Photo courtesy of Spectrvm

As little kids, we wanted to be firefighters and princesses and astronauts and teachers, but we never hear children say they want to be entrepreneurs.

In light of Cal Poly’s upcoming Fall Career Fair, four Cal Poly alumni share the paths that led them to entrepreneurship.

A Queen Bee shares some buzz on starting a business

Queen Bee (CEO) of BumbleBee Marketing Ellen Pensky had no formal education in business. She accumulated her knowledge through working at various small companies, and used it to start her own.

Bumblebee Marketing helps businesses create “Buzz.” This can be in the form of online programs, videos, infographics or anything that tells a story.

“I knew how to work with customers, what had to be done. I had no idea that I was going to run my own business,” Pensky said.

Pensky began her experience as a journalism student at Cal Poly, where she worked doing writing and graphics for Outpost, a monthly magazine that covered feature stories.

“It was unheard of at that time, to mix the journalism and graphic design majors, but I did it because it was important to tell a story,” Pensky said.

Pensky initially thought she was going to be a reporter, but later realized she liked telling stories in a more creative way.

After graduating from Cal Poly in 1975, Pensky’s first job was writing newsletters for the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce. She then moved to the Bay Area and began a career in marketing.

“I was working for a small startup. I started documenting what I was doing and decided I was going to do it on my own,” Pensky said. “People ask how I had the courage to begin BumbleBee. I just did. Fifteen years later and we’re growing like crazy.”

BumbleBee Marketing works in the realm of high-tech companies. Some of its clients include Cisco, Orange and Abbott Laboratories.

“Communications is a part of everything we do,” Pensky said. “Many skills are transferable, but being able to communicate thoughts is essential. I’m a strong believer in that.”

A two-time startup founder shares his secrets to success

Founder of BrightScope and DmScore Dan Weeks perfectly demonstrates how an idea can go a long way, and he’s done so on multiple occasions.

Weeks graduated from Cal Poly in 1983 with a degree in computer science. He then worked at Hewlett-Packard (HP), where he eventually became the Integration Manager for a startup that he convinced HP to purchase.

After 25 years at HP, Weeks came up with an idea. He wanted to help consumers make sense of their 401(k) plans.

For Weeks, his time at HP gave him the confidence to make such a drastic career jump.

“The key word for an entrepreneur is courage,” Weeks said. “Is someone willing to stick things out?”

After working with an attorney and reaching his funding goal of $600,000, Weeks founded BrightScope.

“Although many people have great ideas, there’s no business without funding,” Weeks said.

Three years ago, Weeks decided he wanted to move back to San Luis Obispo, where he began mentoring new entrepreneurs at the SLO HotHouse. The HotHouse is ran through the CP Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) and draws alumni into the startup world.

Companies in the HotHouse Accelerator are given $10,000 in funding to begin their businesses.

“Most people won’t move to another area unless everything is defined. I was willing to figure it out afterwards. That’s a good sign of an entrepreneur,” Weeks said.

Soon after his move, Weeks found a new inspiration. He discovered companies didn’t know how to use the Internet for marketing, especially small businesses, like dentists or lawyers. He wanted to help them out.

“A local attorney told me that he didn’t know if he should fire his internet marketing firm, or recommend him to his closest friend,” Weeks said.

Weeks then founded DMScore, which provides consumer reports on companies’ internet marketing.

DMScore uses data to understand where the gaps are versus companies’ competitors. It then connects businesses with internet marketing firms to increase the Return on Investment of their marketing spend.

“I look at what’s possible, not what’s happening. That’s part of being an entrepreneur,” Weeks said.

Weeks also holds five engineering patents, one of which is the automatic, motion sensored light.

“What’s your story? What’s unique about you? You don’t want to just settle or get a job,” Weeks said. “You want a career, a life. If you’re not constantly learning, you’re going backwards.”

A young entrepreneur intermixes hobby with career

CEO of Spectrvm Jared Becker managed to combine his musical passion with his academic skillset to start his own business.

