Cal Poly Student Startups Receive $5,000 VentureWell Grants

Two Cal Poly student startups are among 50 E-Teams across the nation chosen to receive $5,000 grants from VentureWell, a nonprofit that supports invention, innovation and entrepreneurship in higher education, government and philanthropy.

VentureWell defines an E-Team (entrepreneurial team) as a multidisciplinary group of students, faculty and industry mentors collaborating to bring a product to market.

The winning Cal Poly teams, Higea Technologies and Mantis Composites, have been active participants in Cal Poly’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), which offers a wide range of programs to foster new student ventures.

“Cal Poly was the only school with two teams chosen to participate in the program,” said Tom Katona, assistant professor of innovation and entrepreneurship and team advisor. “That’s all the more impressive considering that most of the award recipients were from major research universities.”

Higea Tech, which uses magnetic nanotechnology to separate oil and water recovered from oil spills, was launched last spring at CIE’s Innovation Quest competition, where the team won the $10,000 Parsons Innovation Award. Last month, it took the top prize at the fifth annual TechPitch, another program sponsored by CIE.Higea Tech Team

The Higea Tech team includes Tanner Cook (Aspen, Colo.), chief executive officer, a mechanical engineering senior; Wyatt Nelson (Edmonds, Wash.), product development director, an aerospace engineering senior; Morgan Gramling (Los Gatos, Calif.), director of fundraising, a recent environmental management and protection graduate; and Parker Sommerville (Seattle, Wash.),  director of chemical development, a biochemistry junior. A new member of the team, Zoheb Mohammed (Chatsworth, Calif.), an industrial engineering graduate student, serves as the company’s business development director.

Mantis Composites aims to take rapid prototyping in new directions by using 3-D printing technology to construct and print carbon fiber materials.

“Our goal is to create functional components — such as lightweight brackets — not just prototypes,” said Michael Chapiro (Palo Alto, Calif.), the company’s chief technical officer and a materials engineering senior.

Mantis Composites TeamThe Mantis Composites team also includes aerospace students Ryan Dunn (Albuquerque, N.M.) and David Zilar (Kennewick, Wash.), chief executive officer and chief operations officer, respectively; Michael DeLay (Tucson, Ariz.), an electrical engineering major; and Ning Jeng (Fremont, Calif.), a bioresources and agricultural engineering major.

According to VentureWell, the $5,000 will allow each team to attend a three-day workshop on how to better articulate the opportunity for the innovation in the marketplace. Remaining funds may be used to support further development of the project/product.

About the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

CIE opens a world of entrepreneurial opportunity to Cal Poly students and faculty members. The center promotes entrepreneurial activity, scholarship and dialogue across the university and throughout San Luis Obispo County.

About VentureWell

VentureWell was founded in 1995 as the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance and rebranded in 2014 to underscore its impact as an education network that cultivates revolutionary ideas and promising inventions. A not-for-profit organization reaching more than 200 universities, VentureWell is a leader in funding, training, coaching and early investment that brings student innovations to market. Inventions created by VentureWell grantees are reaching millions of people in more than 50 countries and helping to solve some of the greatest 21st century challenges.


Higea Technologies team, from left: Parker Sommerville, Morgan Gramling, Tanner Cook and Wyatt Nelson, co-founders of Higea Technologies. (Not pictured: Zehab Mohammed, director of business operations.)

Mantis Composites team back row, from left: David Zilar, Ryan Dunn and Ning Jeng; front row, from left: Michael DeLay and Michael Chapiro.

Former Amazon Employee to Lead Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Cal Poly

Tod NelsonTod Nelson, an entrepreneur and former Amazon employee, has been appointed the first executive director of Cal Poly’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (CIE).

Nelson, who begins his post July 1, will be responsible for representing the CIE to its supporters and alumni while building relationships with the local entrepreneurial community to bolster the program’s growth.

“Tod’s extensive industry experience and passion for student success puts him in the perfect position to lead the CIE,” said Cal Poly President Jeffrey D. Armstrong. “The CIE is Learn by Doing in action, and its programs energize the entire campus.”

Nelson began his career at Amazon in 1995 as one of the company’s first 10 employees. During his tenure, he led the launch of Amazon Music and Video in Germany and worked on the launch teams of Amazon Music and Video in the U.S.

As a business consultant, Nelson has spent many years helping new companies navigate through the start-up phase and develop e-commerce and social media marketing strategies.

Recently, Nelson has been closely involved with the CIE as the entrepreneur in residence at the on-campus incubator, the Hatchery, and as a lead mentor for the CIE’s student programs. Nelson has also taught introductory entrepreneurship courses in Cal Poly’s Orfalea College of Business.

