Graphic communication junior and photographer Jake Guisto said hearing VSCO CEO Joel Flory speak will help him explore creative ways to pursue photography. Emily Merten | Mustang News

VSCO co-founder and CEO Joel Flory will return to Cal Poly to speak at a panel on entrepreneurship Tuesday, May 15 at the Performing Arts Center.

The forum, titled “Entrepreneurship Is Calling and I Must Go,” is hosted by the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). It will feature a networking component, a conversation with the SLO Hothouse Accelerators and a question-and-answer panel with Flory.

“Regardless of your experience or how much you know about entrepreneurship, everybody can participate,” CIE Communications Manager Candice Conti said. “It’s an opportunity to meet people in the business world and talk to like-minded students and community members. Everybody can get something out of it.”

Flory will share the successes and failures along his path to VSCO, a photography app designed toequip, educate and inspire anyone on the journey to realize their creative potential.”

“He took a passion, something he loved to do, and created a viable business from it,” Conti said. “People will learn the trials, the tribulations, the failures, the successes … running through the whole gamette of what it’s like to be an entrepreneur who wants to have a successful company.”

Flory graduated from Cal Poly in 2003 with a degree in industrial technology. 

“Cal Poly, without a doubt, equipped me for my career,” Flory said.

He recalled one hands-on class in particular that inspired him to pursue entrepreneurship: Applied Business Operations (IT 407). In the class, he developed a product and learned the process of creating a brand. Though the idea for VSCO came later in his career, Flory said the course sparked his passion for the creative aspects of business.

“That process of coming up with a business name and branding really created a sense of everything is possible with hard work and collaboration,” Flory said. “That collaboration and teamwork really prepared me for my success in VSCO.”

Collaboration and relationship building is essential in the world of entrepreneurship, Flory said.

“Invest as much as you can in the people around you,” Flory said. “I remember early on in my college career, I would look around me and see my classmates as competition. I wanted to be the best in my class, have the best grades. I really wish I would have told myself that it truly doesn’t matter. There’s ways for all of us to win and work together and stay connected.”

Flory had his mind set on consulting as a student; he founded the Cal Poly Consulting Association on campus. But he channeled his creative side through photography.

“My exposure and love for the arts goes back to my earliest childhood memories,” Flory said. “One of my earliest memories is my mom lugging us around in an orange 1970 Volkswagen, going to every museum and gallery in the [San Francisco] Bay Area. And on the flipside, my grandfather started a construction business. So from the beginning of my life, I was born in a passion for art and culture, and in the joys and trials of owning your own business.”

Every field has room for art, Flory said. The mission of VSCO is to inspire creativity in others, regardless of their career endeavors.

That mission drew graphic communication junior and aspiring photographer Jake Giusto to the app.

“VSCO has a mindset of putting creators first, which is something that not a lot of companies do,” Giusto said. “I think going to the event will help me learn more about how to manage the business side of creating for a living. Most [photographers] know VSCO for their film presets, but they’ve also built a community around their product that encourages education and collaboration.”

At the forum, Flory plans to give advice and constructive feedback to the next generation of entrepreneurs.

“There’s not a recipe,” Flory said. “I can’t tell anyone to follow five steps to run a successful company. But I can give insight to the wins we’ve had, and more importantly, the failures.”

Sharing his mistakes with students is just as important as sharing his success, he said. Every entrepreneur’s path is different, but relationship building is essential in every path.

“Where I am today is without a doubt because of the help of others,” Flory said. “I had a lot of great advisors that have helped it grow into the company it is today. It continues. It’s a never-ending process of growth.”

The event, which begins at 4:30 p.m., is free and open to the public. Interested community members can register online.

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