Cal Poly Business Students Explore Cuba over Spring Break

Students in CubaInformation systems Professor Barry Floyd, Director of Student Services Amy Carter and Advisor Katelyn O’Brien led a cohort of 22 students on the college’s first official trip to Cuba. The trip coincided with President Obama’s trip to Cuba as relations between the two countries begin to warm again.A group of students in Cuba

Throughout the week-long journey, students visited with business leaders in a variety of economic sectors, including agriculture and art. Students attended a discussion on U.S./Cuban Relations lead by Paul Rodriguez from the University of Havana as well as a round-table discussion about the changing forces of Cuba’s economic structure with Ricardo Torres, a macroeconomist at the University of Havana.

The students had the opportunity to visit El Trigal, Havana’s new wholesale market, which is the first private cooperative market to emerge since Cuba monopolized wholesale operations in the 1960s. While they were there, the students spoke to one of the owners, Claudio Sabron, who discussed how the market is uniquely run as a cooperative with the state. Students also had the chance to tour a tobacco farm and a classic car shop, where they discussed the inner workings of the business with the clients.

Students meet local business owners in CubaKayla Babu, one of the students on the trip, had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Rena Perez, a former member of the Ministry of Agriculture in Cuba, during their time there. Babu and Perez met to discuss the student’s business venture idea regarding the toxic by-products of the sugar industry and distilleries in Cuba.  Perez discussed with Kayla how the recent growth in the tourism industry, the lack of technology to produce more efficient agricultural processes, and the lack of pay for skilled Cuban workers has led to a decrease in the agricultural sector; however Perez expressed confidence that the county will soon bounce back and return to its agricultural roots.  Kayla’s talk with Dr. Perez helped to give her an understanding of a true perspective on Cuban businesses and Cuban life in general.

The group also took time for cultural immersion, from touring historical sites including Cuba’s most famous landscape, Valle de Vinales, to taking a salsa dance class taught by a local instructor. Students also took in a Rolling Stones concert as the band made a surprise trip to the island.

To read more about the Cal Poly spring break trips, click here.

To read more about Kayla’s meeting with Dr. Perez, click here.

Orfalea Students Explore Havana, Cuba

This past Spring Break, Cal Poly’s OCOB sent 22 of us, business students to Cuba on, perhaps, the most historical trip of our lives. Apart from learning about Cuba’s extensive history of rebellion and communism, we had the wonderful chance to meet with several business and industry leaders throughout the week (and see Obama’s motorcade pass across us in the city of Havana).

And with the help of a very dedicated tour company, Distant Horizons, I was able to set up a one-on-one meeting with Dr. Rena Perez, who had once worked with the Ministry of Agriculture in Cuba, and is now a retired advisor to the Ministry of Sugar. The purpose of our meeting addressed a personal business venture idea, regarding toxic by-products of the sugar industry and distilleries in Cuba. But after speaking with her, I had completely changed from a business-focused perspective to an empathetic one.

She helped me understand just how rapidly Cuba has been changing, and how understated the country is in foreign affairs media coverage. She mentioned several things, but here are some of the most important points of our discussion. The sugar industry has been cut down over the past few years, as the rural labor force is steadily decreasing. Due to the Literacy Project back in the 60s directly following Castro’s revolution, the literacy rate in Cuba has been a high 97% but unfortunately, Cuba does not have the infrastructure or the resources necessary to employ skilled Cubans. Because most things are state-run, their funding comes from the government, rather than foreign direct investment. Educated people try to leave the country, sometimes heading to the US, where they believe there are more opportunities for their skill set. The lack of technology to create more efficient processes hasn’t helped the country either. All of that added onto the recent growth of the tourism industry, are pushing the agricultural sector down.
Yet, Dr. Perez also expressed great hope for the country in the long term, stating that she was confident Cuba would come back to its roots in agriculture eventually.

It was humbling to talk to such an influential political leader within Cuba, and even more humbling to understand a true perspective of Cuban life, rather than getting a sugar-coated version from a mainstream tour.

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 Faculty Lead Two Study Abroad Programs to India

By: Lauren Piraro
Special to Mustang News

India is 8,290 miles away from California, nestled between Pakistan and Nepal. Someone who is not familiar with India might conjure up colorful visions of an exotic and foreign land teeming with life and cultural complexities.

Though not typically thought of as a study abroad destination, India has many lessons to teach Cal Poly students — in and out of the classroom.

With two new study abroad programs, “Business and Culture in India” and “Management and Culture in India,” being introduced this year, students will have the opportunity to get to know the real India while also earning college credit.

Cal Poly packaging program director and business administration professor Jay Singh is eager to embark on a four-week experiential business and culture course that’s distinctly tailored with a unique approach to learning.

“You go to a new company, it’s a new classroom,” he explained. “It’s not anything that I know Cal Poly or any other program is doing currently where the classroom changes three times a day on the road.”

The “Business and Culture in India” program includes a humanities and business administration course, “India: Culture, Traditions and Globalization” and “Indian Business Culture.” The humanities course will focus on various aspects of India’s culture, like spirituality, geography and history that heavily influence the country’s business operations.

Singh estimates that he will be visiting at least 20 companies throughout the course of the trip. During the graduate student study abroad programs that he has led in the past, visits have included Cisco, Google and IBM.

Singh said that learning about India’s unique business structure will further business students’ careers.

“You’ve got all these crazy things going on that would never be acceptable to our society, but these are the type of countries that will be dictating terms in a few decades,” he said. “I’m just exposing students to the human side of things. You could take all the business courses here at Cal Poly and never understand that aspect.”

