How to Get Involved with the CIE

By: Lauren Arendt


The Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) serves both Cal Poly students and the surrounding community. From helping entrepreneurs to build leadership skills to generating startup ideas to providing established companies with the tools they need for success, the CIE offers many opportunities to get involved for students, alumni, faculty and community members alike.

Are You a Student?

Due to the various programs, competitions and events offered, there is no linear route into the organization. Rather, it is up to students to pave their own path into the CIE based on their goals and interests.

The Elevator Pitch Competition (EPC)

Every fall, the CIE invites Cal Poly and Cuesta students across all majors to pitch their big idea in front of a panel of entrepreneurs for a chance to win $1,000. The catch? Participants are only allowed 90 seconds to present their pitches.

The competition runs in two stages. In the first stage, students must submit a video application. Video applications are 90 seconds long, as if going up 20 floors in an elevator. They should include details about the idea, product, service or business they have in mind that would spark the interest of potential investors, customers and partners. In stage two, the selected finalists pitch at the CIE’s first forum of the academic year. The design of the competition not only allows participants to formulate their ideas in a supportive environment, but also allows them to network with fellow entrepreneurs and practice their presentation skills.

Cal Poly Entrepreneurs (CPE)

The CPE is a club that invites students from any major to manifest their entrepreneurial skills and collaborate among like-minded peers. During weekly meetings, the CPE invites successful entrepreneurs to share their stories, holds workshops for learning new skills and gives members a hub for networking.

The CPE does not require members to come in with business ideas. The club rather aims to provide a forum for students to network and share ideas in an environment that fosters innovation.

The Hatchery

The Hatchery fosters entrepreneurship initiatives and the development of Cal Poly student-led startups on the Cal Poly campus. The Hatchery achieves its goal of providing students with the tools they need to learn about converting an idea into a company through mentorship, weekly workshops, startup assignments and an array of other activities and events.

Building a business through the Hatchery program is guided by the philosophy that multidisciplinary teams are essential to success. Students interested in building a business and seeking out a hands-on, well-rounded learning experience from any major are welcome to apply.

The SLO HotHouse Accelerator Program

The CIE identifies growable and scalable companies created by Cal Poly students or recent alumni from any major to participate in the accelerator program. A diverse alumni and business leadership pool of mentors and speakers from the startup world, along with weekly workshops, help teach new entrepreneurs the skills they need to grow their companies. In addition, each company accepted in the accelerator program has access to $10,000 in seed funding to start building their business.

Innovation Quest (iQ)

iQ encourages innovators and entrepreneurs to build interdisciplinary teams and take their ideas to prototypes and eventually companies. The competition provides students a platform to showcase what they have built, coded, designed or prototyped throughout their efforts at Cal Poly.  

The winners of the competition receive up to $15,000 of prize money to help them launch their business. Since the competition’s beginning in 2003, more than $300,000 have been awarded in support of Cal Poly innovators and entrepreneurs.  

Innovation Sandbox

The Innovation Sandbox offers students a shared workspace to experience and learn about the latest prototyping and ideation tools. The state-of-the-art equipment, including a 3D printer, allows students to explore new subjects, develop new technologies and share knowledge.

Students from various majors and disciplines formulate and develop their ideas in a collaborative work space, embodying the Learn by Doing philosophy that defines Cal Poly.

Entrepreneurship Forum Series

Once per quarter, the CIE presents a forum targeted to innovators, entrepreneurs, startups and growing, small businesses. The CIE brings together a panel of entrepreneurs with key insights into the challenges and models of success within the entrepreneurial world. The forum series offers widely diversified topics that welcome participants to personally and professionally dig deep in a safe environment.

All forums are free and open to both the students and the public in an effort to provide a vital link between the university and community that unifies entrepreneurs towards the common good of creating a better world.

Are You an Alumni or Community Member?

The SLO HotHouse Incubator

Our innovative community startups receive all of the tools needed for early-stage development into financially stable, high-growth enterprises in the incubator program. Mentorship, monthly peer-to-peer roundtable discussions, an advisory board for each startup, networking opportunities and exclusive access to various entrepreneurial events in the community are among the programs that facilitate smarter and faster growth.

Aside from these programs, all participating businesses may utilize the SLO Hothouse resources, including the Small Business Development Center, office space, conference rooms and an invaluable peer network and mentorship.

Small Business Development Center (SBDC)

By offering no-charge expert consulting and low-cost trainings, this community resource helps local entrepreneurs launch companies, boost the economy, and cross-pollinate with other companies at the SLO HotHouse.

In 2016, the CIE SBDC provided services to 128 companies, through 3,121 hours of no-cost consulting, helping startups and small businesses raise $5.3M in capital and create more than 100 local jobs.


The CIE mentorship program allows students and community members to enrich their educational experience at Cal Poly. Mentors are matched with students at various stages in their entrepreneurial journey in order to help them navigate the many obstacles that come with starting a business. The CIE recognizes the impact that the tangible advice, insight and support from mentors can have on entrepreneurs.

More than 200 Cal Poly alumni and community members have volunteered their time as mentors, coaches and advisors. These people are essential components of the center that extend across nearly every program and event.  


The SLO HotHouse offers coworking space designed to enhance productivity, collaboration and  success for its members. Coworking members enjoy perks such WiFi, educational and social events, conference rooms, meeting spaces, access to SBDC consultants, a lounge and kitchen, and all the free coffee you can drink–all with no leases and 24/7 access.  

Founders Circle

Founders Circle members play a prominent role in helping students through mentoring classroom presentations, judging competitions and hosting internships. Members join a community of dedicated philanthropists who recognize the major benefit that comes from the CIE. They serve as a vital link between students and the entrepreneurial business community. Founders Circle members may even participate virtually due to the geographic dispersion of members.


Anyone who believes in the CIE can make an impact on the program. Like many other nonprofits, the CIE is made possible by the philanthropy of generous donors. Any gift, big or small, helps the CIE to build and support tomorrow’s entrepreneurs.

The CIE offers a large variety of programs and events that uplift students, community members, and the entrepreneurial world as a whole. At first glance, it may seem daunting to get involved with an organization that does so much. After taking the time to get to know the organization, however, it becomes apparent that so much variety is not scary, but rather makes it possible for students, faculty and community members to find a program that fits their specific entrepreneurial needs.

To learn more about CIE, go to or check out the video below. Also, follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to stay up-to-date with upcoming programs, events and opportunities for involvement.

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