Cal Poly and Cuesta College Elevator Pitch Winners Cash in on Innovative Ideas

Student entrepreneurs earn $1,000 for 90-second product proposals at 11th annual  contest through Cal Poly’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

SAN LUIS OBISPO — Two students, one from Cal Poly and the other from Cuesta College, each won $1,000 at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s (CIE) 11th annual Elevator Pitch Competition Finals, a fast-paced contest for Cal Poly and Cuesta College entrepreneurs, recently held virtually.

A third student, also from Cal Poly, received the $500 “audience choice” award.

Ten students had just 90 seconds each to deliver their innovative business ideas at the Nov. 10 event. They were evaluated by a panel of judges on four criteria: how well the problem or opportunity was explained; whether the idea was innovative and creative; if the direction was clear; and whether the pitch was persuasive.

Cal Poly student Ross Levine’s winning pitch was for Business Outsider, an online source for satirical tech and business news.

“There are all these satirical sources for all these different markets, but there wasn’t one for tech and business,” said the Redondo Beach, California, resident.

Levine’s plans for Business Outsider include publishing what he describes as “a satire of a self-help book,” titled “Winning the Race to the Bottom.

With the e-book set to arrive in Amazon’s Kindle store Dec. 9, Levine plans to continue working with his team to publish online articles.

“We’re working on growing the team’s knowledge,” said Levine, who is pursuing bachelor’s and master’s degrees in industrial engineering. “We have a team of nine writers, and we’re trying to get them to be as good as they can be.”

Cuesta College’s Elliot Thorogood won with his pitch for Vision: First Step Photography, an innovative photography company that will allow students greater creative freedom in their yearbook portraits, inspired by Thorogood’s own photography experience.

“We want to spice it up, allow for more creativity in the yearbook and give students a voice in their yearbook — because it’s really their yearbook and their pictures,” said the Nipomo resident who also attends the Central Coast New Tech High School.

Thorogood plans to invest his $1,000 prize into Vision: First Step Photography and is working with his team to develop a plan to overcome the obstacles posed by the pandemic.

“We don’t know if we can get it started this year — actually take the pictures — because of COVID-19,” he said. “We’re going to invest the money into the company and see where we go from there, and hopefully start (taking yearbook photos) at the end of this year, or next year at the latest.”

Cal Poly’s Julie Arnett, a business student from San Ramon, California, was the top pick of attendees. She pitched Celebrate, an online gift registry to allow users to create “interest boards” that friends and family can view when shopping for their birthday or holiday gifts.

“I think that if I wanted to win one of the two (awards), I would have wanted the crowd favorite just because you have that validation from everyone,” she said. “Feeling that support from the crowd was really awesome.”

Arnett and her team, who have worked on Celebrate for almost a year, are fully engaged in the CIE’s Hatchery program. They are currently in their product development phase, working with coders to develop their startup website and fine-tune its key features.

“We’re also starting to dive a little bit further into marketing,” Arnett said. “And then, the next competition we’re looking at is Innovation Quest.”

Cal Poly business sophomore Alexandra Joelson, the founder and CEO of Intego Sports, was the forum’s keynote speaker. She won the 2019 Elevator Pitch Competition as a freshman with a proposal for the Cleat Guard, a mold that fits to the bottom of any cleat to prevent the cleat’s bottom from wearing down. Since winning the competition, Joelson and her team have begun working with a design firm and manufacturing team, and are now creating their first manufactured prototype.

To watch the 2020 Elevator Pitch Competition video, visit

Click on the links for more information about CIE’s upcoming events, Innovation Quest and Camp PolyHacks.

About the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship
The CIE enriches talent and enables the dreams of Cal Poly students, faculty and community businesses across campus and throughout San Luis Obispo County. For more information, go to

Contact: Candice Conti

December 4, 2020

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