Cal Poly’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship has added four educators to its Faculty Fellows advisor program to inspire startups.
The latest fellows include College of Engineering faculty members Hani Alzraiee (civil engineering) Lauren Cooper (mechanical engineering), Chris Heylman (biomedical engineering) along with Javin Oza (chemistry and biochemistry) from the College of Science and Mathematics.
The CIE was formed in 2010 to provide students with the tools needed to develop the skills and cultivate the mindset of an entrepreneur. Since then, more than 100 startups have been created, along with over 1,000 jobs.
Cooper said that becoming a faculty fellow will provide her the skills to infuse more entrepreneurship and innovation into her classes.
“I became a faculty fellow because innovation excites me — I love coming up with crazy ideas!” Cooper said. “For me, the community of CIE faculty fellows and students feels like a ‘safe’ place to share my ideas and encourage the ideas of others.”
The CIE Faculty Fellow program began in 2012 to help build the university’s entrepreneurship culture. Many fellows bring their own startup and innovation experience to the assignment.
“Our technical expertise and frequent interaction with members of industry can help us to guide students to best identify needs in the market to pursue,” Heylman said. “Additionally, many of the CIE faculty fellows are former and/or current entrepreneurs themselves, who have walked the same path and can share their best practices and missteps with students.”
Teaching biomedical senior design and fostering the development of potential new products, Heylman has witnessed plenty of student potential — and is excited to nurture it even more.
“I’ve had the opportunity to see some of the technology and devices designed and manufactured in senior design continue their development as part of student-founded businesses,” he said.
While many students have excellent ideas that can lead to businesses, Alzraiee said, they often need help – something faculty fellows can provide.
“Many students are not aware of the available resources at Cal Poly in the area of innovation and entrepreneurship,” he said. “As a CIE faculty fellow, I am looking to direct our students to these opportunities and help them break the silo so they can build stronger and more collaborative relationships with students and faculty from other departments.”
The CIE also encourages faculty fellows to work with each other. Cooper, for example, is already working with fellows from architecture and agribusiness on a project designing spaces that will encourage mental wellness.
While that is a specific idea, Cooper said, students don’t need to come to CIE with a solid plan.
“Students can join the community without needing to have some ‘big idea,’” Cooper said. “They can come with just a curious spirit and a desire to learn about innovation, entrepreneurship — and to find new friends.”
The real-world experience students get at the CIE helps instill an entrepreneurial mindset that will be helpful even if they don’t launch startups, said John Townsend, CIE’s executive director.
“That mindset makes them more resourceful, collaborative and emotionally ready to be a highly valued member at their employer of choice,” Townsend said.
At the same time, several businesses have sprung from the CIE that could have a wide impact. Those include Flume, which has created a device to help customers measure water usage; NeoCharge, which offers a way to share power between an electric car and a clothes dryer; and De Oro Devices’ product that helps patients with Parkinson’s disease overcome a condition, known as “freezing of gait,” that impacts their ability to walk.
While CIE works with students from all colleges, engineering students are most represented, he said.
“Engineering students work with their peers from each of the other colleges to solve real problems,” he said. “It’s a powerful combination of talent with no bounds to success.”
Engineering is also well represented among faculty fellows with Bob Crocket (associate dean for innovation infrastructure, 2012-13), Dale Dolan (electrical, 2014-15), David Janzen (computer science, 2015-16), Lynne Slivovsky (computer engineering, 2016-17), and Michael Whitt (biomedical, 2018-19).