The Hatchery: A birthplace for young entrepreneurs

It is no surprise that in an age of advanced technology and innovative business models, the millennial generation has an entrepreneurial way of thinking that surpasses previous generations. As technology continually evolves, college students find themselves developing unique business ideas that make students’ lives easier. However, a Deloitte study of women’s entrepreneurship shows that only about one third of businesses are started and owned by women. But those numbers didn’t stop one Cal Poly student from creating her own company to address a serious problem with women’s footwear.

Business Administration senior Haley Pavone is the CEO, president and founder of Pashion Footwear, a fashion startup created and run by students that will soon change the nature of women’s footwear. Industrial Technology and Packaging junior Tyler Unbehand is the co-founder and CTO of the company, and the two work with about 10 others to research, manufacture and produce a fully functioning convertible high heel. The convertible high heel encompasses the idea of “practical fashion,” with a detachable heel that allows women to remain fashionable and comfortable.

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Business Administration senior Haley Pavone presents at the Cal Poly HotHouse Accelerator Demo Day in the Performing Arts Center. The HotHouse Accelerator Demo Day is an opportunity for new companies to pitch their startups to the community. Photo used with permission of Haley Pavone.

Although Pavone grew up knowing she would be an entrepreneur one day, she had no idea that it would happen as early as college. The idea for Pashion Footwear originated last year when Pavone saw a problem that desperately needed to be fixed for women all over the world. At her sorority’s spring formal, she noticed that girls, including herself, were ditching their heels and opting to go barefoot— something that Pavone described as dangerous and a little gross.

She started doing research, and then decided to run with the idea. Her first step? Joining the Hatchery, an on campus resource that allows students to work with over 130 mentors in business and gain real experience in the business world.

“The Hatchery was definitely a huge first step for us,” Pavone said. “We were blessed to have such wonderful people around us.”

The Hatchery was originally founded in 2013 as a component of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, or CIE, and was recently given its own space in 2015 within the Cotchett Education Building in room 206. The Hatchery’s space is state of the art, converting an ordinary workspace into a forward-thinking and team-oriented environment with access to business mentors, conference room space and various other resources.  

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Students work on their projects at the Hatchery. The Hatchery is a free, on-campus resource that supports diverse entrepreneurs and helps students create a real world business. Photo used with permission of Haley Pavone.

Pavone said that one of the most important resources in the Hatchery is its network. Through the Hatchery, she had opportunities to work with locally-based mentors and had access to free consultations.

The Hatchery’s program pushed Pavone to cultivate her business idea and participate in other Cal Poly resources like the Elevator Pitch Competition and the Innovation Quest, both of which she earned first place in and received thousands of dollars in equity free financing to help the startup grow into a fully functioning company. The next step after the Hatchery was moving to the SLO HotHouse, another integral part of the CIE. The SLO HotHouse is a space in downtown San Luis Obispo that connects Cal Poly entrepreneurship students with local business mentors to further develop business ventures.  

With a lot of hard work and little sleep, Pavone and her team finally developed the first wearable prototype of the shoe last month. The first tangible convertible heels will be available in Spring of 2019.  

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Haley Pavone (left) and Tyler Unbehand (right) pose for a promotional picture. Pavone and Unbehand saw a need for “practical fashion” and decided to start a company that sells convertible high heels. Photo used with permission of Haley Pavone.

Lori Jordan, the Director of Student Innovation Programs for the Hatchery, plays a huge part in supporting student success, as well as providing resources for students to develop their business ideas. Jordan says those at the Hatchery are engaging in community outreach programs to make it more accessible to a variety of majors and colleges across Cal Poly’s campus. The Hatchery’s outreach coordinator visits large classes across all six of Cal Poly’s colleges in order to reach a more diverse audience.

“Every year we end up with students from every college in the program, and we saw all of those starting to grow and are seeing that diversification,” Jordan said.

The ultimate goal for this facility is to foster and incubate student business ideas that will ultimately become successful companies, just like Pavone’s Pashion Footwear and the convertible high heel. Both Pavone and Jordan stress the importance of getting involved, even if it’s just the beginning  of a business idea, and to take advantage of the amazing and unparalleled resources Cal Poly has to offer. The Hatchery is a free, on-campus resource that supports diverse entrepreneurs and helps students create a real world business. The Hatchery’s application can be found on the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s website.