We have a great team behind us, but part of developing a hardware solution is having the funding and getting the mentorship necessary to take it from an idea to a scalable solution that delivers value for the customers.”

The Summer Accelerator exemplifies the Cal Poly ‘Learn by Doing’ motto, providing teams with practical experience and applicable knowledge of the startup process.

“It’s been amazing going to [Summer Accelerator] sessions and learning something, and then we’re applying it tomorrow,” Miller said. “That’s helping me learn and grow much faster than just reading a book.”

The TractorCloud team is finding value in the relationships they’ve formed through the Summer Accelerator. The program creates countless networking opportunities for the team and connects them with mentors who can help guide them through the obstacles inherent in the startup process.

“Being able to stand there every week, face to face with someone who’s done this before, is extremely valuable,” Swanson said. “There’s immeasurable value that you can get from the right people at the right time, and the CIE has been instrumental in forming those connections.”

Participating in the Summer Accelerator is not only helping TractorCloud develop as a startup, but helping each team member grow as an entrepreneur. The program allows the team to explore the ins and outs of the entrepreneurial world, and that exploration has cemented their passion for entrepreneurship.

“Entrepreneurship, for me, is the quickest path to causing big change in the world,” Swanson said. “I want to influence the future of what we do as humans, and entrepreneurship seems like one potential and really powerful way of doing that.”

To keep up with TractorCloud, visit tractorcloud.io, follow them on Instagram at @tractorcloud or catch them at Demo Day on Sept. 14. 

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Summer Accelerator Spotlight: Intego Technology

Intego Technology co-founders Samuel Andrews (left) and Alexandra Joelson (right). Photo by Willa Westneat.

Third year business administration major Alexandra Joelson and third year environmental management and protection major Samuel Andrews are on a mission to create the most durable and sustainable footwear on the market with their startup Intego Technology, formerly Intego Sports.

“Shoes don’t last as long as people really want them to, and the core problem is delamination, which is the separation of the upper and the sole of the shoe,” Joelson explained.

Intego Technology is looking to solve this issue with their patent-pending manufacturing process that will increase a shoe’s lifetime threefold.

The idea for Intego Technology originated when Joelson was in high school. Years of playing soccer showed her firsthand the quick deterioration of athletic footwear. 

Her initial solution to the problem was a product she called the Cleat Guard, a silicone-like mold that adhered to the bottom of a cleat to prevent the studs on the bottom from wearing down. Joelson pitched the idea for the Cleat Guard at the 2019 Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Elevator Pitch Competition, a fast-paced competition where students are given 90 seconds to pitch their innovation and startup ideas. She won the first place prize of $1,000.

“The judges asked me what I was going to do with the money [and suggested] I should start a company,” Joelson said. 

She acted on their advice and began forming a team. She recruited Andrews, and together, they took Intego Technology to Startup Marathon, a 54-hour long event hosted by the Cal Poly Entrepreneurs at which student innovators work through the weekend to develop a startup idea. The Intego team won the first place prize of $750 with an idea for shoes with interchangeable soles.

“I had no idea that I was going to be involved in entrepreneurship at all in college,” Andrews said. “Then I joined Alexandra’s team for Startup Marathon, and from there, we kept building and growing, and I really grew to love it and decided this was something I wanted to carry through.”

Intego Technology pivoted a number of times since Startup Marathon. The CIE Summer Accelerator program is helping the team navigate their most recent pivot, which will allow them to focus on licensing footwear technology as opposed to operating as a sporting goods company.

The CIE Summer Accelerator is an intensive, summer-long program that helps Cal Poly students and recent graduates develop their startup ideas into real, sustainable businesses. The Intego team first applied to the program in 2020 under an earlier version of their startup idea, but was not accepted. They spent the following year working on and improving their business and reapplied in 2021.

“After pivots, focusing on our business model and ensuring that we developed our product and our technology, we knew that we had a more developed business,” Andrews said. “We really wanted to grow over the summer, so [the Summer Accelerator] was the perfect opportunity. We reapplied and we were accepted.”

The resources afforded by the Summer Accelerator are proving valuable to the growth of Intego Technology. The mentors that the Intego Technology team are meeting and the relationships formed through their involvement with the CIE are especially beneficial, according to Andrews.

