Cal Poly Launches Joint Senior Project with Business and Engineering Students

Cal Poly Professors Thomas Katona, Lynne Slivovsky and Jonathan York have launched the university’s first series of joint senior project courses between business and engineering students.

The journey began in the spring of 2015 when formed interdisciplinary teams and pitched projects involving robotics, clean tech, Internet of Things, wearables, data analytics, virtual reality and bitcoin. Business and engineering students spent fall quarter developing low and high resolutions prototypes. At the same time, they conducted consumer market validation testing for their concept.

According to entrepreneurship senior Kali Lauhon, many groups pivoted their idea during this exploratory time. “Over the course of the year, adapted our idea at least three different times, but the guidance of our professors and the motivation from our classmates kept us going.”

Through BUS 488: Planning Managing New Ventures in winter quarter, the teams formed more stable business plans and explored larger-scale production of their products. Spring quarter gave each team the chance to work more independently on their concepts, many of them entering Cal Poly’s Innovation Quest competition.

This intensive experience provided the platform to help launch an entrepreneurial career and better understand the journey of entrepreneurial teams. Several also entered — and placed highly — in Cal Poly’s Innovation Quest competition. ObserVR, a startup that turns streaming video into virtual reality content, placed third and won a $5,000 cash prize.

For more insight on the project, check out the journal below that chronicles the process the business and engineering students went through. Michelle Read, Dominic Sanchez, Kali Lauhon, Jacob Sanchez, Ellis Good, and Andrew Escamilla worked together on a multi-disciplinary senior project that initially focused on creating a non-invasive device that can continuously monitor sodium levels in individuals.  Throughout the course of the project they had to pivot away from their initial idea, trying to find a need with more consumer demand.

Fall Quarter

Week 9: This week we officially pivoted from our idea of a sodium monitoring device. We found from our market development interviews that there was little need for such a device, and it would not be that helpful to physicians or patients. We spent at least a couple hours, somewhat nervously, deciding on our next direction. After sharing our interview experiences, we realized there was a common theme to the interviews: dosage issues and disease management. There were three stories that convinced us to pursue this problem. The first is a story about a woman who gained 100 lbs of water weight because medicine for Diabetes Insipidus was dosed improperly. The second story was about a man who had to go into the hospital every two days for two to three weeks to get blood tests for his blood thinning medicine. The third story came from a doctor who complained about the inefficient process of finding the right dosage for a patient.

Week 10: We all tried to look farther into the problem of finding the proper dosages for patients in our team meeting, but more questions arose than answers. We realized, along with the help from our instructors, that we did not know enough about the process in which drugs are prescribed. We did not know how much each party was involved (patients, doctors, and pharmacists), and we did not know what medications and ailments would need a solution the most. Over thanksgiving break we decided to interview some doctors, pharmacists, and warfarin patients.

Week 11: We found that each team in the class was at a very unique point in their own startup journey. The presentations were supposed to include our value proposition, MVP, and future plans; however, since we pivoted late in the quarter and did not get a chance to do market development for our new direction, our presentation showed our journey over the quarter. It concluded with what we planned to do next quarter. After the presentation, our instructors emailed us and said they were concerned about the uncertainty of our direction. They told us we need to make progress over winter break in order to catch up to the other teams.

Finals Week: We did not meet until Friday of finals week. Our idea for our new plan after a couple of market interviews during thanksgiving break is to not make a physical product at all. Instead, we plan on having an online service which allows patients to lease blood monitoring devices. With the devices they can input their levels into a website which virtually connects them to their doctor. We came up with specific action items that each member of our team needs to achieve by the time we get back from break. This includes: customer development interviews, FDA research, HIPAA research, market research, medicine research, and technical research on existing blood monitoring products.


Winter Quarter

Week 1: We have officially decided on a project to pivot to! It has been a long and strenuous decision making process but we are excited and refreshed after 3 weeks of customer development and in depth research. We have decided to focus on the communication aspect of what the medical field has to offer and how patient and doctor communication can be improved. We have received guidance from our advisors and are caught up with the rest of our class projects to stay on track.

