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Category: Accelerator

Empowering everyday developers: Cal Poly graduate revolutionizes machine learning accessibility

From a young age, liberal arts and engineering graduate Avi Peltz has been intrigued by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). AI involves computer systems attempting to model and apply human-like intelligence, while ML, a branch of AI, focuses on using data and algorithms to replicate human learning.

“Machine learning was this shiny, cool new thing that seemed really powerful,” Peltz said. “I have always been curious about it.” 

Growing up in tech-savvy Berkeley, Peltz watched many demonstrations of computer vision models that could identify objects and images. He described it as “astounding.” He saw developers bringing “incredible” creations to life and aspired to be a part of that. 

Peltz has always been technically minded, he said. Throughout high school, he built different websites and computer games. He also worked on various robotic and ML projects. This quickly taught him how ineffective pre-existing tools were that are intended to help perform basic tasks. 

After growing irritated with the complexity of ML tools, he sought to create a solution. That is when he began building his startup, TensorMaker.

TensorMaker is a platform that makes building ML applications fast, easy and accessible to everyday developers.

“A lot of the impetus of wanting to build TensorMaker was my own frustrating process during ML projects and not having very helpful tools,” Peltz said. “I wanted to create a better user experience.” 

TensorMaker aims to streamline the ML pipeline — a series of steps including the development, deployment and monitoring of an ML model. TensorMaker guides users through this pipeline without needing any prior ML experience.

“Most people trying to build these types of tools are focusing on enterprise ML teams and making them more productive,” Peltz explained. “We’re focusing on everyday developers.” 

By making his technology accessible, Peltz is enabling technology companies in domains ranging from agriculture, manufacturing and life sciences to take advantage of the power of ML while still maintaining their focus on the core competency of their business.

After working on TensorMaker throughout college, he decided to compete in the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Innovation Quest (iQ)

Innovation Quest is a competition that encourages student entrepreneurs to pursue their innovative ideas and help with the funding and resources needed to launch their ventures. 

TensorMaker was one of 14 finalists to pitch their startup at iQ 2023. Although he did not win the competition, iQ allowed him to develop more answers about his business, talk to potential users and do customer research, Peltz said. 

Following Innovation Quest, Peltz applied for the CIE Summer Accelerator. The Summer Accelerator is a program for Cal Poly students and recent alumni that provides them with mentorship, weekly workshops and $10,000 in seed funding. 

TensorMaker was one of the eight teams accepted to the program. 

“We received our first customer through the CIE community and without being here, we probably would not have had that relationship,” Peltz explained.

The CIE provided Peltz with not only the business language that he wasn’t initially confident in but also mentors who continue to lead him in the right direction, he said.

“Being in a space with people who are motivated to work on exciting projects motivates you to work even more,” Peltz said.

Over the course of the Summer Accelerator, TensorMaker worked on releasing its initial prototype. Peltz is eager to make his technology accessible to everyday developers and to explore the potential impacts of TensorMaker on a broader scale. 

“Whether it’s making agriculture more efficient and measured or being able to identify tumors in radiology scans, there are so many applications that can use these ML techniques and improve human well-being on the planet,” Peltz said.

TensorMaker, along with the rest of the 2023 Summer Accelerator cohort, will pitch their startup and showcase their progress at Demo Day on Sept. 8 at 4 p.m. at SLO Brew Rock. Tickets are available here.

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Cal Poly graduate from Hawaii combats plastic pollution with an affordable zero-waste marketplace

Within the four walls of his childhood home in Hawaii, economics graduate Aidan Riehl embarked on an entrepreneurial journey, which is contributing to an environmental shift towards sustainability.

Sophomore year of college, Riehl wanted to create a business with a positive impact on the environment and society. However, he did not know what to address first. 

One day, as Riehl walked along the beaches of his hometown, he realized the problem was right in front of his face. The issue he dealt with daily was the alarming amount of plastic pollution around him. 

Growing up in Oahu, Hawaii, Riehl said he witnessed the effects of plastic pollution his whole life. Determined to make a difference, Riehl set his sights on tackling this issue and promoting a zero-waste lifestyle.

Riehl’s epiphany led him to ask the question, why don’t people shop sustainably or plastic-free? The answer became clear to him — the prices are too expensive. 

That is when the idea for Riehl’s startup, Ecoternatives, formed. 

Ecoternatives is an online marketplace that sells sustainable and plastic-free products at more affordable prices. 

As a one-man team, Riehl took time off from school, stayed in Hawaii and operated his business from his room. He bought $3,000 worth of products and shipped packages by himself. 

“I bought dressers from Craigslist and shoved soaps and lip balms in them,” Riehl said. “My mom would walk into my room and smell all the flora and sweet scents and think ‘This is not what a teenage boy’s room should smell like.’” 

Ecoternatives started growing through word-of-mouth recommendations, Riehl said. Then, he started sharing his website through social media channels and reached out to zero-waste nonprofits to help promote his business.

Over time, Ecoternatives evolved into not only a basic e-commerce store but also a community, Riehl said. 

“I’ve created such a cohort of people who are so passionate about this problem, who are very like-minded and who believe sustainability is too expensive,” Riehl explained. 

Riehl said Ecoternatives is different from other zero-waste stores because of his commitment to sourcing products. Unlike other zero-waste stores, Riehl does not settle for pre-vetted options. 

To find products for Ecoternatives, Riehl said he takes days researching the most affordable and sustainable options. He ensures that the product and its company follow strict social and environmental guidelines; for instance, energy-efficient sourcing, supply chain transparency and ethical labor practices. Finally, he tests the different products to see how they compare.

After working on Ecoternatives for two-and-a-half years, Riehl applied for the Cal Poly Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CIE) Summer Accelerator. The Summer Accelerator is a program for Cal Poly students that provides them with mentorship, $10,000 in funding and other resources to help build their business. 

