Menu

Blog

Tag: Entrepreneurship

Venturing beyond the stars: Little Place Labs utilizes collaboration with Cal Poly classrooms for entrepreneurial growth

While pursuing their MBAs at Oxford University, the brains behind Little Place Labs brewed up their startup idea over pints of Guinness. It all kicked off with one, then turned into five, and soon enough co-founders Bosco Lai, acting CEO, and Gaurav Bajaj, acting CTO, were deep into brainstorming. Fueled by laughter, camaraderie, and a dash of liquid courage, these co-founders turned pub banter into a startup known as Little Place Labs.

Little Place Labs, a space tech company, specializes in developing solutions for near real-time space insights. In a world heavily reliant on space data collected by satellites, their innovative approach involves implementing software that operates directly on satellites, enabling the transformation of space-collected data into actionable information delivered quickly to ground stakeholders. Their software is particularly crucial in situations where real-time decisions are imperative.

At the heart of Little Place Labs’ narrative is the profound significance of relationships and engaging with individuals.

“One of the key elements of why Little Place Lab exists is because I met my co-founder and some of the team members,” Lai said. “When you meet the right people, everything just kickstarts.”

The theme of relationships continued, as it was through a coincidental interaction that the Texas-based startup came to join the Cal Poly Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship  Incubator program. 

The CIE Incubator helps develop early-stage startups into financially secure and scalable enterprises. Entrepreneurs in the program are provided with mentorship, funding opportunities and other resources to develop their business. 

In 2022, while attending a space event in Los Angeles, Lai said he crossed paths with Judy Mahan, Cal Poly CIE Senior Economic Development Director. Their casual conversation delved into the essence of Little Place Labs and Mahan’s role within the organization.

Quickly captivated by the Incubator’s diverse support for various startups beyond space tech, Lai said he immediately recognized the unique prospect the program offered. More than just a chance to immerse Little Place Labs in California’s dynamic ecosystem, Lai saw it as a golden opportunity to foster profound connections with a program deeply connected to a university that encourages collaboration between startups, academia, students and professors.

Little Place Labs joined the Incubator in 2022 and participates in the program virtually from Texas.

Through the CIE Incubator, Little Place Labs was introduced to California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly) professor Barry Lieberman, which they credit to be one of the best opportunities utilized from the program.

“Interaction with the personnel and people with Cal Poly really, really helped us,” Lai said. Working with the professors, students and directly with the university, helps us think through things not just from a commercial way, but also from a technical way.” 

Lieberman runs a commercialization of new technologies course at Cal Poly, structured around grouping his students to research for an emerging company in an under-researched market. Little Place Labs has collaborated with the students in this course the last two years.

Their participation in the course has proved to be a beneficial experience for both the students and Little Place Labs.

“We are able to really leverage the students during their time with Professor Liberman to do market research on Little Place Labs,” Lai said. “There’s a lot of excitement and a lot of work that we were able to leverage from the students during their time with us. We were very happy to use their work and merge it with our own.”

As the 2024 year begins, Lai said Little Place Labs is focusing on their business development. Specifically, working on partnerships, contacts, increasing exposure and planning seed ground fundraising events in the upcoming months. 

In line with their commitment to fostering relationships, they plan to continue working with Professor Lieberman and interacting with Cal Poly students.

“We really enjoy working with the professor and the students. We learned a lot, and I think that’s really valuable. Not all programs can provide us with that kind of exposure and interactions,” Lai said. “The Incubator is fantastic because it really provides you support in many different ways. The program is open to your imagination.”

 

 

Comments are off for this post

Cal Poly students shine at entrepreneurial conference, embracing Cal Poly’s core value ‘Learn By Doing.’

Four Cal Poly students attended the 40th annual Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization (CEO) Global Conference & Pitch Competition held in Tampa, Florida, immersing themselves in Cal Poly’s practical learning approach known as ‘Learn By Doing.’ CEO is a global network for collegiate entrepreneurs and innovators with more than 250 college and university chapters; they support and inspire the growth of any student that seeks to be entrepreneurial. 

Out of the 600 startup teams that applied, Cal Poly business administration seniors Benjamin Arts and Mathew Reis made it to the top 25 as finalists with their startup Té Piña

Té Piña is a pineapple-based beverage that provides consumers with a healthier alternative to energy drinks. 

Arts attended the CEO event in 2022 as a spectator, having been recommended by faculty as a student who would effectively represent the Cal Poly entrepreneurship program. This year, after feeling confident in their startup, Arts and Reis decided to apply to the competition.

Prior to the CEO event, Arts and Reis participated in the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Summer Accelerator, a three-month program that provides Cal Poly students and recent graduates with the resources needed to turn their startups into real, scalable businesses.