Week 2: After meeting with one of the advisors to our class we determined that we needed a coder. None of our team members knows how to design or code a website, so it’s necessary that we learn. This week has been full of contacting clubs, classes, and organizations in order to find someone that might want to help. We have pitched to many people with no luck. Our professors have told us they would help us out.

Week 3: We finally found coders! Two people in Lynn Slivovsky’s capstone class (our senior project professor’s CPE class) have agreed to help us for course credit. This week we came up with the initial designs for our prototype. After much deliberation about what were the most important features of our prototype we decided that the main focus should be on the communication and sending the info to the doctor. We made our prototype using, a website builder.

Week 4: Our teachers this week helped us come up with an MVP or minimum viable product. The purpose of this is to get a measurable response from our potential customers. With this measurable response we are supposed to interpret what is going right and what is going wrong with our product. We committed to making a landing page with information about the service we want to provide and measuring the internet traffic we get on the website. We also presented the first iteration of our prototype and MVP plans to our teachers.

Week 5: We made the landing page and are starting a ten day trial for our MVP. We paid for $50 dollars worth of Facebook ads and are trying to post in warfarin Facebook pages to try and advertise our site. We also bought a INR point-of-care monitor in order to see how it functions and if we can store the data from the device to the computer or our website. Our two software engineers are also making the prototype for our website. We will assess how the MVP went after our ten day trial with the goals of getting 100 hits and 15 subscribers.

Week 6: Week 6 proved to be a bit of a disappointment for our MVP and beta testing of our project. We, as a team, were a little frustrated with the outcome being that we did not reach the goal that we had set of 15 subscribers. After consulting with our professors and discussing the realistic results for a MVP test like this, we learned that a ten percent retention rate is a realistic number for the number of people that would be willing to to sign up for more information about the product. This instilled some hope in us and motivated us to run more ads on different websites like Google and Bing.

Week 7: On Monday, we had our last presentation of the quarter. The presentation was in the form of a board meeting with the professors. Our team liked the format of the presentation because it more closely mirrors the types of meetings that would happen between venture capitalists and business executives in the real world. The professors gave their feedback and suggested that we take a more experimental approach to our MVP. They said that we should constantly change the Facebook ads to our website and monitor traffic in order to determine the best ads to attract customers.

Week 8: This week our group worked on our prototype and MVP. In order to determine design features on our website it is necessary we get the INR device we purchased off ebay to work. Currently the device will not relay information to any computer because it works with a special software that the company of the device makes. We cannot get the software because no one on our team has a prescription for it. We also came up with suggested changes to our Facebook ads which we will implement next week.

Week 9: Our website has not been getting much traffic. We failed the goals of our MVP which were 100 viewers and 15 subscribers. After checking on the ads that we did in order to determine if our they needed to be changed we realized that we never paid for them and therefore they weren’t shown on Facebook. We fixed this issue and sent out new ads. Our current MVP is to make new ads and run them for 3-4 days instead of 10. This way we can make iterative changes to the ads faster in order to determine which ones work and which ones don’t. We have also been getting kicked out of Facebook groups when we try to advertise for our site. This is a good learning experience because we realize that people do not want to be advertised in this way.

Week 10: We ended up not having to give a presentation on our business this week. We turned in a design document to our professors which contains the following: product definition, changes to the business model canvass, interview lists and notes, pictures of prototypes, and results of our MVP. After we turned this in we were done for the quarter.


Spring Quarter

Week 1: Continuing on the problem that Professor Katona pointed out to us at the end of the last quarter, we tried to contact people in charge of Coumadin clinics. People running these clinics may not want innovation to their current technology because doctors may be able to bill the insurance companies every time a patient comes in to get their INR levels checked. Michelle and Kali went to many clinics within SLO to determine the business model of the clinic. We determined that we should add diet to the website because what the patients eat can affect the dosing of the blood thinner.

Week 2: We are currently working on our prototype in order to deliver the best possible product at the end of the year. The professors have now been teaching us how to pitch to investors now that we have MVPs, prototypes, and finals products nailed down. We wrote a 90 second story in class that we will have to give at some point this quarter randomly for the professors. We all agreed to memorize it. We will be giving this speech to people at the senior project expo in the spring. We still are trying to get an INR device from one of the existing companies in order to determine how to interface it with our website.