Ecoternatives was one of the eight teams accepted to the program. 

Riehl described the Summer Accelerator as an “amazing opportunity.” He appreciates the ability to speak with experts in different industries who help him better understand the parts of his business, he said. 

“The CIE has helped me grow Ecoternatives by connecting me with the right people at the right moments,” Riehl said. 

Ecoternatives is currently running a fulfillment center in Texas that ships orders to the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. He has made $110,000 in sales with nine months of active business. Ecoternatives is also donating a portion of its profits to other zero-waste nonprofits with each order. 

Looking forward, Riehl wants to create his own sustainable products to sell on Ecoternatives for an even lower cost. 

Riehl aims to extend Ecoternatives beyond commerce. He wants to organize beach cleanups and educational workshops for kids on how the consumption of goods can affect the environment. 

“Working on Ecoternatives made me more optimistic about sustainability because I’ve learned all the positive things my business can do,” Riehl said. “I’m very excited to expand our overall environmental and societal impact and show people that we can make sustainability more affordable.”

Ecoternatives, along with the rest of the 2023 Summer Accelerator cohort, will pitch their startup and showcase their progress at Demo Day on Sept. 8 at 4 p.m. at SLO Brew Rock. Tickets are available here.

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Turning waste into sustainable solutions: Cal Poly seniors repurpose food scraps into protein-rich chicken feed

As material engineering senior William Burns was passing time watching Youtube videos, he stumbled across one in particular that caught his attention. Burns watched as the man in the video threw his kitchen scraps into a bucket, and out crawled protein-rich bugs that he used to feed his chickens.  

“I thought that it was the coolest idea – waste in and food out,” Burns said. “How can I make this into something larger?”

About one third of all food is thrown away, where it rots in landfills and produces methane which is very harmful to the environment, according to Burns. 

The YouTube video he watched inspired him to solve that problem. 

That is how his startup ENTEIN came to life. ENTEIN is utilizing food waste to grow insects as an affordable animal feed protein supplement. 

At ENTEIN, Burns and his co-founder Cameron Yartz, a mechanical engineering senior, are repurposing wasted food through insects. Over 15 days, larvae eat the wasted food. Then, Burns and Yartz harvest the larvae and turn them into highly nutritious and protein-rich animal feed, they explained. 

Burns met Yartz through their Introduction to Entrepreneurship (BUS 310) class and Customer Development (BUS 313) class. Although separate classes, their courses were conducted together. Over the course, they developed ENTEIN. 

Burns and Yartz are both passionate about keeping the environment healthy and sustainable. 

“Environmental damage is a problem that everyone will have to deal with at some point,” Yartz said. “It is not going to be one solution that solves this problem once and for all for everybody. It’s about making environmental choices in every area.” 

Burns grew up in Northern Oregon where there has been a lot of clear-cutting, deforestation and pollution in the waterways, he said. 

“I think moving forward, for our country and the world, we need to focus on sustainability or there won’t be anything left for our future generations,” Burns said. 

The co-founders want to become more environmentally friendly by producing a product that reduces the amount of waste stream in landfills which harms the environment. 

Feeling confident in ENTEIN, Burns pitched their idea at the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s (CIE) Innovation Quest (iQ)

iQ is a competition that helps entrepreneurs develop their ideas into scalable companies by providing them with the necessary resources and funding. 

ENTEIN competed and won the Environmental Impact Award, receiving $5,000 in prize money. The Environmental Impact Award is awarded to the team whose innovation focuses on environmentalism and sustainability. 

Winning the environmental award validated the fact that their product is truly helpful for the environment, Burns explained. 

iQ propelled Burns and Yartz to apply for the CIE Summer Accelerator, a 13-week program that provides entrepreneurs with $10,000 in funding, mentorship and other resources to launch a company. 

ENTEIN was one of the eight teams accepted into the program. 

As a mechanical engineering major, Yartz said he felt intimidated to join the Summer Accelerator because he thought he would not have business skills to offer his team. However, he soon realized that many people in the program are not business majors. Yartz’s advisors also quickly helped him understand the business world and language, he said. 

“It’s been a joy to get involved in something outside of my comfort zone,” Yartz explained. “I feel like every time I sit down for a presentation or a lecture, I come away with immense knowledge.” 

Burns said he appreciates the CIE for providing them with resources and mentors that are willing to help with different aspects of their business including finances and marketing. 

“Any part of our business that we are having a little bit of trouble with, there is always someone to ask,” Burns said.  

By the end of the Summer Accelerator, Burns and Yartz hope to sell their product at local stores so that it can get into the hands of people who want to contribute to a more sustainable future. 

“The animal feed industry is one area that could use some change, and we believe that our solution is going to help improve environmental choices and make them accessible to all sorts of people,” Yartz said. 

ENTEIN, along with the rest of the 2023 Summer Accelerator cohort, will pitch their startup and showcase their progress at Demo Day, on Sept. 8 at 4 p.m. at SLO Brew Rock. Tickets are available here.

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Cal Poly startup streamlines the event-planning process for the vendor and the customer

At 15 years old, computer science senior Luis Guzman was offered a unique opportunity to work in a party rental company for his uncle. From there, he used the money he earned to create his own mechanical bull rental business. 

Although hard work, Guzman enjoyed running his own company. He was so passionate about it that he encouraged his friend and now co-founder, Maricela Carrillo, to start her own business as well.

Carrillo, a mechanical engineering senior, took Guzman’s advice and created a photo booth rental company. After three months, her business took off. 

“As I started to take on more clients, I saw first-hand how messy communication with them could get,” Carrillo said. “Being a small business vendor, there was no way for me to upscale.”

