Cal Poly San Luis Obispo has unveiled a new center that university officials hope will foster more student startups and bring the school’s research out of the lab and into the marketplace.
About 130 people gathered at Cal Poly’s new Technology Park on Oct. 21 for the launch of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Lou Tornatzky, a co-director and founder of the center, said its goal is to give students more chances to engage in their own business pursuits and to “change the culture of Cal Poly” to make cross-discipline collaboration and commercializing research “part of the DNA.”
“California, despite it’s economic catastrophe right now, is still the envy of the world. I think we can make this place, the campus and the community, different,” he said.
Jonathan York, the other co-director and founder of the center, said it will tap into existing San Luis Obispo businesses to create “more of a connection between alumni and students for mentoring and internships.”
Cal Poly President Robert Glidden told the crowd how he pushed for stronger university-to-business relations at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. There he helped Diagnostic Hybrids, a biotech startup that had struggled along since the early 1980s, grow to $38 million in revenue in 2008, which led to its $130 million all-cash acquisition by a San Diego firm earlier this year.
Glidden said the new center aims for a similar success story in San Luis Obispo.
“The point of doing this for a local community is to support the local economy,” Glidden told the Business Times.
Some of Cal Poly’s current crop of student-entrepreneurs were on hand to pitch their ventures. One was Alan Tepe, a senior engineering student who has invented a cardboard-and-paper wine shipping container that would replace today’s Styrofoam cylinders. Tepe’s take folds like an accordion, saving space, and is more easily recycled than its petroleum-based competitors. It’s called the SpidrPak.
“It started with an idea for stackable pallets, and developed from there,” Tepe said. “Wineries have been really interested.”
The rollout for the entrepreneurship center took place at Cal Poly’s newly constructed Technology Park. About half of the 20,000 square feet that will be available to private companies at the facility has been leased out so far.
Though the emphasis at the park is on commercializing Cal Poly’s research and providing startup space for students, Susan Opava, dean of research and graduate programs at the school, said the companies that occupy the park will have knowledge to share with the students and faculty that work with them.
“We hope they will share their expertise,” Opava said.
[Editor’s Note: An earlier posting of this story misspelled Jonathan York’s name.]