“During the Summer Accelerator, every Friday you are pitching and receiving constructive criticism. After going through an experience of 12 weeks of pitching, it’s really hard to be put in a scenario where you’re not ready to go under fire,” said Reis. 

Because of their involvement with the Summer Accelerator, Arts and Reis felt more equipped talking about their business than other teams pitching, Arts said.  

“With general pitching and answering certain questions, it showed that we have [pitched our business] 100 times,” Arts explained. 

Joining Arts and Reis were the President and Vice President of Cal Poly Entrepreneurs (CPE) Michelle Wu and Jacob Boyd who are both business administration sophomores. CPE is a student-run club that unifies entrepreneurs on campus. 

Each year the CEO organizers invite the President and Vice President of entrepreneurship chapters in their organization to enjoy the event as spectators. 

The CEO conference was a great opportunity to network and get more involved in the startup culture, Boyd said. 

“Seeing other leaders involved and being so passionate about what they’re doing motivates me as well,” Wu explained. “It’s a reminder that we are all in this together.” 

Going into the conference, Boyd was concerned that compared to other entrepreneurship chapters, CPE would be lacking as a club. To his surprise, members of other chapters came to CPE for advice and “being able to help them out was pretty cool,” he said. 

Reis, Arts, Boyd and Wu all found the CEO event to be invaluable in terms of meeting mentors, participating in workshops, expanding their network and taking advice from keynote speakers, they said. 

“The whole experience was ‘Learn By Doing’ and it showed us what it is like to be a real entrepreneur,” Wu said. “I’m grateful to have experiences like this coming out of Cal Poly.” 

Comments are off for this post

Defying Expectations: Untold Entrepreneurship Stories from Cal Poly Alumni

At the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) we tend to highlight success stories of companies who follow the path of our programs. While these startup journeys are undoubtedly inspiring, there is no one-size-fits-all formula for success. The road to it is not a one-way path; it’s more like a complex network of intersecting routes — you just need to find yours. 

The following five Cal Poly alumni are examples of entrepreneurs who forged their distinctive paths to success. Their stories remain untold, not because they didn’t succeed but because they didn’t follow the traditional CIE success narrative. Nevertheless, we want to celebrate them because they are prime examples of resilience and the essence of entrepreneurship. 

By sharing their stories, we hope to inspire individuals who resonate with their journey. Maybe you are not a Business major or concentrating in Entrepreneurship but want to pursue building a startup — Esha Joshi demonstrates that it’s possible! Maybe your first startup doesn’t scale like you’d hoped — Kaitlyn Henry shows that the skills obtained from entrepreneurship will open the door to more opportunities. 

Becoming an entrepreneur is simple and where entrepreneurship can take you is limitless. 


Esha Joshi | How majoring in computer science led to a successful startup venture

Cal Poly College of Engineering (CENG) alumnus Esha Joshi had a passion for startups, leading her to explore entrepreneurship. 

“I was definitely very interested in doing something with startups — potentially even starting my own company — in college,” Joshi said.

In 2016, during her senior year, Joshi joined the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Hatchery. Her first startup, Repay, aimed to tackle the problem of inefficient reimbursement processes between businesses and their interviewees.

Joshi described this phase as both fun and educational, serving as a small precursor to running her own company.

The entrepreneurial skills she acquired during her time at the CIE became instrumental in her journey. Today, she is the co-founder of Yoodli, an app that leverages Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help users to build confidence while public speaking. 

“The CIE helps students acquire the tools, develop the skills and cultivate the mindset of an entrepreneur,” Joshi explained.

Joshi’s remarkable journey to Yoodli led to her receiving prestigious awards, such as GeekWire’s Youngest Entrepreneur of the Year in 2022 and Forbes 30 Under 30: Consumer Technology in 2023. She and her co-founder have successfully raised more than $7 million from investors, including Madrona Venture Group and Vulcan Capital.


Kieran Scandrett | How a horticulture startup led to a career in sales

Cal Poly Orfalea College of Business (OCOB) alumnus Kiernan Scandrett pitched his innovative idea during iQ in 2018 and won second place. His startup Clove was a pre-seed, consumer product, subscription box and premium cooking content company aimed at becoming the HelloFresh of gardening. 

After winning second place in iQ, Scandrett joined the Summer Accelerator.

Despite Clove’s inability to secure sufficient funding to continue, Scandrett considers running the company one of his “proudest moments.” 

Inspired by his experience at the CIE, his co-founder encouraged him to pursue a career in sales, recognizing that entrepreneurship is inherently about selling ideas and solutions.