Coincidentally, Guzman approached Carrillo with the same issues. Their businesses were spreading solely through word of mouth, it was hard to establish a customer base and the resources needed to grow their business were expensive. This made expanding very difficult, they said. 

Despite desperate attempts to find a solution to their rental business problems, they came out empty-handed. So, Guzman and Carrillo created their own answer, PlanForMí

PlanForMí is a startup that leverages artificial intelligence (AI) to simplify the event-planning process by easily connecting local vendors and customers. 

Their startup is tackling two big issues in the event-planning world: small vendors’ inability to grow because of limited ways to promote their company and customers struggling to find reliable vendors while staying within their budget.

Guzman and Carrillo have spoken to various planners, directors, and coordinators of events to gain insights into their event-planning process. They all mentioned how difficult it is to find vendors because there is no singular platform that compiles various vendors together.

PlanForMí streamlines the search for vendors, allowing customers to easily read reviews and compare options that are in their price range. It also provides a platform for vendors to scale their business by putting them in touch with new clients. 

What makes Guzman and Carrillo uniquely able to run their startup is their own experience in the event planning industry, they explained. 

“We’re not coming from a business background, we’re coming from our own personal vendor experience,” Carrillo said. 

Guzman started developing the idea for their startup in his Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurial Senior Design Project course (ENGR 465) class. He then joined the Cal Poly Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (CIE) Hatchery, an incubator program that gives students hands-on experience launching a company and mentorship to develop their entrepreneurial skills. 

Guzman said the Hatchery provided him with many resources as well as introduced him to the CIE Innovation Quest (iQ). iQ encourages entrepreneurs to pursue their innovative ideas and helps with the funding needed to launch their business.  

Guzman and Carrillo participated in iQ 2023. Although they did not win, Guzman described it as a “great experience.” 

“It was the first time we were getting feedback on our business model and on our target audience. It really helped us grow this idea,” Guzman said. 

Determined to apply their feedback and continue developing their idea, Guzman and Carrillo applied to the CIE Summer Accelerator, a 13-week program that gives entrepreneurs $10,000 in funding and other resources to help build their business. 

PlanForMí was one of the eight teams accepted to the program.

“The CIE has really helped solidify what direction our business model needs to take in order to thrive,” Guzman said. 

As an engineering major, Carrillo said that the CIE has helped her gain a better understanding of the business world. Just six weeks into the program, she said she has already grown “exponentially fast.” 

Through the Summer Accelerator, Guzman and Carrillo want to continue their customer development and eventually expand across California. 

The co-founders are excited to build a community between customers and vendors and make planning events just as enjoyable as the events themselves. 

“It’s more than just an event planning industry. It is a community where event planners and vendors can depend on each other and at the very end, we’re helping each other’s businesses grow,” Guzman said. 

PlanForMí, along with the rest of the 2023 Summer Accelerator cohort, will pitch their startup and showcase their progress at Demo Day, on Sept. 8 at 4 p.m. at SLO Brew Rock. Tickets are available here.

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Cal Poly startup aims to promote a safer drinking culture

With a unique motivation to enable a safer and healthier drinking culture, industrial engineering graduate Owen Works, biomedical engineering graduate who is now pursuing his Master’s of Science (MS) in Biomedical Engineering Camden Ford and psychology senior Aynsley Ramsaur are joining forces to address irresponsible binge drinking. 

Their startup, DrinkWise, is developing a non-invasive, one-time-use SmartPatch that uses chemical sensing based on sweat to measure and estimate Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) levels. Their SmartPatch continuously monitors BAC over time which allows users to simply look at their arm and track their level of intoxication. 

Works first had the idea for DrinkWise while taking Innovation and Entrepreneurship Through Disruptive Technologies (BUS 408), where he learned about Smart Tattoos. 

Smart Tattoos are sensing interfaces that users place on their skin to help monitor different health metrics. 

Works was preparing to attend an upcoming music festival at the time which is considered a high-risk setting for high levels of alcohol consumption, according to the National Library of Medicine

“I had this idea: What if my friends and I had something we could put on our arm that monitored our alcohol levels?” he said. “It would help keep us safer.” 

Works decided to pitch his idea at the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Elevator Pitch Competition (EPC). EPC is a competition where students pitch startup ideas for a chance to win cash prizes. 

Works’ pitch for DrinkWise won the competition’s top prize of $1,000. That moment felt like validation for his idea and pushed him to pursue it more seriously, Works said. 

Not only did the EPC fuel Works’s desire to pursue DrinkWise, his understanding of alcohol abuse did too. While Works was in high school, his father suffered from alcoholism.  

“Having grown up around that, I was always a lot more conscientious of my own alcohol intake and habits,” Works said.

Fortunately, Works’s father is in recovery, but alcohol abuse is still a prevalent issue in the United States. Over 29 million people ages 12 and older had Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in the past year, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Works believes a product like DrinkWise can enable people to track their alcohol use and help them make better decisions. 

Ford got involved with DrinkWise after it was promoted in his Biomedical Engineering Design (BMED 455) class, where he instantly became intrigued. 

“I’m a college student — we are all college students, and we definitely have seen what alcohol can do to people,” Ford said.

He thought the idea was relevant and wanted to help bring it to life. 

During Ford’s time in college and involvement in Greek Life, he said he has witnessed irresponsible use of alcohol.

This problem isn’t exclusive to Cal Poly. About 1 in 4 college students report academic consequences from drinking, including missing and falling behind in class, doing poorly on exams or papers and receiving lower grades overall, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

College students’ alcohol use can lead to detrimental effects. In fact, 1,519 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries each year, also according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Ford said he wants to “inspire” college students to better manage their alcohol consumption and reduce heavy drinking. 

