Have a business idea? SLO HotHouse is seeking more community startups

WhiteFox during the company’s infancy in SLO HotHouse’s incubator program on Higuera Street.
WhiteFox during the company’s infancy in SLO HotHouse’s incubator program on Higuera Street.

Community members interested in launching a startup out of SLO HotHouse still can apply five months after the program opened its doors at a new location in downtown San Luis Obispo.

The HotHouse — which offers reduced rates for office space and mentorship to help startups get off the ground — has 13 incubator companies occupying its downtown business hub, with the goal of housing 20 companies.

The HotHouse unveiled a new location at 872 Higuera St. in November — a 15,000-square-foot space, complete with tenant improvements and earthquake retrofits. The facility, operated by Cal Poly’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, moved from a smaller location at 955 Morro St. over the summer as the program grew.

Twelve of the startups are made up of Cal Poly students or recent graduates, while the 13th, a drone defense-related company called WhiteFox Defense Technologies, is part of the Community Incubator program.

The expanded program has had difficulty spreading the word about its services and finding startups that meet the criteria, said Candice Conti, the HotHouse’s communications manager. The program requires business teams of at least two people, and numerous individuals have applied who didn’t qualify, Conti said.

It is very exciting that startups from outside of the area are applying to our program.

Candice Conti, SLO HotHouse communications manager

“So far, we have about 15 (Community Incubator) applications, and we have made offers to two startups in L.A. that are trying to raise money to move to SLO so they can commit full-time to their venture,” Conti said. “Our program requires a full-time commitment. It is very exciting that startups from outside of the area are applying to our program.”

Community Incubator programming includes mentorship, monthly peer-to-peer roundtable discussions and an advisory board for each startup in the program.

The Community Startup Incubator program is geared toward supporting “tech and innovation startups,” but the program is open to businesses that aren’t technology-related.

“They’d have to meet the criteria, but we wouldn’t want to turn away a good idea,” Conti said.

Incubating companies pay a membership fee that starts at $50 per month and increases every six months, until it reaches the average market price for a comparable professional office space in downtown San Luis Obispo. The rate charged depends on square footage of office space used.

The HotHouse also offers a separate “co-working” program for businesses and professionals to occupy shared office space with rates based on the size of the workspace or office. About 50 individuals and more than two dozen companies are working out of the space, including lawyers, developers and a photographer, Conti said.

Space is available for those seeking offices or workstations.

Membership rates range from $175 per month for an undesignated workspace to $1,000 per month for a large office; costs in between that vary for different types of work areas.

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Cal Poly displayed its new off-campus residential living space, The Lofts, across from the Mission in downtown SLO. Thirty-six students with interests in pursuing business ideas are living in the apartments located across from the Mission.

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