Posts Tagged ‘Entrepreneurship’

Former Cogswell Alumni Finds Success in the Solar Energy Industry

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

Former Cogswell Alumni Dean Sala, 52,  has found success in the alternative energy industry. He is both the Founder and CEO of Suntactics, a company that specializes in producing portable Solar Chargers and Solar Panels. Dean’s company and products have been featured and covered by, Mother Earth News, NBC, ABC, CBS, The Mercury News and The San Francisco Chronicle. The following is an interview as it appeared in a November issue of the magazine Kiplinger, Personal Finances, and is credited to Patricia Mertz Esswein.

You worked in high tech?

Yes, for 23 years, 15 of them as a software engineer for Hewlett-Packard. In 2008, HP shut down my whole division, and I was out of a job. I didn’t see myself going back to software, so I returned to school to finish a second degree, in electrical engineering.

Why Suntactics?

Solar power has interested me since I was a kid. When I returned so school, I teamed up with a partner to power a full size glider with solar energy. We worked on other projects, and in 2009 we formed a general partnership to focus on making a portable yet powerful solar panel to charge a phone. In 2010 my partner said, “I don’t think this is going to work,” and left amicably. Since then, I’ve developed three products that can charge devices with a USB connection. I have provisional patents on my designs, and I’ve sold almost 10,000 units, mostly via our website ( and Our chargers range in price from $140 to $240. They’ll charge an iPhone in two hours or less in direct sunlight, as fast as a wall outlet. They’re popular with outdoors enthusiasts, among others.

You made the panels yourself at first?

The cheapest solar panel laminator I could find cost $50,000 and was full size. I needed a pint-size one. So I built my first one out of parts from a pizza oven that  bought at Goodwill. I cranked out 2,000 panels in my garage.

Did you get any outside help?

To perfect my process, I picked the brains of a scientist and a couple of engineering PhDs. But in my previous career, I never saw the sales and marketing end, and now I was trying to run a business. So I appealed to Score [ a nonprofit group that mentors small businesses]. When I told them I couldn’t keep with with orders, that’s all they needed to hear. I have two counselors- one is an expert in manufacturing and the other in marketing. They helped me find a small manufacturer to produce more units under contract.

How did you finance your start up?

I took out a home-equity line of credit on my house and borrowed about $42,000. More recently, I got a line of credit that’s backed by the Small Business Administration.

Do you make a living?

In 2013, we did more than $500,000 in sales, and I paid myself about $65,000. That’s a lot less than the $100,000 I made at the peak of my career as a software engineer, but because I’m a sole proprietor I can write off a lot of stuff on my tax return.

What’s ahead?

Our next product will charge laptops. I’m gradually bringing production into my own facility because contracting it out is expensive. We need to get into retail outlets. Our products are sold in Batteries Plus stores, but it’s a struggle to get into sporting-goods and big-box stores.

Is your work rewarding?

I’d rather do this than anything else. My customers are my bosses, and I like to make them happy. Plus, I bought a company car: a Chevy Camaro that replaces the ’68 model I sold to go to college and the ’98 pickup I had been driving. It’s my dream car.

Dean’s story is proof that it’s never too late to go back to school or follow and pursue your dreams. All it takes is a bit of patience, hard work, and determination. Congratulations Dean!

IGDA (International Game Developers Association) Meeting

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

Cogswell Presents: IGDA (International Game Developers Association) Meeting
Wednesday, November 12th
7:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Dragon’s Den

The Silicon Valley chapter of the IGDA (International Game Developers Association) will be meeting on-campus at Cogswell on 11/12 in the Dragon’s Den at 7 pm. PlayPhone will demo integration of the Android SDK into a game and discuss why PlayPhone’s carrier gaming network is the essential addition to traditional publishing channels to maximize discovery, engagement and revenue.

More on PlayPhone:

PlayPhone is the world’s premier mobile social gaming network. Our social gaming platform enables mobile carriers to easily offer their customers a leading edge, personalized gaming experience with the most advanced social gaming features available today. PlayPhone reaches more than a billion mobile subscribers worldwide via game stores live on Verizon, Sprint, SingTel, Telkomsel, Vivo, Claro, TIM, Virgin Mobile, Mobily and Boost Mobile ­ with more carriers coming soon. In addition, PlayPhone lets game developers launch games globally and access carrier billing for all game stores plus a complete toolbox of social and monetization features using a single integration SDK. PlayPhone’s Android, Unity and HTML5 SDK is less than 100KB and takes about an hour to integrate into games.

Additional sponsors: Five Leaf Clover, Mary-Margaret Network.