“As an entrepreneur, you are always selling. That’s your life: selling people on your products and your solutions, but most importantly, just selling yourself to people,” Scandrett said. “So it was there and then, almost immediately after that meeting, that I decided that I was going to pursue a career in sales.”

With his entrepreneurship education and horticultural experience, Scandrett successfully progressed to the position of Head of Sales at Habitat Horticulture, a role he held for nearly four years. 

Scandrett’s message to aspiring entrepreneurs encourages those to believe in themselves and to not allow good ideas to go to waste.

“Believe in yourself and if you have trouble doing that, think about the person in your life who believes in you the most,” said Scandrett. “Try to bring that energy or manifest that same (confidence) in yourself.” 


Kaitlyn Henry |  How following her curiosity led to success with a career in investing

In 2016, Kaitlyn Henry, Cal Poly OCOB alumna, was involved in both the CIE’s Innovation Quest (iQ) and Summer Accelerator where she explored her AgTech startup, SpotDrop. 

Henry said the Summer Accelerator played a pivotal role in their startup. It allowed them to move swiftly and learn from their failures, Henry said. She described her time as “the most amazing experience.”

Her experience in the Summer Accelerator expanded her knowledge about Venture Capital.

“Everything that I had done up until that point — being the business counterpart to a technical founder or technical team — venture capital and investing in startups felt like an extension of that… It took the parts that I loved about both (of my prior) jobs, and I got to experience all of that on a broader scale every single day,” Henry explained.

In 2016, she was recognized as the Entrepreneurship Outstanding Senior of the Year among more than 300 students for her remarkable achievements in cross-disciplinary entrepreneurial collaboration within the CIE’s Incubator program.

Although SpotDrop didn’t achieve product-market fit, Henry emphasized that she “learned a lot along the way.” 

With the help of the entrepreneurial skills Henry developed during her time with the CIE, she is now the Vice President at OpenView, a venture capital and private equity firm, a role she has held for five years.  


Patrick Pezet & Matt Canepa | How free pizza led to the start of a successful business

Cal Poly OCOB alumni Patrick Pezet and Matt Canepa stumbled upon an idea that would revolutionize Major League Baseball—an innovative coffee pouch as a healthier alternative to chewing tobacco.

After Pezet and Canepa came up with the idea, they saw a flier on campus that read: “Have a Cool Idea? Free Pizza!” Not thinking too much into it and hungry for some free pizza, they decided to go and present their idea.  

To their surprise, people took a keen interest in their product, leading them to pitch their idea, Grinds Coffee, at iQ. They won the competition and received a $15,000 check.

Soon after, Grinds Coffee took off. 

“Free pizza literally got us in the door. That’s why we walked in. And then that community — the small community and mentorship around it — that’s why we exist today. That’s why we gave it a shot,” Pezet shared. 

In 2013, Pezet and Canepa pitched Grinds Coffee on Shark Tank, a popular reality show where wealthy investors calculate startups who pitch for funding. Grinds Coffee was featured in ESPN the Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine and Fox Business Channel that same year.

Today, Grinds Coffee is a successful business with a product used in Major League Baseball and beyond. As of September 27, 2023, they had sold over four million cans.

“Don’t hold back a question, or a thought, or an idea because you’re unsure or not confident,” Pezet said. “Get involved and give it a shot.” 

Comments are off for this post

Self-care September as an entrepreneur

September marks the start of National Self-Care Awareness Month. While this is a reminder to reflect on the importance of self-care, mental health is important all year long. As an entrepreneur, it is easy to forget to prioritize oneself when in the midst of prioritizing a business.

Meeting one’s goals as an entrepreneur takes a lot of time and effort. Entrepreneurs often deal with unusual working hours, stressful decision-making, financial uncertainty, risk of failure and more. Prioritizing self-care is an integral part of creating a work-life balance, avoiding burnout and staying on track to sustained success.

Even during the busiest of times, entrepreneurs should carve out time to take care of themselves. Refocusing energy on oneself and revisiting the activities that provide joy can help create new energy, ideas, and productivity. 

Here is what the CIE community enjoys to prioritize self-care and avoid burnout: 

“Self-care is when I take 20-minute walks throughout my day,” Lynsey Fowler, SBDC Administrative Graphic Design Coordinator. 

“After work, I will do some kind of activity because I’ve been sitting still all day. I’ll go climbing, surfing or hiking,” Sydney Harrison, CIE Marketing and Communications Coordinator. 

“Making sure to take time for yourself and not get swept up in the hustle and bustle of doing your job. As entrepreneurs, we are very passionate about what we are working on. But at the end of the day, it’s still work, so it is important to do things that reenergize you and bring you joy,” Mccall Brinskele, founder and CEO of Mense.  

