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Innovation at Cal Poly

by Cathy Enns

Innovation at Cal Poly

A new program at Cal Poly, the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, promises to boost student career choices as well as serving as a shot in the arm for San Luis Obispo business prospects. Just launched this fall, the center’s mission is to transform motivated students into resourceful, entrepreneurial and innovative leaders through classroom and hands-on experiences.

Cal Poly has long had tremendous entrepreneurial potential. In fact, the university’s “learn-by-doing” tradition has encouraged students to explore each idea, whether it’s launching a Web-based enterprise, producing a working product prototype in an on-campus lab or taking an internship with a San Luis Obispo business.

The new Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship takes this potential and adds support for students through program elements such as boot camps, an ideation lab, mentoring, on-campus speakers and exchange forums with San Luis Obispo business leaders.

Jon York, the first professor of entrepreneurship at Cal Poly’s Orfalea College of Business and one of the co-founders of the center, explains his motivation to establish the new program. “Today’s grads are entering a much different world than the one faced by previous generations; their success may depend on the ability to develop opportunities for themselves.”

Fortunately, given their high quality, high energy and can-do spirits, Cal Poly students are well positioned to take advantage of opportunities the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship puts in front of them. Here are some of the new companies already being launched by students and young graduates:

· Flipbrake – a new style of bicycle braking system that allows riders to stop their bike smoothly and with control through a single right-hand brake lever. Flipbrake virtually eliminates panicked “head over handlebar” crashes while freeing up one hand for carrying groceries or taking along the dog.

· WorthMonkey – an online “blue book” for people who need help valuing used electronics and other items for sale. A user simply types in the item and other pertinent information, such as year of manufacture or part number, and the website yields a price range bell curve.

· SpidrPak – a recyclable cardboard packaging system that could replace petroleum-based Styrofoam packing material. With a unique honeycombed design, SpidrPak pops up from lying nearly flat to cradle products for shipping. One of the first applications could be for the local wine industry.

Some of these startups will eventually be housed at Cal Poly’s new Technology Park, another new feature on the university landscape. Phase I includes a 25,000 square foot building completed earlier this year as an on-campus home for technology businesses and start ups. One tenant is Couto Solutions, a software development firm specializing in custom social networks for businesses and online communities founded by Justin Couto, an Orfalea College of Business graduate.

An important aspect of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is that it involves the entire Cal Poly community. Flipbrake, for instance, is a joint effort between a current student in the College of Engineering and a recent grad of the Orfalea College of Business. Across the university, students, faculty and alumni can work together to turn ideas into products and products into companies.

The San Luis Obispo business community is getting involved as well. Opportunities for locals include speaking on campus, advising and mentoring students and more. People who are interested in taking a more active role can join the Founder’s Circle and play a strong and ongoing part in the center’s development and programming. Each spring, the Founder’s Circle Symposium brings members together to showcase the current year’s innovations and gather input for future programs.

In San Luis Obispo, business leaders, government officials and local citizens have reacted to the opening of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship with a warm welcome. While it encourages students to follow their entrepreneurial instincts and develop new technologies the world will embrace, the center will also help create local companies that will provide much needed head-of-household jobs in the area.

That’s a win for everyone.

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