When Olukemi Sawyerr was tapped in 2015 to get the iLab up and running, her to-do list included finding a space where students could transform their nascent business and product ideas from paper to prototype.
With a lab just big enough for students to meet, Sawyerr began a quest in late 2015 to find a working lab close enough to campus for budding entrepreneurs.
Cal Poly Pomona found that hub of innovation just under three miles away from campus at Ganesha High School. The university and the Pomona Unified School District recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will make a way for Innovation Orchard, a work space that will serve Cal Poly Pomona and the high school.
“The purpose of Innovation Orchard is to incubate student startup teams who have moved their ideas sufficiently along to where they need a space to work out of,” Sawyerr said. “We’re going to have a fabrication lab that will enable student to build high-quality prototypes, what they would send to a manufacturer.”
The school district reconfigured the lab at Ganesha High during the 2016-17 school year, moving walls and cabinets, putting in new outlets and adding a kitchenette. The university will provide the furnishings and equipment needed to complete the lab. An Innovation Orchard website is in the works, Sawyerr added.
Besides a working lab for Cal Poly Pomona students, the university and the high school are working on a program that would enable Ganesha High students to take a four-unit entrepreneurship course for college credit. Also in the planning stage is a mentoring program.
“For Cal Poly Pomona, it’s an opportunity to learn about the creative process, to learn how to make an idea a reality,” Sawyerr said. “It’s also an opportunity for our students to be mentors of young people and contribute to strengthening the partnership to the college.”
Provost Sylvia Alva sees the agreement as an important way to connect the university with the surrounding community.
“This collaborative effort will forge a stronger bond between Cal Poly Pomona and a very important community partner in the Pomona Unified School District,” Alva said. “It also will showcase our continued commitment to promoting innovation and experiential learning.”
Ganesha High Principal Jennifer Francev said that connecting her students with Cal Poly Pomona will help them gear up for college.
“We are really excited to have a partnership with Cal Poly Pomona for the Innovation Orchard,” Francev said. “I hope that this will prompt our students to look at Cal Poly Pomona as a viable option and to focus on entrepreneurship.”
As part of the planned entrepreneurship program on campus, high school students also will be exposed to technology such as laser cutters and 3D printers for the first time.