Becker graduated from Cal Poly this past year with a degree in mechanical engineering. His company sells a product that aims to physically bring the musical experience to life.

“The Spectrvm pack resembles a hydration backpack. It’s the first technology that provides tactile feedback for live music,” Becker said. “It does this by using the bass to cause a vibrating sensation throughout your body, so you can feel what you’re listening to.”

Spectrvm began exactly a year ago as Becker’s senior project.
“When we made our first prototype and took it to a show, people lost their minds,” Becker said. “We dove into it full-force and me and my co-founder both pursued Spectrvm instead of accepting full time jobs.”

Becker emphasized the importance of teaming up with those who bring different skills to the table.

“My teammate studied business. Our brains have been trained to think in different ways,” Becker said. “A team of engineers or business majors could have done this, but diverse backgrounds and thought processes are essential.”

What Becker’s teammates did have in common, however, was their love of music.

“Our team came together in the domain of music and audio. We had a DJ in our group at the time who opened for the Chainsmokers and played at the Graduate. He pushed us to the EDM market that we’re currently in,” Becker said.

Becker and his team frequently go to music festivals to promote the Spectrvm Pack. Hard Summer and Beyond Wonderland are just some of the big name concerts that they’ve attended.

Nonetheless, starting a company has not been all fun and games for Becker. With minimal experience in the business world, Becker noted that his biggest struggle has been starting a business in an environment he’s not familiar with.

“The way to overcome that is to compensate for what you don’t know with incredible hard work, doing whatever it takes,” Becker said. “It’s also important to reach out to mentors.”

Luckily for Becker, he has an inspirational mentor close to him — his sister, alumna and COO of InPress Technologies Jessie Becker.

InPress Technologies created a treatment for postpartum hemorrhage and Jessie Becker was featured in the ‘2015 Forbes 30 under 30 in Healthcare’.

Currently, Becker and his team are preparing to launch their kick-starter in November.

“It’s gonna change the way live music is experienced,” Becker said. “We want people to go to music festivals and say ‘How did I go to this before the spectrum pack?’”

Environmental health enthusiast shows just how far a senior project can go

Mechanical engineering alumnus and CEO of Flume Eric Adler represents another senior project success story.

In response to California’s drought, one year ago, Adler’s team created a product that could attach to water meters and monitor water usage in real-time.

The senior project team scored third place in the CP Innovation Quest competition and was granted $5,000 to develop their business.

“When we realized we had potential, we applied to the summer accelerator program, which is through CIE and the SLO HotHouse,” Adler said.

After summer, Adler’s team applied to the HotHouse incubator program and through that, they got their current space. It was the funding from private investors, however, that got their business to where it is today.

Over the course of Flume’s progression, it has pivoted its focus more toward the insurance industry, though water conservation remains a theme.

Insurance companies benefit from partnering with companies like Flume because insurance companies reduce risk on their end. Flume is currently preparing for its pilot program, which will be launched in multiple states.

“What I do is 90 percent focused on customer relationships and business development. There’s a ton of communication with insurance companies going on for the pilot,” Adler said. “My major was the anti-communications, so I had to learn that part.”

In fact, Adler feels that he uses the skills from his major very minimally.

“Mechanical design is only a small portion of what I do. However, engineering involves a lot of problem-solving, which is necessary everyday,” Adler said. “If you want to make it as a company, you take on a bunch of different roles and wear different hats.”

Adler has faced a series of the common struggles involved in beginning his own business.

“The first main struggle was finding our product fit. It took us a year just to discover our market,” Adler said. “The second struggle was raising money. You can’t get anything done without money in the bank.”

Nonetheless, Adler always fantasized about starting his own company.

“I always hated working for people because it seems worthless when you have no big goal at the end of the road,” Adler said.

In the future, Adler sees Flume doing big things. He realizes that insurance companies value startups like his and Adler hopes they will eventually invest in Flume.

“When someone tells you that you’re doing it wrong, you should take that advice, but not get discouraged from it,” he said. “Part of being successful is having thick skin.”

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