Ramsaur became interested in DrinkWise after watching Works’ pitch at EPC. Ramsaur and Works later met in their Customer Development (BUS 313) class. She realized the potential of DrinkWise and joined the team as a co-founder. 

Ramsaur recognized the safety concerns that DrinkWise addresses, especially as a young woman. 

“If you’re walking home or getting in an Uber, knowing that you are drunker than you feel is really important,” Ramsaur said. “It’s important to be conscious of your body and how your body reacts to certain things.”

Women are at a greater health and safety risk when consuming alcohol than men, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

The same study suggests that women are more likely than men to experience hangovers and alcohol-induced blackouts.

Ramsaur quickly saw how DrinkWise could help herself and other women become safer and healthier. 

In April of 2023, DrinkWise participated in Innovation Quest (iQ), a competition hosted by the CIE that encourages entrepreneurs to pursue their innovative ideas and a chance to win up to $30,000 in cash prizes. 

DrinkWise was one of 14 finalists to pitch their startup at iQ 2023. Although they did not win the competition, iQ allowed the co-founders to look at all the different aspects of their business and create an initial framework, Works said. 

Following iQ, the DrinkWise co-founders decided to apply to the CIE Summer Accelerator, a 13-week program that provides entrepreneurs with the resources to launch a real, scalable company. They were one of eight teams accepted to the program. 

“We’re all committed for a summer, get funding and we get all these crazy good mentors,” Works said. “There wasn’t anything I could think of that I would rather have done this summer.” 

Ramsaur and Ford expressed their gratitude towards the Summer Accelerator’s various resources and the opportunity to receive guidance from knowledgeable mentors.

“It has been the most amazing program I’ve ever been a part of,” Ramsaur said. 

By the end of the Summer Accelerator, the co-founders hope to finalize an accurate, usable and testable prototype. They are excited to save lives by promoting healthier drinking, they said. 

“We want to foster a culture where people have healthier habits and still have fun, but responsibly,” Works said.

DrinkWise, along with the rest of the 2023 Summer Accelerator cohort, will pitch their startup and showcase their progress at Demo Day, on Sept. 8 at 4 p.m. at SLO Brew Rock. Tickets are available here.

 

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Cal Poly seniors combat illness with a healthy beverage

Getting sick in college can seem inevitable. When students are living in close-quarters, sharing classroom spaces and constantly socializing with new people, germs are bound to spread. 

Eighty-one percent of Cal Poly students will experience sickness at least once in a three-month span, according to business administration senior Matthew Reis. In fact, catching a sickness is so common at Cal Poly that students coined a term for the epidemic: the Poly Plague. 

As a student and fraternity member at Cal Poly, Reis was in the midst of the college social scene. He experienced the anguish of the Poly Plague time and time again. 

“I was very sick all the time just from normal college activities,” he said. “I was getting tonsillitis and a lot of inflammation. My second year, I contracted mono.” 

Reis felt extremely frustrated with his persistent sickness and his inability to find a reliable cure. As a result, he took matters into his own hands and sought a solution. 

Through some research, Reis came across a recipe for a pineapple tea that worked as a natural remedy for a cough and cold. After making the drink for himself, he noticed his respiratory symptoms decreasing quickly. He compared his results to over-the-counter (OTC) medicine, for instance, NyQuil, and realized how much more rejuvenated he felt. 

Reis learned that OTC medicine simply suppresses one’s symptoms so people can sleep better, but does not truly contribute to a speedy recovery. Fortunately, because pineapples are packed with vitamins and minerals, they significantly support immunity. 

Soon enough, Reis’s friends noticed the pineapple tea fighting his stubborn sickness and winning. They urged him to make the beverage for themselves so that they could also avoid dreadful college sicknesses. 

“Eventually, I was thinking, it would be nice if I could make this something that I do, and other people benefited from,” Reis said. 

That is when he came up with the idea for his startup Té Piña, a company creating a pineapple-based beverage with vitamins, minerals and anti-inflammatory agents intended to help people recover from and prevent respiratory illnesses. 

Reis took his idea and pitched it at the 54-hour-long Cal Poly Entrepreneurs (CPE) event where developers, designers and innovators can meet for the first time and develop a business together. At the event, business administration senior Benjamin Arts watched Reis pitch and loved the idea. 

Arts felt that Té Piña was a “product with meaning that could actually change someone’s life and make them feel better.” 

After recognizing each other’s strong interest in Té Piña, they decided to become co-founders. 

Reis and Arts aim to create the perfect combination of ingredients that will make Té Piña a better option than alternatives like ginger shots, tea refreshers and caffeinated drinks. 

“Options such as Yerba Mate exist that provide customers with the facade of a healthy drink when in reality, it is just another energy drink. On the other side of the scale are health shots, where customers sacrifice taste for the benefits,” Reis explained. “Té Piña can fix customer’s pain by providing a beverage that is both healthy and delicious.”

Té Piña will be a beverage that is both mild in sugar content and adequate with the amount of caffeine, Reis said. 

So, how does Té Piña do it? Pineapple skins. Pineapple skins are what they use as their primary immune booster as they are packed with nutrients and vitamin C, Reis said. 

Feeling confident in their idea, the co-founders applied to the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CIE) Summer Accelerator, a 13-week extensive program that provides participants with mentorship, networking opportunities and $10,000 in seed funding to help grow their business. Té Piña was one of eight teams accepted into the program.

Reis explained that the CIE has been beneficial in helping him get in touch with the right people to get his idea off the ground.

 “The CIE will support you and has the resources to bring you up and help you pivot and adapt. That’s how they develop you as an entrepreneur,” Reis said. 

During the Summer Accelerator, the co-founders aim to finalize their recipe, establish a nutrition label and certify their product so they can sell Té Piña locally. 