“Self-care means doing things that make me joyful throughout the day. That could be eating ice cream, dancing or talking to my parents and my brother,” Sarah Hirst, CIE Graphic Design Intern. 

“Being outdoors, being in nature,” Cory Karpin, CIE Interim Executive Director. 

“Clearing my social calendar and making sure that I have time to myself, at least an hour a day whether that’s scrolling on social media, listening to music or taking the long route to work from my car and just being outside,” Stephanie Zombek, CIE Marketing and Communications Manager. 

“Take a day off, plan it and make space for it. I try to get eight hours of sleep and go on runs if I feel antsy,” Avi Peltz, founder and CEO of TensorMaker. 

“I try and get some meditations in throughout the day. It definitely clears the level of thoughts that are circulating in my mind,” Ryan Meffert, founder and CEO of Double Helix Design.  

“Usually if I am working on projects or school work, I always make sure to take a break. I like to eat a lot of snacks while I’m working. Sometimes I like to go out and watch the sunset and spend time at the beach,” Abby Yue, CIE Videography Intern. 

“As a student, I like to prevent burnout by practicing meditation and breath work at home – that’s what I like to do to stay centered,” Libbie Stone, SBDC Videography Intern. 

“I try and get into this concept of anti-rivalry – not try and compare myself to others constantly. I need to show up for myself and achieve the things I set for myself. As soon as I compare myself to others, that is when the danger happens of burning out.” Kevin Meffert, Life Coach.  

“It is good practice to set reasonable hours to work. We usually have to work more than most people, but you should still set your work hours and when you are not available to be contacted,” Taylor Jenisch, founder and CEO of Burning Boat Productions. 

“Self-care means getting good rest, exercising and eating healthy food so that you can have energy to go about your day,” Samantha Moberly, co-founder and CEO of Social Spark.

Comments are off for this post

The CIE’s Favorite Books

National Read a Book Day is a time to celebrate our love for books and stories. In a world where 81% of us wish we had more time to read, this day offers a perfect opportunity to tackle our ‘to-read’ lists. Reading isn’t just an escape; it’s a wellspring of ideas and inspiration for entrepreneurs. 

Over the past year, over 74% of Americans have enjoyed at least one book, despite their busy lives. Electronic platforms make reading on the go easier, with nearly 20% of books read digitally. Whether you prefer physical books or digital screens, pick up the book at the top of your stack and embark on a literary adventure! 

This National Read a Book Day, let’s celebrate the deep connection between reading and entrepreneurship. Dive into a book that sparks your imagination and fuels your entrepreneurial spirit. 

Keep reading below to see what books the CIE community has been enjoying.

CIE Marketing & Communications Manager, Stephanie Zombek: A Gentle Reminder by Bianca Sparacino. 

Associate Professor of Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Tom Katona: Silence by Shusaku Endo. 

Director of Finance and Operations, Damon Watkins: Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov

CIE Videographer Intern, Abby Yue: Beartown by Fredrick Backman

CIE Marketing and Communication Coordinator, Sydney Harrison: Swell by Liz Clark.

CIE Graphic Design Intern, Sarah Hirst: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Innovation Programs Coordinator, Oliver Haas: Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

CIE PR and Digital Marketing Intern, Schuyler Eley: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Co-founder and CEO of Horizen Tech, Owen Works: The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. 

Co-founder of Té Piña, Benjamin Arts: Cut the Bullshit: The Truth About Sales and Marketing by Linus Ocasio

Co-founder and Chief Results Officer of Intersect, Jacob Hubert: $100M Leads: How to Get Strangers to Want to Buy Your Stuff by Alex Hormozi.

SBDC Assistant Director, Liz Fisher, and Co-founder of 2022 Summer Accelerator startup Ryde, Emily Gavrilenko: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Digital Media Coordinator at San Diego Community Power, Alyson Smith: Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin.

Comments are off for this post

Incubator Spotlight: Zoetic Motion

Zoetic Motion is a startup focusing on providing mobility support to people in physical therapy. Using artificial intelligence (AI) powered assistance, they are building a platform that allows patients to guide themselves through home exercises. The platform provides real-time feedback to patients by detecting and correcting their form during movements.

Zoetic Motion is making the recovery process more accessible and convenient, ultimately creating a better experience for patients, said Zoetic Motion founder and CEO Zeeshan Khan.

Khan thought of the idea for the startup while taking an Interdisciplinary Senior Design Project I Course (ENGR 463) at Cal Poly. Through the class, Khan partnered with other Cal Poly students to create Muscle Ninja, an attachable sensor that informs users of muscle activation during exercise.

