Student entrepreneurs looking to turn their innovative ideas into full-fledged businesses will have that chance this summer, with the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s second SLO HotHouse Summer Accelerator.
The HotHouse is a 12-week program created last year by the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to help foster new companies in San Luis Obispo and give Cal Poly students the resources they need to make their ideas viable businesses, Jessie Becker, innovation coordinator for the Center and HotHouse coordinator said.
“(The goal is) being able to support some of the fantastic talent that’s coming out of Cal Poly,” Becker said.
Last year’s HotHouse was a test-run, he said, where different models of business acceleration were tested. This year, Becker intends to make the HotHouse program even more intense for students, with less student businesses accepted and more focus being given to each of the HotHouse companies.
“We learned a ton, and this summer we’re going to ratchet up the intensity,” Becker said.
Student entrepreneurs admitted to HotHouse, known as Founders, receive office space, $10,000 seed funding and local mentors with start-up business experience to help support that talent.
The HotHouse also provides legal advice to its Founders, which covers everything from incorporation to property law, Becker said.
“You’ll get all of the professional advice and even some of the paperwork done that you need to really be an official company,” Becker said.
But not everyone can become a Founder. The HotHouse is looking for student companies that already have a tested idea and a basic business model, Becker said. Strong teams are also ones that have diverse members, who can cover all areas of business, design and technical work together, Becker said.
“We are looking for student Founders that are really serious about their companies, want to make a commitment,” Becker said.
For those who do participate in the HotHouse, they can turn an idea into a business, said mechanical engineering graduate and HotHouse alumnus Camille Sybert.
Sybert’s start up, BevCool, began as a class project, creating a portable device to cool multiple beverages in three minutes. Sybert’s classmates turned the assignment into their senior project, recruiting several business students and a graphic communication student to help.
While the senior project helped them improve their idea, it wasn’t enough to make BevCool a reality, Sybert said.
“By the end of our senior project, we had a working prototype, and we weren’t quite sure where to take it from there,” Sybert said.
A professor connected them with the HotHouse, and now the BevCool team has a patent pending on their design and is looking into manufacturing options.
The resources make all the difference in the program, said biomedical engineering senior and HotHouse alumnus Davis Carlin.
Carlin’s company, InPress Technologies, is creating a medical device to help the body naturally heal itself in the event of post-partum hemorrhage. Carlin’s friend came up with the idea while working on a similar project for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but the two ended up pursuing it as an independent venture, Carlin said.
They presented their business at last year’s Innovation Quest and were given a spot in the HotHouse. Before the HotHouse, InPress Technologies was mostly an idea, but throughout the summer, Carlin and his team were able to develop a long-term business model.
“The HotHouse is really what helped us develop our business plan,” he said. “I would really attribute the growth of our company as a business to the HotHouse.”
Carlin said the most helpful aspect for InPress Technologies was having a local mentor — his team was connected with a local woman who runs her own medical device start-up.
“She just guided us on a weekly, almost daily basis,” Carlin said.
This mentorship helps student founders understand the ins and outs of creating a business model, said Cal Poly graduate and HotHouse alumnus Casey Curtis.
Curtis’ business, an application called Smart Bar that allows people to buy concessions from their phone at concerts, festivals and other events, began as an idea last spring at Cal Poly Entrepreneurs, an on-campus entrepreneurship club.
Curtis and his team presented Smart Bar at last year’s Innovation Quest, where they won second place and a spot in the HotHouse last summer. Since then, they’ve launched their app at Snowball, a music festival, and are setting up meetings to partner with international event companies.
“They just really helped define our company and give us the resources and knowledge of the different steps needed to grow a large and sustainable company,” Curtis said.
Student Founders also benefit from HotHouse’s legal advice and services, Curtis said.
“They just help save us a lot of money, a lot of start up costs,” Curtis said.
The deadline for companies to apply is April 19, and the top 10 applicants will be announced April 23. The top companies will then give final presentations, before it is narrowed down to the top five companies, who will each be given a spot in the HotHouse this summer, from June 11 to August 31.