“I hope that we can make Té Piña accessible, available and affordable for all students to solve their Poly Plague problems,” Reis said. 

Té Piña, along with the rest of the 2023 Summer Accelerator cohort, will pitch their startup and showcase their progress at Demo Day, on Sept. 8 at 4 p.m. at SLO Brew Rock. Tickets are available here.

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Cal Poly engineers are combating loneliness for recently relocated college graduates

Moving to a new city sounds invigorating, and it is, but this change can be just as difficult as it is rewarding. 

61% of young adults in their 20s are experiencing high levels of loneliness, according to software engineering graduate Parker Callison and mechanical engineering graduate Samantha Moberly. Of this 61%, many are graduates who moved to a new city after college, they said. 

As recent graduates themselves, Callison and Moberly understand just how daunting it can be to move away from one’s community and lose their support system. 

Callison experienced this first-hand after he took a couple of years off from college. When he returned to school, most of his friends had already graduated. Callison said he struggled to create new relationships. 

Additionally, Moberly regularly heard her friends in college express anxiety about how to meet new people post-grad and avoid feelings of loneliness. This anxiety stemmed from the fact that they would no longer be in classrooms or extracurriculars that surrounded them with people their age.

“Recent grads especially are experiencing this problem of loneliness and actively looking for a solution after they leave behind their college community,” Moberly said.

To create a solution to a problem that affected not only their friends but also themselves, Callison and Moberly teamed up to create their startup Social Spark, a social networking platform aimed to combat loneliness by helping recent college graduates create genuine friendships in their new cities. 

Through Social Spark, users can sign up for weekend-long events in their new city. Trained leaders will guide these groups through a range of fun and dynamic activities that will help create new friendships. These leaders go through scenario-based training where they are provided tips on how to facilitate conversations and create deeper conversations between strangers. 

They began developing their startup during their Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurial Senior Design Project course (ENGR 465), a team-based interdisciplinary senior design project that allows engineering and business students to collaborate and create new solutions to real-world problems.

Callison and Moberly explained that despite virtual connections through social media, people still feel lonely. Additionally, with the rise of remote jobs, many relocated graduates are creating very surface-level connections, they said. The co-founders wanted to create a healthier way for people to socialize, and that was through in-person events where deeper connections can be made. 

“We really did not want to just be an app that connects people virtually,” Moberly said. “We want to bring people in person because we think real friendships are made in real life, face-to-face.” 

After their senior project course, Callison and Moberly saw potential in their idea and applied to the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CIE) Summer Accelerator, a 13-week program that provides Cal Poly students and recent graduates with the resources needed to turn their startup ideas into real, scalable businesses. 

Social Spark was one of the eight teams accepted to the program.

“We feel so fortunate to have all the mentors around us to support us,” Moberly said. “It has been amazing so far, having such a great support system.” 

During the Summer Accelerator, Callison and Moberly aim to run several pilot events and gain valuable feedback. They hope to learn how to better facilitate friendships while creating events that are exciting and enjoyable, Callison explained. 

The co-founders said they look forward to Social Spark’s potential in tackling feelings of isolation.  

“If we can just help one person to feel less lonely, then that will be amazing on our end to get to see that impact,” Moberly said. 

Social Spark, along with the rest of the 2023 Summer Accelerator cohort, will pitch their startup and showcase their progress at Demo Day, on Sept. 8 at 4 p.m. at SLO Brew Rock. Tickets are available here.

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Engineering and business majors create a solution to costly fires in recycling facilities

Four Cal Poly seniors with a devotion towards the environment and the community came together to create a proactive solution for battery-caused fires in recycling facilities.  

They met as students through the Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurial Senior Design Project course (ENGR 465) which allows entrepreneurship students and engineering students to collaborate and create new solutions to real-world problems. 

Early in their senior project course, mechanical engineering majors Stefany James and Sydney Fairchild and business administration majors Penny Lane Case and Thaddeus Ziarkowski recognized each other’s passion for sustainability. 

“We all just met under this common goal of making the world better, cleaner and sustaining our resources,” Case said. 

Their startup, Nexstera Tech, is pushing the boundaries of material differentiation and detection through radar and transforming the way waste management operates. Their first product, Pyrottack, allows customers to detect lithium-ion batteries in the waste stream before they enter trucks and floors of recovery facilities.

According to Case, lithium-ion batteries can cause massive fires in recycling facilities that produce harm to the environment, people and resources. These damages cost over $1.2 billion in damages annually to the US and Canada alone, she said. 

Those working in recycling facilities are uncertain whether or not they will be safe, Fairchild explained: “At a moment’s notice, they have to stop sorting, stop doing whatever they’re doing, and become a firefighter for about five minutes, and that’s terrifying,” she said. 

Nexstera Tech is solving a real-world problem for hundreds, if not thousands, of people, Ziarkowski said. He described the potential impact of their technology as “exceptional.” 

After their senior project course, Nexstera Tech participated in Innovation Quest (iQ), a competition hosted by the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) designed to help entrepreneurs grow their startup from an idea into a company. 

“Innovation Quest was absolutely awesome in terms of getting experience pitching,” Fairchild said. “We started realizing we’re going to get a lot of feedback very quickly within this program.” 

Nexstera Tech was one of 14 finalists to pitch their startup at iQ 2023. Although they did not win the competition, iQ allowed them to receive diverse opinions on their business, Fairchild said. 

Following iQ, the Nexstera co-founders decided to pursue their startup and apply to the CIE Summer Accelerator. They were one of eight teams accepted to the program. 

The Summer Accelerator is a 13-week program designed to give Cal Poly students and recent alumni the resources needed to launch a real, scalable company. 

“It’s awesome to get to work around people who are as enthusiastic about their work as we are,” James said. “It’s just very encouraging.” 