Khan and his team brought the idea to the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s (CIE) Summer Accelerator program in 2021. 

The Summer Accelerator is a three-month program that provides hands-on mentorship and resources needed to build a business. To help grow startups, Accelerator participants gain access to $10,000 in seed funding. Muscle Ninja, now known as Zoetic Motion, was one of the nine startups accepted into the program in 2021. 

Through the Summer Accelerator, Zoetic Motion pivoted from a wearable hardware prototype to a software solution. Khan said the Summer Accelerator helped organize his team’s thoughts, explore more ideas, and de-risk their business. 

After completing the Summer Accelerator, Zoetic Motion joined the CIE Incubator and has been working to build out Zoetic Motion’s mission since then. 

“Since joining the Incubator program, I don’t think I would have had access to the same resources that I did,” Khan said. 

The Incubator allowed Khan to connect with people genuinely interested in his product and with real experience in the entrepreneurship world, he said. 

“It is a great, safe environment where there is someone there to check on your work, check on your progress, and help you stay accountable for the milestones that you set,” Khan explained. 

The Incubator has connected Zoetic Motion with various fundraising opportunities, including AngelCon, an annual pitch competition hosted by the Cal Poly CIE Small Business Development Center (SBDC) where six tech-driven startups compete to win more than $100,000 in equity-backed funding.

After leveraging resources from the Incubator, Khan said he felt more prepared to pitch in front of investors at the upcoming AngelCon event. 

Khan said he is excited to partner with various physical therapy clinics and clinicians. Zoetic Motion now has a business model that allows them to earn income through subscriptions while providing revenue back to the clinics. Khan said Zoetic Motion is now in the hands of users and is steadily gaining more traction.

Their team is giving back to their patients and clinics by making therapy more accessible and providing physical therapists with valuable insights into recovery outcomes.

In addition to providing Zoetic Motion a great setting to fail and receive feedback, the Incubator also allowed Khan to learn about his business and ultimately grow from it. 

“If you want to test yourself out or give yourself a challenge, entrepreneurship is the way to go, especially in the Incubator program,” he said. 

 

Comments are off for this post

From medicine to lawmaking and beyond: How entrepreneurship can benefit all kinds of careers

The words "From Medicine to Lawmaking and Beyond: How entrepreneurship can benefit all kinds of careers" in a green, bold font against a light blue background patterned with white stethoscopes, gavels, planets and stars.

During her first semester of medical school, Rose Badrigian was shocked to learn that 70% of physicians show some level of implicit bias against people of color.

She learned that statistic in class and was then asked to take a test that would uncover her own implicit biases. After she and her classmates completed the test, the instructor simply moved on to a new topic.

Badrigian was taken aback, surprised that the instructor didn’t address how to mitigate implicit biases — so she spoke up and told the instructor just that.

“I said, ‘Can you explain to me why we are taught that this is clearly a huge problem, but you’re not teaching us a single thing about how to not perpetuate that problem?’” Badrigian recounted.

Questioning the status quo was second nature to Badrigian, whose undergraduate involvement in the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) taught her the epitome of the entrepreneurial mindset — identify the problem and figure out how to solve it. 

“Really successful companies and ideas are the ones who don’t try to fix the wheel. They’re the ones who are like, ‘We don’t need wheels, we can have hoverboards,’” Badrigian said. “My time at the CIE got me really comfortable being like, ‘This is a better option.’”

Badrigian participated in the CIE Summer Accelerator in 2018. The Accelerator is an intensive, three-month program that connects Cal Poly students and recent graduates with the resources needed to build a business, including $10,000 in seed funding. 

Badrigian joined the Summer Accelerator as the founder of BooBees, a startup creating sustainable surf wax. In addition to providing an eco-friendly alternative to petroleum-based surf waxes, BooBees set out to empower women in the male-dominated surf scene.

The Summer Accelerator was a rapid introduction to entrepreneurship for Badrigian, who studied biology as an undergraduate. The program introduced her to “the beauty of entrepreneurship,” she said, and proved that “if you can imagine it, there’s a need for it and it doesn’t already exist, you can create it.”

Badrigian eventually decided to step away from BooBees in order to focus on medical school. However, she never lost her entrepreneurial mindset, which she said is like “a flame that will never stop burning.”

Entrepreneurship can be beneficial to practitioners of any discipline, not just business professionals — as Badrigian demonstrated by applying her entrepreneurial thinking to medicine.

Now in her third year of medical school, Badrigian said she’s noticed several problems in the medical space that could be solved with innovation. She keeps a list of startup ideas that could address the problems she identifies.

