Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is expanding its program for blossoming startups, the SLO Hothouse Program, by moving to a new downtown space nearly three times the size of its current incubator headquarters.
The program is offered to students who attend a three-month summer program called the Accelerator; they receive $10,000 in seed money to launch their business, along with mentorship, office space, workshops and other tools. The expansion comes with another big change — for the first time, the HotHouse program will be offered to startups not affiliated with the university.
“Thanks to the community’s support, we want to open up the expanded incubator to local startups and not just necessarily those affiliated with Cal Poly,” said Judy Mahan, director of the HotHouse program, which is housed under school’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship.
After operating full-time for just over two years now, the program — spearheaded by Cal Poly’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, or CIE — will move from its current 6,000-square-foot space to a 15,000-square-foot building in downtown San Luis Obipso.
With support from both the city of San Luis Obispo and the area’s business community, the university signed a 10-year lease for the new location on the 800 block of Higuera Street.
Students whose businesses are in the HotHouse are actually recent graduates, since they usually need all the time and resources possible to successfully launch their startup, Mahan said. One business spun out of the program is Steadfast Innovation, a SLO firm that developed a note-taking app for Android phones. Mahan said there are currently 12 startups in the downtown space.
In opening up the program to other businesses, the CIE will allow selected companies to remain at the SLO HotHouse for 24 months after paying a membership fee of $50 that increases every six months until it reaches average market prices for a comparable space downtown.
“We’re a direct driver of economic development for our local economy,” Mahan said. “By the end of this year, we will have 25 startups in the incubator.”
The SLO HotHouse operates through a shared-work environment in which tech infrastructure, space and other resources can be shared among entrepreneurs and startups in whatever way possible. The HotHouse also houses the Small Business Development Center hosted by Cal Poly, which is co-funded by the federal Small Business Administration and functions as a service center of the UC Merced SBDC Central California Regional Network.
Because many of the companies within the HotHouse are STEM-focused, the program is a driver of high-skill labor into the area.
“Most of the startups are focusing on tech and innovation, so they’re attracting talent to our local economy,” Mahan said.