“Some of the mentors that we’ve had access to through the CIE have been absolutely incredible and massively influential to our business,” he said. “Having them as a resource and having their advice has made our business process better overall.”

The Summer Accelerator also creates an “immersive environment” that allows the Intego Technology team to surround themselves with “a bunch of like-minded individuals and entrepreneurs,” said Joelson. The fast-paced, collaborative environment fuels creativity and inspires hard work and innovation.

The Intego Technology team developed their technology, confirmed the manufacturability of their product and filed a utility patent. Now just a few months out from having their patent published, both Joelson and Andrews are looking forward to having a manufactured prototype to share with consumers.

“A great part of entrepreneurship is solving a problem and being able to make an impact,” Joelson said. “We’re trying to solve a big problem right now, and it’s fascinating to be able to talk to consumers and see how your solution can really impact their lives.”

To keep up with Intego Technology, visit www.integosports.com, follow them on Instagram @integosports or catch them at Demo Day on Sept. 14.

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Summer Accelerator Spotlight: Zoetic Running

Zoetic Running co-founders Zeeshan Khan (left) and Ivet Avalos (right). Photo by Willa Westneat.

Recent mechanical engineering graduate Ivet Avalos and computer science master’s student Zeeshan Khan are helping runners move pain-free with their startup Zoetic Running.

“We’re trying to figure out how runners’ muscles are acting and reacting when they put pressure on their body [and] if there are any certain actions that cause pain or injury,” Khan explained. “Our solution will show [runners] how they can improve their form, improve their pain and run injury-free.”

The idea originated when Avalos and Khan took Experience Building a Startup, a Cal Poly senior project course in which business and engineering students spend three academic quarters building their own startup. Avalos and Khan, along with three other classmates, wanted to use the class as an opportunity to explore the pain points of runners.

“We interviewed a lot of runners and found how much of an issue injury was and how much [injured runners] hated being taken away from running,” Avalos said. “We started looking into the physiology and the causes of injury. We wanted to be able to provide people with a solution to minimize injuries.”

That solution came in the form of wearable injury-prevention technology.

The Zoetic Running team took their idea to the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) in April of 2021. They applied to Innovation Quest (iQ), an annual business plan and innovation competition hosted by the CIE, but were not accepted.

“After we got rejected from Innovation Quest, we were super disheartened, but we couldn’t give up,” Khan said. “We still had to finish our senior project. But as we started making progress, our passion for the project increased.”

Then, the Zoetic Running team learned of the CIE Summer Accelerator, an intensive, summer-long program that helps Cal Poly students and recent graduates turn their startup ideas into real, sustainable businesses.

“When we saw the application for the Accelerator program, it was just something that fit, and we were really excited,” Khan said.

He and Avalos applied to the program and were one of nine startup teams accepted.

The Summer Accelerator program connects participating startups with industry experts who provide mentorship and guidance. This mentorship is proving extremely valuable to the Zoetic Running team — as are the other teams involved in the program.

“Everything is a learning opportunity,” Khan said. “Sometimes you’re able to see how other people are working in their startups and learn what they’re doing right or what they’re doing wrong, then apply that same logic towards your startup.”

The Summer Accelerator also provides participating teams with a workspace in the CIE office known as the SLO HotHouse, located in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo. The HotHouse is filled with high energy throughout the summer, with startup teams using their provided office space to brainstorm, work and collaborate. 

The HotHouse, according to Avalos, is filled with “people who are really passionate and excited, so it’s a fun environment to be in.” 

Working out of the HotHouse also gives the Zoetic Running team easy access to CIE resources, which helps them grow their startup quickly and efficiently.

“We’re able to make mistakes in a confined space with the resources we need to move forward with our project,” Khan said. 

Zoetic Running is still in its early stages, working on research and development and interviewing prospective customers. Avalos and Khan are looking forward to developing their startup idea into a full-fledged business. Both are eager to create a viable product for consumers and help runners move pain-free.

“I’m really excited to get people using our products,” Avalos said. “I’m excited to see if [consumers] actually like what we came up with and how they interact [with our product]. I’m really excited to get to that stage.”

To keep up with Zoetic Running, follow them on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/company/zoeticruns or catch them at Demo Day on Sept. 14.

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