“I’ll be forever grateful for everything that I learned through the CIE because it’s so applicable, especially in a field like medicine,” Badrigian said.

Shaun Tanaka, also CIE alumnus, is applying entrepreneurship in another unlikely industry — lawmaking.

Unlike Badrigian, Tanaka never planned to pursue a postgraduate degree. He originally intended to enlist in the military directly after completing his bachelor’s degree in marketing. He enlisted in the Army Component of the California State Guard and served while earning his undergraduate degree, intending to pursue a military career after graduation.

“I thought that four years of school was enough for me,” Tanaka said. “But eventually, I found myself in the field of entrepreneurship and innovation.”

Also as an undergraduate, Tanaka founded a startup now known as Castle Innovations LLC. The startup is developing a firearm safety device for AR-15s, which is now patented. The current iteration of the device, called the CastleLock, uses high-speed biometric locking technology to secure AR-15s from unwanted users and negligent discharges. 

Tanaka brought the original idea for the CastleLock, known then as the GripSafe, to the CIE. He pitched the startup at the CIE’s annual Innovation Quest (iQ), a high-stakes competition where Cal Poly students present their innovations to a panel of judges for the chance to win thousands of dollars. Tanaka won the third-place prize of $5,000.

Tanaka then brought Castle Innovations LLC to the CIE Summer Accelerator after he graduated from Cal Poly.

Instead, with the help of the California Military Department GI Bill, he chose to pursue a master’s degree in public policy.

Cal Poly’s Master of Public Policy program teaches students to approach government and law from an analytical standpoint. Tanaka said he wanted to enroll in the program in order to learn how to navigate the complex legislation in the firearm safety space.

“It was pragmatic for what I was doing with the business,” Tanaka said.

Working in a startup prepared Tanaka to tackle the heavy workload that comes with a master’s program. He improved his time management skills throughout the Summer Accelerator, which he said “acclimated (him) to being busy.”

There are technical similarities between public policy and entrepreneurship, Tanaka said when comparing policy research to market research. He said the biggest similarity between the two, however, is that both are a people-first field.

“Entrepreneurship teaches you the value of people,” Tanaka said. “Being in firearm safety, we’re working with people that are very pro-gun, very anti-gun. However, just like in policy, you have to find a way to meet in the middle.”

Tanaka said he believes practicing entrepreneurship but pursuing an education in a different discipline can be beneficial to founders — and learning about entrepreneurship can be beneficial to anyone, even those with no plans of starting their own business.

“Experimenting with entrepreneurship can be a very valuable thing,” Tanaka said. “If you’re in college and you don’t inherently know what you want to do, entrepreneurship is a great start.”

Comments are off for this post

Why Diversity Matters

Beige background with gold letters that read "Why Diversity Matters in Entrepreneurship."

Diversity was largely an “untouched subject” on the Cal Poly campus when Zeeshan Khan started as an undergraduate. It was shortly after photographs of a white student in blackface began circulating, a scandal which propelled Cal Poly into the international spotlight and left many traditionally underrepresented students, including Khan, feeling ostracized from the rest of the campus community.

Khan, a computer science undergraduate who was serving on Cal Poly ASI’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee at the time, recognized a lack of sufficient support networks for minority students — so he began building his own network.

Along with two other classmates, Khan founded Color Coded, an on-campus club that provides professional and academic support and resources to minorities and allies in the tech space. The club was especially committed to fostering new opportunities and professional connections for Black and Latinx students. 

“We recognized there was a need for more support, more community, and why not have another place for people to reconnect and feel safe?” Khan said. “We focused on making sure people felt their voices were heard.”

Khan is now the co-founder and CEO of Zoetic Motion, a startup developing a platform for physical therapists to support their patients outside of the clinic. Color Coded influenced the way in which he manages his startup, he said.

Through Color Coded, Khan learned the importance of diverse perspectives. The club taught him that a diverse team can lead to more creative problem-solving since team members from different backgrounds may approach problems differently, he said. 

Two students sit at a table with a laptop in between them. One student is holding a textbook, and the other is leaning over the table to look at it. In the background, a third student writes on a whiteboard covered in sticky notes.

Zoetic Motion CEO Zeeshan Khan (right) with co-founder Ivet Avalos (left) during the 2021 CIE Summer Accelerator.

“Something I make sure to do — and I know it irritates some people — but I make sure everyone says something before the end of our staff meetings,” Khan said.

This not only ensures that everyone’s voice is heard, but can also lead to more innovative ideas, he said.

Zoetic Motion is not the only startup that benefits from a diverse workforce. Recent studies conducted by McKinsey & Company found that companies with greater diversity enjoy greater financial success.