Towards the end of the Summer Accelerator, the co-founders are hoping to have a fully functioning prototype that will be used by a recycling facility. This way, they can continue their efforts to become more responsible with the disposal of waste and keeping recycling facility members safe. 

“Protecting these people who I care about genuinely, even if I don’t know them, and the environment at the same time has just propelled me to work with these amazing people as we continue on this journey,” Case said. 

Nexstera Tech, along with the rest of the 2023 Summer Accelerator cohort, will pitch their startup and showcase their progress at Demo Day, on Sept. 8 at 4 p.m. at SLO Brew Rock. Tickets are available here

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Where Are They Now: 2022 Summer Accelerator Cohort

Title text that reads: 2022 Summer Accelerator Teams: Where Are They Now

It’s been more than six months since the 2022 Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Summer Accelerator came to an end. During the Accelerator, Cal Poly students and recent graduates spent 13 weeks immersed in the startup process, turning their startup ideas into real, viable businesses.

The program culminated in Demo Day, where the participating teams showcased the progress they made on their startups throughout the summer and pitched their companies.

Since Demo Day, the 2022 Summer Accelerator cohort have embarked on new professional, educational and — of course — entrepreneurial endeavors.

Here’s a team-by-team breakdown of what the cohort is up to now:

Castle Innovations LLC | Cheekies | Quickie | Ryde | Venture Rent | X-Adapt

 

Castle Innovations (Formerly known as Grip Safe)

Castle Innovations LLC founder Shaun Tanaka. Graphic by Sarah Hirst.

Castle Innovations LLC founder Shaun Tanaka entered the Summer Accelerator with an idea to save lives: a patented firearm safety device for AR-15s called GripSafe.

Tanaka said he and his team conducted extensive customer development during the Summer Accelerator. They produced multiple iterations of the product, each one improving upon its predecessor. 

“While our mission never changed, our product changed drastically,” Tanaka said.

Their current iteration, called the CastleLock, uses high-speed biometric locking technology to secure AR-15s from unwanted users and negligent discharges.

Tanaka said he has “dove head first” into the startup process since Demo Day. He was able to secure a round of angel investment, which allowed him to hire mechanical engineers from a design firm and expand the company team. Castle Innovations LLC now has 16 total team members.

“Without the Summer Accelerator, so much of the company wouldn’t have happened,” Tanaka said. “With the help of the CIE, we were able to get angel investment, mentorship, resources, and access to engineering shops that we otherwise would not have had access to.”

Shortly after Demo Day, Tanaka began pursuing his Masters in Public Policy at Cal Poly. He said he has been leveraging his graduate education to best benefit his startup.

“I found myself tailoring my Masters program to my startup,” Tanaka said. “Being in the Masters of Public Policy program, it’s helped me navigate the complexities of firearm legislation, which is currently helping progress the business.”

Dylan Defazio, who worked for Castle Innovations LLC as an independent contractor during the Summer Accelerator, also returned to Cal Poly after Demo Day as a mechanical engineering junior.

Defazio said he picked up several tips and tricks throughout the Summer Accelerator that have helped him as he pursues his degree. Organizational tools like Notion, an online note taking application, and communication techniques he learned through the program have been especially helpful, he said. 

Although Defazio is no longer working with Castle Innovations LLC, he has remained involved with the CIE. He is mentoring students who are interested in applying to the Summer Accelerator, as well as helping students prepare for Innovation Quest (iQ), an innovation competition that Defazio and Tanaka won third place in in 2022. 

Defazio took notes — on Notion, of course — throughout the Summer Accelerator program. He uses those notes to inform his advice to fellow student entrepreneurs. 

He met most of his mentees through the Hatchery, the CIE’s on-campus startup incubator — the same program through which he met Tanaka.

“Seeing a lot of new ideas come through the Hatchery was awesome,” Defazio said. “That’s why I love mentoring — because you’re around the Hatchery. I just love the spirit of entrepreneurship.”

 

Cheekies

Cheekies co-founders McCall Brinskele (left) and Mariana Inofuentes (right). Graphic by Sarah Hirst.

McCall Brinskele, founder of Cheekies, set out to help menstruators sleep comfortably while on their periods by inventing a period sleep short that uses leak-proof technology.

Brinskele, a biomedical engineering major, had minimal business or entrepreneurship experience when entering the Summer Accelerator, but quickly adapted to the startup process.

Throughout the course of the summer, Brinskele became adept at the “business side” of the startup process learning entrepreneurial skills like customer development and, of course, pitching.

“Pitching every single week, I definitely became more confident speaking in front of investors,” she said.

Brinskele said she and co-founder Mariana Inofuentes were “pumped” for Demo Day.

“I mean, as you can see in the video (of our pitch), we were having so much fun on that stage,” Brinskele said. “I was really eager to keep going. It was nice to get that recognition for all the work that we had done, and it was very motivating to know that what we were doing was going to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Since Demo Day, Brinskele has continued  to work on Cheekies and is currently gearing up for a pivot. She has not disclosed the details of the pivot, but said that she is currently in the customer development stages.

“(We are) making sure that we’re making a product that’s really going to meet needs and change lives since that was the goal from the beginning,” she said.

Brinskele is also pursuing her Masters in Engineering Management at Cal Poly. Participating in the Summer Accelerator “gave (her) an edge” in her Masters classes, she said.

She is currently working on Cheekies’ pivot as a project for her Masters program.

Brinskele said the Summer Accelerator helped her build the skills needed to tackle the pivot. The program also provided validation that Cheekies, which started as a passion project, has the potential to not only sell, but to change people’s lives for the better.

“Getting that encouragement from the Accelerator, as well as all of the training,” Brinskele said. “I don’t think I would be able to pivot right now if I didn’t have all those tools.”