Nelson will work closely with CIE co-founder and faculty director Jonathan York and Judy Mahan, Small Business Development Center director, to expand programming and help entrepreneurs connected to Cal Poly and the Central Coast pursue their dreams.

“We are excited to have Tod join the team as executive director,” York said. “He is a visionary leader and tireless advocate for entrepreneurs, and he has focused his career on leveraging innovation to create jobs and empower communities.”

Nelson’s position begins as the CIE’s SLO HotHouse begins to move into expanded space on Higuera Street above Ross Dress for Less. With the new space, the SLO HotHouse will expand its services and accept more applicants from the local community into its accelerator and incubator programs. A record 17 new startups will join the SLO HotHouse summer accelerator program this month. If all make it into the incubation program in the fall, there could be as many as 25 startups working in the new space.

“I’m thrilled to take on this role as CIE is boldly moving forward,” Nelson said. “I truly believe that by connecting Cal Poly to the local community and business leaders, the CIE is creating opportunities for the Central Coast to be a hub for innovation and entrepreneurial activities as it becomes a premier hot spot for startups.”

The CIE has grown considerably in recent years, extending resources and events to more students, faculty and community members than ever. On campus, record numbers of students are engaging in pitch competitions, hackathons, startup career fairs and Learn by Doing programs such as the Innovation Sandbox, which encourages innovative exploration across all fields of study. The CIE also launched the Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs program and supports more than 20 companies at the SLO HotHouse, 12 entrepreneurial programs, and a continually growing network of innovators.

Five Student Startups Split $45K in Cal Poly’s Innovation Quest Competition

LiftGator Team The LiftGator team accepts the first place award at Innovation Quest.

Cal Poly hosted the finals of the 12th annual Innovation Quest (iQ) competition on April 24, bringing together students and alumni from different fields of study, including business. An interdisciplinary team of two Cal Poly students and an alumnus took first place for their invention of LiftGator, a removable, full-size hitch- mounted lift gate.

Justin Russo, a mechanical engineering student; Matt Kloss, business administration, and Marty Affentranger, a graduate of the mechanical engineering program, won the $15,000 Carson Chen Innovation Award. The LiftGator is designed to attach to the rear of a pickup. One person can install it in under three minutes.

More than 170 applicants representing 55 teams from across campus competed for $45,000 in this year’s iQ. Eighteen finalists presented their ideas to a panel of judges; five teams won prizes and corporate-sponsored awards. Orfalea College of Business students played a role on four of the five winning teams.

“We had so many deserving teams, it was really fun to see the students put the pressure back on the judging panel at the end of the day,” said Thomas Katona, associate professor of innovation and entrepreneurship in Cal Poly’s Biomedical Engineering Department. “We had a great spectrum of product ideas, including medical devices, Web and mobile apps, and food and water management technologies.  Our polytechnic spirit was truly on display.”

Additional prizewinners were Chad Kihm, an industrial engineering student, Brian Pocock, agribusiness, Becker McGuire, business administration, and team members Matt Ortiz and Luke Bland, who won the $10,000 Rich and Jackie Boberg Innovation Award for their product, App Scrolls. The creators said App Scrolls has the potential to become the largest online community to connect, educate and entertain mobile gamers.

Eric Adler and Garrett Hall, both mechanical engineering students, and Jeffrey Hufford, an electrical engineering student, took third place and $5,000 for SENCE, a wireless smart water meter that provides homeowners with real-time water usage information via a phone app.

Tanner Cook, mechanical engineering major, Wyatt Nelson, aerospace engineering, David Juarez, business administration, Morgan Gramling, environmental management & protection, and USC student Adam Gramling won the $10,000 Parsons Innovation Award for Higea Technologies for creating a material that enables extraction and recovery of petroleum from spill zones.

Stanley Laszczyk and Harvir Humpal, biomedical engineering students, and Jessica Krtek, business administration, won the $5,000 Quality of Life Plus (QL+) Award for the U-Turner, an ergonomic body sling that helps nurses more easily turn patients on their side for treatment.

These teams will be invited to interview for the SLO HotHouse Summer Accelerator program, a Cal Poly CIE venture. Accepted teams receive $10,000 to help fund their startup, mentorship, workspace and business guidance. The LiftGator team is already part of the HotHouse program, so the team that took sixth-place in the iQ competition will be invited to interview as well.

Innovation Quest, held in cooperation with the Cal Poly Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (CIE), is designed to encourage innovators to pursue their ideas and help with the funding needed to launch their business.

Cal Poly graduates and business leaders founded iQ as a nonprofit philanthropic corporation to promote innovation and give back to the community. Since its inception, iQ has awarded more than $300,000.

Thirteen of 24 award winners are still in business, including local companies such as InPress Technologies, RepairTech and iFixit.