In 2018, McKinsey examined 1,000 public companies from 12 different countries and found that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity were 33% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. Similarly, companies with greater gender diversity were 21% more likely to have financial returns above the same median.

“When you have a diverse team, there’s this plethora of perspective, experience and culture,” said Jose Huitron, a lecturer in the Cal Poly Orfalea College of Business (OCOB) and the Director of Student Innovation Programs with the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE).

Diverse teams within the entrepreneurship space can also translate into diversity within the consumer marketplace, according to Huitron.

Agua Bonita, for example, is a startup that sells agua frescas, beverages made with water and fresh fruits that are especially popular in Mexico and Latin America. Traditionally, agua frescas are sold by street vendors, alongside “culturally nuanced food.”

Agua Bonita founder Kayla Castañeda, however, repurposed the tradition, commercializing the product and selling it as a canned beverage. 

“She found a way to take a staple in our Hispanic culture and bring it into the mainstream,” Huitron said. “Kayla’s perspective and point of view enriches the portfolio of the firm that invested in her startup, brings back capital that she can use to impact her community and broadens the aperture of what’s possible for her community.”

Another example of a startup creating greater diversity and inclusivity in the consumer marketplace is Cheekies, a period-wear company leveraging leak-proof technology to provide menstruators with greater comfort while sleeping on their periods.

The startup is founded by women, for women — but because of this, the startup’s founders often run into difficulties when pitching their business to male investors, who can be unfamiliar with the problem they are attempting to solve.

“We have to be very creative in the way that we sell the product to male investors,” said Cheekies co-founder Mariana Inofuentes, who graduated from Cal Poly with an industrial engineering degree in 2022. “It requires a little bit of extra brainstorming because (male investors) may not relate to the problem.”

Two women stand on stage, smiling in front of a large projector screen that reads "Thank You!"

Cheekies co-founders Mariana Inofuentes (left) and McCall Brinskele (right) after pitching their startup at the CIE’s 2022 Demo Day.

Pitching to female investors is often easier because they are familiar with the discomfort of sleeping on their periods and the lack of effective solutions currently on the market. Rather than explain the problem and solution, Inofuentes and co-founder McCall Brinskele need only explain how their solution is effective.

Brinskele, who is also a Cal Poly graduate student studying engineering management, said working with mentors who share a similar background as their mentee — in Brinskele’s case, women who are familiar with product development, apparel or other aspects of the period-wear industry — can be valuable.

Communication is often easier since the mentor is able to understand their mentee on a more personal level, Brinskele said.

“For a mentor to say, ‘I’ve been where you’ve been and I came out the other side’ is massive,” Brinskele said. “To be able to say, ‘I can achieve this. They came from the same place I did and look the same way I do’ gives people hope, and that’s invaluable in entrepreneurship.”

CIE Student Innovation Outreach Coordinator Anvita Vyas said it is not only important for similar identities as their mentees, but also similar professional backgrounds.

Vyas, currently a business administration junior, is also the founder of Swaay, previously known as Nritya. Swaay is a startup developing a digital platform to connect dancers and choreographers based on emotional intelligence. 

A woman stands in front of a black background, smiling and holding a microphone.

CIE Student Innovation Outreach Coordinator and Swaay founder Anvita Vyas hosting the CIE’s annual Elevator Pitch Competition.

In 2021, Vyas brought Swaay to the CIE Hatchery, an on-campus program that provides students with the resources needed to build a business. The Hatchery connected Vyas to several mentors, all of which she said provided valuable business development advice — but none of which could provide advice specific to the dance industry.

“I really wish there was someone who had been within the dance industry who could have mentored me,” Vyas said. “To speak for the arts or any other industries that don’t have as much presence within the CIE, it would be cool to see pitch competitions or programs for those specific industries.”

Vyas said organizations like the CIE should have a network of diverse mentors in order to provide support to students from across campus and across academic disciplines. If the CIE expanded its network to include mentors from a larger variety of disciplines, it could perhaps foster the growth of startups within those industries, she suggested.

“Entrepreneurship, it’s interdisciplinary,” she said. “It’s tied to everything in many different ways… I think having more mentors from different industries will attract more students to the CIE because the more that you see that entrepreneurship is diverse, the more you’re going to understand that it’s applicable to you.”

Comments are off for this post

Let’s Talk About Entrepreneurship

A graphic of two people having a conversation. A speech bubble is above them that reads "Let's Talk About Entrepreneurship."

With the goal of starting an open and honest dialogue about entrepreneurship, we reached out to the local entrepreneurial community to ask what questions they have about entrepreneurship.