 

Quickie

Quickie co-founders Matt Menno (left) and Will Tregenza (right). Graphic by Sarah Hirst.

Business administration majors Matt Menno and William Tregenza entered the Summer Accelerator to further develop their startup Quickie, a quick and affordable delivery service for college students that soft-launched in November of 2021. 

“We thought we knew a lot about the business that we were making because we’d already been at it for a few months, but after making it through the Accelerator, we were not even close to experts on Quickie,” Tregenza said. 

Menno spent the summer developing a mobile application for Quickie, while Tregenza focused on marketing — and pitching.

Tregenza said the Summer Accelerator helped him grow comfortable with public speaking.

When the co-founders debuted their startup at the CIE’s May Entrepreneurship Forum before the Summer Accelerator began, Tregenza said he “paused on stage.”

“I literally just got shocked on stage,” Tregenza said. “Then, by the end of the Accelerator (at Demo Day), I was up there doing an eight minute pitch, easy.”

Since Demo Day, Quickie has grown significantly. Their mobile application has reduced customer check-out times from five minutes to roughly 20 seconds. 

Menno said CIE Director of Finance and Operations Damon Watkins recommended Quickie grow their team, telling Menno and Tregenza, “You need time to actually grow the business, whereas right now you guys are running it.”

They now have 12 employees who deliver orders, as well as an app developer and a marketing manager.

Quickie delivers to addresses within a two-mile radius of the Cal Poly campus. They recently acquired a storefront in the middle of that radius, which Menno said has helped Quickie “capitalize on (their) delivery speeds.”

Tregenza and Menno said they plan to expand to another campus within the next year — and use the skills they developed in the Summer Accelerator along the way.

“The skills you learn — the networking, the deep dive you take into your business model — all of that stuff has prepared us to analyze competitors and standardize our model here so that we can copy and paste it at other campuses,” Tregenza said. 

 

Ryde

Ryde co-founders (from left to right) Josh Wong, Johnny Morris and Emily Gavrilenko. Graphic by Sarah Hirst.

Three co-founders joined the Summer Accelerator with their startup Ryde, a travel marketplace connecting college student riders with college student drivers for long-distance travel.

The Summer Accelerator provided the resources to grow Ryde from a student project to a real, scalable business, co-founder and Head of Customer Experience Johnny Morris said.

Ryde officially launched in October 2022. Since then, more than 3,500 Cal Poly students have signed up for the app. Ryde has facilitated more than 1,600 rides and helped students travel more than 450,000 miles. 

“We’re getting so much natural growth just through students telling each other because they love it so much and they had a good experience,” said Ryde co-founder and CTO Josh Wong. “I think that’s the most valuable sign of success.”

The startup also recently won $25,000 in funding at the Sunstone Cal State University (CSU) Startup Launch Competition, an annual pitch competition for CSU students and recent graduates. Competing teams are divided into three categories, including product, service and social enterprise. Ryde won the service track’s first-place prize.

All three co-founders are still working on Ryde — and embarking on their own professional endeavors. 

Wong is now in Houston, Texas working for NASA as a software engineering intern. At NASA, he is able to exercise his entrepreneurship knowledge almost as often as his software engineering skills.

“I hear methods of entrepreneurship — like building a minimally viable product,” Wong said. “I wouldn’t have known anything about that before the Accelerator.”

Morris graduated in June 2022, shortly before the Summer Accelerator began. Since the Accelerator, he has been working full-time on Ryde, as well as working part-time for another Accelerator alum, Quickie.

Morris said that, after having worked alongside Quickie during the Accelerator — not to mention running a startup himself — he is able to “bring something kind of unique to the table” and can “think more process-oriented, more strategically” about Quickie, he said.

Ryde co-founder and CEO Emily Gavrilenko also found an additional job through the Summer Accelerator.

Gavrilenko met an industry professional during the networking portion of Demo Day whose company was hiring. The connection eventually led to her current role as a product manager.

“I got the contact at Demo Day, and now I have a super sweet job,” Gavrilenko said. 

Despite their separate professional endeavors, the Ryde co-founders will continue to work together and leverage the skills they build in the Summer Accelerator to grow their startup. They said they intend to expand beyond Cal Poly, to other college campuses in California, over the next six months.

“We’ve done so much more in the past six months than we did in the first six months,” Gavrilenko said. “After the first six months, we had a super scrappy MVP out there. We hadn’t made a single dime. We’d done maybe 30 rides. No one really knew about us. Now, seeing how far we’ve come, it’s incredible.”

 

Venture Rent

Venture Rent founder Shubh Khandhadia. Graphic by Sarah Hirst.

Business administration major Shubh Khandhadia entered the Summer Accelerator as the co-founder of Venture Rent, a startup developing a mobile application that allows users to quickly and easily rent outdoor equipment, such as kayaks and surfboards. 

Two weeks into the Summer Accelerator, Khandhadia’s co-founder stepped down, and he quickly found himself promoted to CEO. Khandhadia, who also has a minor in computer science, leveraged the information he had learned in a Summer Accelerator workshop about software and technology in order to quickly develop a minimally viable product (MVP).

Developing the MVP allowed Khandhadia to focus on running the business, while his team of software developers continued to work on the product.

“This was my first experience in a startup, leading a team of developers and working with them every week,” Khandhadia said. “I learned throughout the Accelerator how to be an effective leader, how to work well with others and how to find people who compliment you.”

Khandhadia said Demo Day was a rewarding experience and an opportunity to celebrate all he had accomplished over the course of the Summer Accelerator.

Khandhadia compared the Summer Accelerator to studying, and Demo Day to a test.

“For me, leading up to the exam is the most stress. The exam is never stress because at that point, you’re just showing what you know,” Khandhadia said. “So for me, pitching (at Demo Day) wasn’t that bad — it was actually a really fun experience.”