For more information about iQ and the winners, go to:

Business Students Among First Graduates of Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs Program

Silicon Valley EntrepreneursThe first cohort of 17 Cal Poly students immersed in an intensive 10-week entrepreneurship and innovation “boot camp,” will graduate from the new program this month.

The Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs: A Study-Away Entrepreneurship Immersion Program is a collaborative effort involving Cal Poly’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (CIE) and Extended Education, and Draper University. Students from all disciplines throughout Cal Poly took part in a unique entrepreneurial experience in the world’s capital of technology innovation: Silicon Valley.

Cal Poly’s Orfalea College of Business and College of Liberal Arts co-sponsored a concentrated three-week course, followed by seven weeks in San Mateo at Draper University. The aim was to help would-be entrepreneurs embrace risk and find the motivation to innovate.

Of the 17 students representing Cal Poly, 10 were business students concentrating in everything from economics, to industrial technology, to finance. Cal Poly’s cohort of undergraduate students studied alongside master’s degree candidates and working professionals at Draper University.

“As a freshman, I needed to complete some prerequisite courses in order to take some of the entrepreneurship classes I was interested in,” said Katie White, business administration major. “This program offered me a chance to take those classes and to spend 10 weeks with driven, ambitious, smart entrepreneurs in an environment that would help me take my idea much farther than I could solely on campus.”

The program touched on broad issues such as finance, the legal system, creativity and survival. Courses focused on such varied topics as venture capital, sales and digital marketing, negotiation, prototyping, and the important lessons of failure.

The program culminated with a pitch competition in Silicon Valley where more than 30 teams pitched to an audience of venture capital investors. Cal Poly students led three teams that placed in the competition’s top five. Industrial Technology senior Tiffany Keller took second place in the competition with PolyLabs, a smart keychain that remotely accesses apps with the push of a button thanks to Dingbot technology. Economics sophomore Eli Burch and business administration freshman Katie White took third place with Clock’d, a bluetooth enabled app that allows hourly employees to clock in and out of work while recording data for improved work efficiency. Fifth place went to business major Tommy Espinoza, who partnered with fellow Draper student Yoni Dejene; their concept for Investful imagines an online school with interactive and project-based courses on trading stocks.

Both PolyLabs and Clock’d have been accepted in to the CIE’s Hatchery, Cal Poly’s on-campus incubator for student projects and startups.

“This program has better prepared me to become an entrepreneur in many ways,” said industrial technology senior Matt Prout. “I have gained invaluable insight on creating a company from successful entrepreneurs and experts in many different fields. I’ve learned important lessons and have done activities that pushed me in various aspects of my life. All of these skills and experiences directly translate to life as an entrepreneur.”

Business Students Win Two Awards, Funding in Cal Poly’s Pitch Perfect Competition

Kennedy Library and Orfalea College of Business are proud to announce the first round winners of the Pitch Perfect Competition. The contest partners with the the Cal Poly Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship to encourage students to pitch an idea that fosters interdisciplinary collaboration at Cal Poly. The Orfalea College of Business has provided $25,000 in prize money make a student’s idea into a reality.

In February, students from all colleges submitted video pitches for developing new spaces, apps and programs to bring people together across campus. After judges weighed in, the winners of Round 1 are:

Best Overall $1,000 & President’s Pick $850: PolyProjects by Kathryn Cassidy
Best of Orfalea $750: CoLab by Ashlee Lam (Orfalea College of Business Student)
Most Creative $700: Brilliant Minds by Sean Christensen AND Expand by David Quiray
Fan Fave $700: PolyPaths by Jenna Hoffman (Orfalea College of Business Student)

“I couldn’t be more impressed by and proud of each and every student who participated,” said President Jeffrey Armstrong. “I am particularly struck by the number of students who focused on wanting tools to help connect with other students across academic disciplines. I have no doubt their combined interest and energy can and will lead to some tangible ways to enhance collaboration. This is what Learn by Doing is all about.”

In this year’s expanded competition, all students who entered Round 1 are invited to enter Round 2. In that round, students will develop a one page business canvas for the idea they pitched in the video. One canvas is selected as a winner and awarded an additional $1,000. Students who complete Round 2 will also be considered for the SLO HotHouse Accelerator Program. The deadline is April 20, 2015.

The CIE will host an information session on how to write a one-page business canvas on Thursday, April 2 during UU Hour (11 a.m. – 12 p.m.) in the Entrepreneurship Ideation Lab (Bldg. 2 Rm. 206).

The student or team who submits the winning business canvas will work with library staff and faculty on developing their idea during summer quarter 2015 with a generous program budget. This may involve developing a prototype, collaborating with a vendor or otherwise finding creative ways to implement a new idea. They will also be considered for the SLO HotHouse Accelerator Program.