Our subject-matter experts from the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) have answered those questions in support of their fellow entrepreneurs: 

 

What industries are the most successful? The least?

Judy Mahan, the Economic Development Director at the Cal Poly CIE and the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) said that business-to-business (B2B) — especially software as a service (SaaS) — is generally the most successful industry within entrepreneurship.

“B2B is sometimes a long sales cycle, but the pricing is typically more compelling and you can sell for a higher price,” Mahan said. “And SaaS typically, you can keep your overhead pretty low. The one tricky part there though, is you have to have a really amazing CTO. Your software developers are really important, and that’s a hard talent to find.”

Meanwhile, the least successful industry within entrepreneurship is typically manufacturing, Mahan said. 

“It costs a lot of money, a lot of upfront investments. You might be left with inventory, and supply chain issues can really jeopardize your business,” she said.  

 

What does it take to build a sustainable and scalable company?

Mahan said that building a sustainable and scalable company requires (1) a strong foundational team and (2) sufficient funding. 

We’ll delve into the funding and investment process in the next section — but Mahan emphasized that regardless of how much funding a company receives, it is useless without a strong startup team.

“It is a key element to be able to hire the right people to do the right job,” Mahan said. “The right team can really help you execute on the business plan, the business model and hopefully generate revenue.”

 

How do I know if I need to raise money?

Tom Katona, a Cal Poly professor who teaches in the Orfalea College of Business (OCOB) and the College of Engineering (CENG), provided insight into when founders should begin raising money for their startups.

Startups should raise funding if the business has (1) a need for capital growth, (2) a plan on how the capital will be used to grow and add value to the business and (3) investors who see an opportunity for a return on their investment in the business, he said.

Katona explained that most startups will require funding at some point, but that funding can come from many different sources. 

“Venture investment is only one source and is appropriate for only a small percentage of startups,” he said. “Early investment in companies typically comes from friends and family who aren’t necessarily looking for venture type returns, and although they still want a return on their investment, they are largely investing in the entrepreneur because they have a personal connection or relationship with that individual.

Katona also pressed the importance of an entrepreneur finding a method of funding that is appropriate for their startup.

“In my opinion, the most important question for entrepreneurs to be able to answer is what is the right type of investor they should be looking for that aligns with their expected business growth and investment return, and being able to identify which investors may be appropriate for different stages of a business’s growth,” he said.

 

What is a mastermind group, and how do I find one?

A mastermind group refers to a peer-to-peer mentorship group composed of people in similar industries. 

Jose Huitron, the CIE’s Director of Student Innovation Programs and an OCOB professor, suggested that entrepreneurs who are looking for communities similar to mastermind groups use social networks like Meetup.com, LinkedIn and Facebook. He also suggested using existing networks for referrals, or finding like-minded individuals in on- and off-line gathering places — for example, one might find fellow book-lovers at a bookstore or library.

Part of building social capital is to become genuinely interested in connecting with others whether that means attending a meetup or relevant industry gathering,” Huitron said. “Everyone has a community.”

 

How do you convince your parents that entrepreneurship is a good choice?

Huitron advised students to explain the significance of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship teaches problem-solving skills and creativity, both of which are valuable skills in a world that is constantly changing.

“A student should use the opportunity to explain how entrepreneurship is an enabler for them to practice their skills and bring their talents to the stage of opportunity,” Huitron said. 

 

How can we level the playing field to increase diversity in the sphere of entrepreneurship?

Huitron suggested a number of efforts that can be made in order to increase diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within the entrepreneurship space:

Raise the narrative. Talk about it. Highlight the challenges and opportunities for growth. Celebrate progress,” he said.

He also said that it is important to “make equitable progress a focal point.” Organizations should take advantage of opportunities to increase diversity, and create strategic DEI initiatives with measurable impact.

“Find champions and have them model the way to drive an inclusive and open community where ideas and people can thrive,” Huitron said. 

 

How can heavy industry better engage with early stage startups?

Dan Weeks, a mentor to several student-led CIE startups, including our 2022 Summer Accelerator teams, teaches his mentees “how to test if new business ideas actually solve real problems [for which] target customers are actively searching for a solution,” rather than exhaust time and resources creating a product they assume customers want, he said.

Early stage startups can accomplish this through digital marketing advertisements and single-page websites for new product ideas, then developing products that generate consumer interest.

Meanwhile, Weeks said heavy industry “often has ideas on new products to add to their offerings but does not know how to test if the new product [is worth investing in.]” 

“Heavy industry can learn from the early stage startup best practices,” he said.

Comments are off for this post

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.”

Comments are off for this post
1 2 3