Innovation Starts Young at Entrepreneurship Summer Camp

Professor Kushev and engineering student Armando Cordero help young inventors

None of the three appeared older than high school freshmen. One of the boys timidly knocks on an office door inside a College of Business Administration building before the girl requests a few minutes of the occupant’s time.

“Do you travel a lot,” asks the other boy, wearing a t-shirt decorated with palm trees as he clenches his sunglasses. “What’s the most valuable item you travel with? How do you keep it safe?”

Years from dorm life and mid-terms, the trio was on campus in the brainstorming stage of a week-long Summer Entrepreneurship Camp hosted by Cal Poly Pomona’s Student Innovation Idea Lab where students ages 12-18 spend a week learning how to conceive, create and market a product.

During its pilot run in 2016, six students participated in the Summer Entrepreneurship Camp. By teaming up with Discovery Camps, an already-existing program with similar experiences focused on robotics, science and computers, the iLab saw attendance numbers swell to 24 middle and high schoolers over the course of two one-week sessions.

“From the very first day campers arrive, we have them out talking to people in order to identify with customer pain and customer gain,” says iLab director Olukemi Sawyerr, Ph.D. “We get them to realize there is opportunity in every problem.”

Campers from surrounding public and private schools were instructed to identify an issue, then solicit strangers’ opinions in a market research exercise. Sawyerr and other staff then guided the young entrepreneurs in developing the ideas into tangible, sellable goods.

Faculty from the CBA’s Management and Human Resources department donated time in an effort to help inspire the next generation of innovators attending the Summer Entrepreneurship Camp. Entrepreneurship Professor Trayan Kushev spoke on creating business models for the products while Foodovating founder, Professor Laura Pohopien, shared tips on pitching them to potential investors.

“The learning experience is on the same level as our actual college courses,” Sawyerr says. “Campers need to know innovation has no minimum age – they have to see opportunity is out there and they can start a business now.”

Helping teams run the 3D printer was iLab success story Armando Cordero. Cordero is an engineering student and half of startup B2C, producer of an electric-powered scooter capable of collapsing into a footprint small enough to fit inside many backpacks. The full gamut of the iLab’s resources was made available to aid the creation process.

According to Sawyerr, all teams completed at least one prototype before the entry deadline. A panel of outside industry executives visited campus the Friday night of each session to listen to teams pitch each idea in the camp finale.

Campers enthusiastically tried to sell judges on concepts like a fresh take on travel safes and sunglasses with a built-in solar phone charger. It also appears some ventures will continue past camp’s end.

“I’ve already received emails from parents telling me their children plan on turning the products into a business,” Sawyerr says. “It hasn’t even been a week.”

For the complete list of programs available through Discovery Camps, visit