Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: Nurturing Cal Poly’s ‘learn by doing’ culture

We’d like to introduce you to Flipbrake, an innovative bicycle braking system that delivers smooth, controlled stopping power and virtually eliminates head-over-handlebar crashes. Flipbrake uses the energy of your bicycle’s rear wheel to enable you to stop with a single brake lever, providing additional safety and convenience over two-lever braking systems.

It’s a cool idea and destined to be a commercially successful product. Perhaps the coolest thing about it is that Flipbrake’s creator, Andrew Ouellet, is still a student at Cal Poly.

Flipbrake is a product of Cal Poly’s renowned “learn by doing” culture, but the story of Flipbrake’s development is one of serendipity as much as design.

Which brings us to the crux of an important issue for this region: Many civic and business leaders are eager for more innovations and entrepreneurial output from Cal Poly, rightly expecting that young entrepreneurs can help create desperately needed head-of-household jobs.

Given the high quality of Cal Poly’s students and the “learn by doing” tradition, Cal Poly has always had tremendous entrepreneurial potential. Yet even with many of the right elements in place, Cal Poly has lacked a focal point to nurture innovators like Ouellet in a systematic way.

This fall, Cal Poly takes a big step toward changing all of that with the opening of the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

As the center’s co-founders, we’re working with a diverse, university-wide team to bring together existing programs, such as the student innovation competitions where Flipbrake first gained attention.

The center will create additional activities and support systems to encourage students to pursue their entrepreneurial instincts.

And the center will sponsor an aggressive set of year-round activities ranging from boot camps to internships in real-world startup companies.

Perhaps best of all from the community’s viewpoint, local civic and business leaders will be invited to come to campus to share their experiences with students and make themselves available as mentors and consultants.

We’ve also opened the Entrepreneurial Ideation Lab, a place for students to engage in the creative aspects of entrepreneurship with colleagues.

It’s important to note that this effort isn’t confined to just one college at Cal Poly. The Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is expressly designed to connect students across the university with faculty, each other and with members of the business community. The goal is to prepare students not merely to succeed, but to lead, taking their “learn by doing” orientation right into the marketplace.

Nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit is of critical importance, not just to the Cal Poly community, but to all of us. Today’s hotly competitive global economy demands more innovation and more entrepreneurship.

As we encourage students to lead, we bet they will launch the country’s next big ideas and spark the innovations that will help us stay ahead of the curve in an increasingly complex, technological and competitive world.

Brian Riley, a Cal Poly alumnus who has joined forces with Andrew Ouellet to form Conceptualized Engineering, the company that will take Flipbrake to market, is pleased to see the creation of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

In his years at Cal Poly, Riley notes that he saw many great ideas promoted through the student-run innovation competitions.

“There has always been so much intellectual capital coming out of the school,” he notes. “It’s cool that there’s now a place where students can get more help and mentoring and possibly develop channels to turn their ideas into businesses.”

We couldn’t agree more. We’re proud to help Cal Poly take an important step forward. Please join us. Visit www.calpolyentrepreneurship.com to learn more about howyou can get involved and launch the next generation of innovative leaders.

Jonathan York and Lou Tornatzky, professors in the Cal Poly Orfalea College of Business, are co-founders of the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.