While traveling from New Delhi to Agra, Mumbai, Pune and Bengaluru, students will have the option to further immerse themselves into the culture with visits to a yoga ashram, the opportunity to experience Mumbai’s nightlife, participate in cooking classes and visit open air street markets. Each city will also incorporate a guided tour along with a free day to wander and explore.

“We’ll be taking them to the Taj Mahal, some forts and factories and we’ll see things being made and constructed,” Singh said. “If they think they know Indian food, it’s going to be an eye-opener.”

Singh incorporates pre-departure sessions into his program to better prepare the students for the adventure ahead.

“We try to get them to learn about India as much as they can beforehand,” he said. “Then again, we can’t really prepare anyone for it. Even I get surprised when I go back there, even though I’ve been there so many times.”

Understanding different types of business and culture is critical for students, whether they are seeking degrees in business or not, Singh says.

“The exposure will bring a lot of meaning to whoever participates,” he said. “It’s not just a course. It’s also about learning about yourself, learning to adapt, learning to be understanding. And that’s the underlying theme throughout all of this.”

Another new and emerging Cal Poly study abroad opportunity in India is “Management and Culture in India,” led by international management professor Beena Khurana.

The courses within the program includes “Culture of India,” a humanities course and a business course titled “International and Cross-cultural management.” Classes are at the Indian School of Business, a premiere college within the country located in Hyderabad.

“I teach international management and cross-cultural relations, so taking a course like that in India is virtually like having a laboratory right around you,” she said. “It makes wonderful sense.”

She plans to begin in Hyderabad while making her way to Mohali. Along the way, students will have the opportunity to explore the culture of India through many varied and colorful assignments, like wearing traditional Indian clothing for a day and renting out an auditorium for a screening of a Bollywood film.

“One is never too old to become bicultural,” she explained. “The idea is that I am going to introduce you to a new culture and encourage you to embrace it. And you should come back a changed person.”

Excursions outside of the main city include a trip to the Taj Mahal in Agra and a trek to Amritsar’s Golden Temple. A visit to the Wagha Border of India and Pakistan for the changing of the guard will be a great learning experience for students.

“This really gives the students a good sense of history and a good sense of India’s colonial past,” she said.

While visiting the cities, Khurana scheduled tours to better acquaint the students with nearby temples, architectural monuments and markets.

Guest lectures are also planned with speakers discussing Indian literature, social movements and women’s issues in India. Visits to varying types of businesses and companies are also on the itinerary.

“You will see things that bother you,” she said. “On the other hand, you will also see things that really please you. It’s a country that speaks to your heart and you must be prepared to feel.”

Khurana says her goal is to make sure students come back from their trip with a widened perspective.

“One could first ask, ‘Why travel to India?’” she said. “India has become a progressively larger player on the global scene. It really behooves us to introduce India to Cal Poly students and that’s my objective.”

Khurana explains that her program is an effective way to gain bi-cultural experience, whether you are a business major or not, which is an attractive quality to employers.

“You might come back from India not having liked it, but you might come back having fallen in love with the place,” she said. “You will never know sitting here in San Luis Obispo.”

To read the original Mustang News article, visit

Cal Poly Business Students Prepare to Study Away in Silicon Valley

Cal Poly business students will help pilot the university’s Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs program in winter 2015. The program will give 17 Cal Poly students the opportunity to study away in Silicon Valley with Draper University as part of a universitywide effort to bolster entrepreneurial resources for students across campus.

Ten Orfalea College of Business students will participate in the program – the largest contingent from any college at Cal Poly.  Business majors, along with art, political science, computer science and kinesiology students, will spend three weeks at Cal Poly before studying at Draper University for the remaining seven weeks of winter quarter.

“I’m proud to see so many business students leading the way in this program,” said Orfalea College of Business Dean Scott Dawson. “We’re preparing graduates to make an impact on day one of their careers, and when it comes to entrepreneurship, I can’t think of a better training ground than this program.”

Orfalea College of Business professors Tom Katona and Tod Nelson will teach entrepreneurship courses complemented by business ethics curriculum taught by Cal Poly philosophy professor Kenneth Brown. Katona, Nelson and Brown will visit Silicon Valley periodically to work with students in and out of the classroom. Students will also have the chance to engage with Cal Poly alumni and guest speakers from the valley’s startups and venture capital firms.

“This is much more than just an academic experience for our students,” said Katona of the program. “This is an immersive experience into the entrepreneurial culture that is thriving in Silicon Valley and driving business globally.”

Orfalea College of Business students studying industrial technology, finance, entrepreneurship and economics will participate in the program. The cohort includes Katie White, a business administration freshman and winner of the Audience Choice Award at the 2014 Ray Scherr Pitch Competition. Entrepreneurship sophomore Nicholas Sinai will also participate in the program. He was named University Innovation Fellow by the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter) in 2014. Alfredo Espinoza, business administration freshman and a member of the Cal Poly Wrestling Team, will also be part of the cohort.

The Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs program is a partnership between Draper University and Cal Poly that aims to amplify the Learn by Doing philosophy. As part of the Cal Poly’s larger effort to build innovative curriculum and programs, the university and its Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship have developed a spectrum of resources for students to develop and sharpen new products, create startups, and collaborate across disciplines while working toward their degree. Those resources include the SLO HotHouse, the on-campus Hatchery and the Innovation Sandbox.

Draper University was founded by venture capitalist Tim Draper to “teach entrepreneurship to people who are relentless in their desire to change the world and make things happen.” Draper is the founder and managing director of Menlo Park, Calif.-based venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson. The company — with more than $7 billion in capital commitments and affiliate offices in more than 30 cities worldwide — has funded many well-known technology companies, including Hotmail, Skype, SpaceX and Tesla Motors.

For more details about Draper University, visit

For more on Cal Poly’s Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs program, visit: