For the first time, Cal Poly students are living in downtown San Luis Obispo in university-operated housing.
The new Cal Poly Lofts housing complex opened in September at 996 Chorro St. and now provides homes for 36 undergraduate and graduate students associated with the university’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship.
The urban-style housing, developed by Copeland Properties in the Blackstone-Sauer building across from Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, is the first off-campus residential community operated by Cal Poly.
Cal Poly is leasing the building from Copeland under a five-year agreement for a base rent of $412,000 per year and subsidizes the students’ rents.
Living in a community with other entrepreneurs allows us to share and foster ideas.
Dimitri Voytilla, Cal Poly business student
The university has budgeted $100,000 to subsidize the program this year, said Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier. In addition, nine students have received need-based scholarships to help with their rent for the year.
The idea behind the new housing is to encourage business innovation and “a startup culture in San Luis Obispo” with proximity to Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s HotHouse, located a block away at 872 Higuera St.
“This allows University Housing to provide students with an immersive, synergistic experience that is rooted in a culture of innovation and collaboration,” Lazier said.
The fully furnished Lofts apartments include studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units renting from $900 per month to $2,000 per month. They range from 207 to 483 square feet with an outdoor courtyard, community gathering space and on-site laundry.
Nineteen women and 17 men are housed at the new site on three levels, featuring exposed brick walls, large windows and views of the city. All but one are undergraduates this year.
“I’ve always wanted to live downtown, and I’m interested in pursuing entrepreneurship, so when this opportunity came up, it was the perfect fit for me,” said Dimitri Voytilla, a senior business marketing and accounting major. “Living in a community with other entrepreneurs allows us to share and foster ideas.”
We want collaboration between students from all academic backgrounds. That spawns the best ideas.
Tod Nelson, executive director of Cal Poly’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Voytilla floated the idea of a startup last year but abandoned the project and wants to pursue new opportunities. He also is a Cal Poly track and cross country runner. He pays $1,000 per month for his one-bedroom apartment, and $100 per month for permitted parking in a garage on Palm Street. He said he has adjusted to the downtown living environment.
“I hear the bells ringing every day and it’s busier here, but you get used to it,” Voytilla said. “I definitely spend a lot more money at Urbane Cafe than I normally would.”
Carole Schaffer, Cal Poly’s associate director of housing, said more than 200 students applied for the housing and were required to go through an extensive application process — involving written statements, interviews, a minimum 2.5 grade point average and no violations of campus conduct — before their placement.
“We considered each student who lives here very carefully,” Schaffer said. “And we wanted them to be involved on some level with starting businesses and business ventures.”
Cal Poly student Matt Maxwell, a senior business administration major, founded BoltAbout.com, an electric bike rental company.
Tod Nelson, the executive director of Cal Poly’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said proximity of the program’s HotHouse to Cal Poly Lofts encourages students like Maxwell to grow their business, and collaborate with students majoring in a wide variety of academic disciplines.
“Matt spends hours at the HotHouse growing his business and then goes across the street and sleeps at the Lofts,” Nelson said. “...We want collaboration between students from all academic backgrounds. That spawns the best ideas.”
Nelson said Cal Poly Lofts will become an even more competitive housing option in the future and attract students who are farther along in their business development goals.
The CIE has contributed to the formation of 26 companies, 150 jobs and $40 million in venture capital, Nelson said. Some of that economic development has remained in the city of San Luis Obispo, while other former students have headquartered elsewhere.
“I think what we’re seeing is a great amount of energy and the growing presence of entrepreneurship in San Luis Obispo,” Nelson said.