Shortly after Demo Day, Khandhadia wrote down a list of goals for Venture Rent and a list of personal goals. After careful consideration, he decided to take a break from Venture Rent in order to focus on career development.

He decided to apply to graduate school — not for business, but for computer science (CS).

“I’d always wanted to go into computer science,” Khandhadia said. “I switched my major twice. I started in business, went to CS, went back to business, then tried to get back into CS but couldn’t. So I decided I would do a Masters in CS.”

Khandhadia was recently accepted into the University of Southern California (USC) graduate program. He will be studying computer science with a specialization in artificial intelligence (AI).

“My goal was to pair up my business degree with a more technical degree,” Khandhadia said. “Honestly, the startup experience was huge in motivating me to do that because I got to see the importance and value behind being an engineer.”

 

X-Adapt

X-Adapt founder Evan Lalanne. Graphic by Sarah Hirst.

Evan Lalanne entered the Summer Accelerator fresh off of a win at iQ. Lalanne won the first-place prize of $15,000 with his startup Adapted Mobility, now known as X-Adapt.

X-Adapt is a startup working to make “the world more accessible for people with disabilities,” according to Lalanne.

Lalanne’s iQ pitch — and later, his Demo Day pitch — was for a device that modifies commercially available electric unicycles to allow for use by adaptive riders in place of a wheelchair.

The device has greater mobility and capability than most wheelchairs, which allows riders to access environments with tougher terrain, like hiking trails. It is also compact, making it easier for riders to navigate crowded spaces, like bars or parties. The self-balancing feature in the electric unicycle even allows riders to climb up and down stairs — as Lalanne demonstrated at Demo Day during his pitch.

During the Summer Accelerator, Lalanne focused on product development. He also used Accelerator resources to grow his network.

“The best part of the program is definitely the network that you build,” Lalanne said. “You get connected with so many different mentors and people with varying backgrounds that are all motivated to help you out, and that’s huge.”

Since the Summer Accelerator, Lalanne has set up internal product development and prototyping equipment and is now finalizing his first customer-facing MVP’s.

He recently competed at the Sunstone CSU Startup Launch Competition, where X-Adapt won the product track’s second-place prize of $10,000.

Lalanne said he is planning to have early adopters provide feedback on the MVP’s during the second half of 2023 and is targeting early 2024 for early commercial sales.

 

It’s now been more than six months since these student-led startups completed the Summer Accelerator program — but in less than two months, a whole new cohort of promising entrepreneurs will set out on their own startup ventures.

Meet the 2023 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 available for free here!

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Cal Poly students revolutionize firearms industry with secure and affordable firearm safety solution

Grip Safe founder and CEO Shaun Tanaka (left) and lead engineer Dylan DeFazio (right) standing in front of a green background with graphics that identify their name and company.

2022 Summer Accelerator Spotlight: Grip Safe

Gun owners in the United States currently have two primary storage options available: cable locks and gun safes. Most gun owners use cable locks, which are much more affordable than gun safes — but also much less secure. 

“You can cut through [cable locks] with scissors or garden shears,” said Shaun Tanaka, a recent interdisciplinary studies and business administration graduate who is now pursuing his Master’s in public policy.

Meanwhile, gun safes are very secure, but also quite expensive. Gun safes can sometimes be even more expensive than actual guns, Tanaka said.

Tanaka, who has a military background, recognized a need for increased firearm safety — as well as an opportunity for innovation within the firearm safety space. Having worked extensively with firearms in the military, he decided to approach the issue from a mechanical standpoint. 

Tanaka, equipped with an idea for an affordable and effective firearm safety device, utilized the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Hatchery to found Grip Safe.

The Hatchery is an on-campus program designed to help Cal Poly students develop their startup ideas. Through the Hatchery, Tanaka met Dylan DeFazio, who is a mechanical engineering junior and an engineer at Grip Safe.

“What initially appealed to me about Grip Safe was the fact that Shaun was in need of technical knowledge,” Defazio said. “At Grip Safe, I focus on the manufacturing and prototyping side of things, and I get to put my mechanical engineering degree to use.”

DeFazio joined Tanaka in building a firearm safety device which, once installed on a firearm, acts as a lockbox. If an unwanted user attempts to break off the device, they will likely break the gun itself, which Tanaka said is “part of the beauty of our design.”

The pair recently received a notice of allowance from the United States Patent and Trademark Office on their patent application.

Tanaka and DeFazio also brought Grip Safe to Innovation Quest (iQ), a prototyping and business plan competition hosted by the CIE in which Cal Poly students pitch their innovative ideas to a panel of judges for the chance to win thousands of dollars in funding. Grip Safe won the third place prize of $5,000.

“Innovation Quest allowed us to test our business idea, test our pitch, and honestly, we learned a lot about ourselves, as well,” DeFazio said. “That allowed us to hit the Summer Accelerator running.”

The Summer Accelerator is an intensive, 13-week program that provides Cal Poly students and recent graduates with the resources needed in order to turn their startup ideas into real, scalable businesses. Grip Safe was one of seven startups accepted into the program in 2022. 

They are currently working on developing and iterating their prototype and collecting customer feedback. They hope to have a finished product by Demo Day on Sept. 13 at 4 p.m. at SLO Brew Rock, where the Summer Accelerator teams will showcase the progress they made throughout the summer and pitch their startups.

Tanaka founded Grip Safe with the intention of not only making firearm safety more affordable and accessible, but also with the intention of saving lives.

“I got into this space because I lost a childhood friend to an unsecured AR-15,” Tanaka said. “We’re working on a device that will save lives [which is why] we want to be the go-to solution for firearms safety in the United States.”

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