Cogswell Presents: Nye Warburton

Thursday, November 6th, 2014
Cogswell College Presents: Nye Warburton
Cogswell Presents: Nye Warburton
Tuesday, November 11th
12:45 – 1:30
Dragon’s Den

Do you find yourself starting projects that never get finished, or find yourself swimming in awesome ideas and never do anything with them? Come see Nye on Tuesday to learn how to…

Finish it! How to take your creative ideas and finish the project.
Tips from the industry. How to go from idea to final film, or final game, or whatever you are building. A little bit of project management, a little bit of creative advice and a little bit about the business and how to get your work out there.

About Nye:
Nye Warburton is an animator, cartoonist, game designer and artist. His graduate thesis film, Magnetism, landed him in the Los Angeles animation industry in 2004. He spent a decade at studios like Electronic Arts, Sony Imageworks, Fox, Blur, Proof, Digital Domain and  The Third Floor. He has worked on 30+ high budget films including Monster House, Thor, Battleship, Men in Black III and Oblivion. He has had development deals with Fox Animation and Comedy Central, as well working on several independently funded animation and game projects.

Nye currently works as a creative director for start ups, out of his office space in downtown Los Angeles. Visit him online at

Cogswell College Launches ‘Immersion Experience’ Program

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

SUNNYVALE, CA — Cogswell College (, an institution that offers a unique curriculum fusing digital arts, engineering, and entrepreneurship, has launched a brand new program, “The Silicon Valley Immersion Experience” ( Now available to entrepreneurs and students on a global scale, Cogswell’s Silicon Valley Immersion Experience program just hosted its first group of participants — a team of entrepreneurs from Turkey. The announcement was made by Dr. Deborah Snyder, president and chief academic officer, Cogswell College.

Spearheaded by John Duhring, Cogswell College’s education technology specialist, five entrepreneurs from the Turkey-based Sabanci University’s “SUCool” Pre-Incubator Program, very recently visited the Cogswell College campus. The group also attended a series of meetings, workshops, showcases, meetups and presentations, including trips to Stanford University, IDEO, and the Institute for the Future; such top Silicon Valley-based companies as Google, Skype, Flipboard, and Eventbrite; financiers and incubators including StartX, the Founder Institute, Hackers/Founders, and Hanhai Investments, and start-ups including Good Eggs, gThrive, NVT, Diya TV, and others.

Read more on Computer Graphics World.

2014 NCIIA Papers Feature Cogswell Authorship

Friday, March 14th, 2014

The National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA) supports technology innovation and entrepreneurship in higher education, and has a membership of nearly 200 colleges and universities from across the country. This 17-year-old national nonprofit organization engages with over 5,000 student & faculty entrepreneurs each year, by helping them to commercialize their concepts.

The NCIIA is holding their 18th annual conference from March 21-22, 2014, right in Cogswell’s backyard in San Jose, California. It is an intensive two-day conference for practitioners of technology entrepreneurship in high education. Conference sessions explore policy, programs, funding and insights into what is happening in higher education today; and how that will impact tomorrow.

Cogswell Polytechnical College is proud to share the 2014 peer-reviewed papers written by our very own Christopher-John Cornell & John Duhring! Topics include Project-based Learning Kickstart Tips, The Metamophosis of Business Plan Competitions, and Crowdfunding: More Than Money Jumpstarting University Entrepreneurship. Follow the links for the full publications.

Visit our website for more information about Cogswell’s Master’s Degree Program in Entrepreneurship & Innovation, the Immersion Program for visiting students and entrepreneurs, or the Kauffman Fasttrac Program.

Sony Shines in Golden Globe Ad

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Bringing together art and engineering talent.

Sony is running a multifaceted media campaign that harkens back to their early days of innovation and pushing the envelope. They ran an ad during the Golden Globes award show that got to the heart of their philosophy. When I watched the video clip, all I could think was that sure looks like a day at Cogswell College.

They say, “When you combine the artist with the engineers, you get something really new – something special.” The ad went on to say, “when great thinkers combine with great doers, 1 + 1 can equal 3.” So true! Great things happen when you create an environment that encourages – and even demands – collaboration across disciplines.

Walk into any classroom at Cogswell, step into the student lounge or listen to conversations taking place in our hallways – and you know you are in a unique place. Students and faculty are passionate about what they do and are eager to learn from each other.

Our next Open House is February 22. Why not RSVP now and come see for yourself how well we have integrated art and engineering? Step into our world of possibilities.

Ultimate Guide to Startup Marketing

Friday, January 17th, 2014

Cogswell’s curriculum has a strong emphasis on entrepreneurship and helping our students develop the skills they need to build a successful enterprise.  The College offers a degree in Digital Media Management and focuses on entrepreneurial thought, customer discovery, project management and business practices within the expanding marketplace of digital media.

One of the skills that receives lots of attention is how to market your startup. We found this helpful slideshare presentation that walks you through the basics. The offers tips for choosing a market, defining keywords, setting core metrics, choosing social media networks, creating social media content, measuring against benchmarks and much more.

Click here to learn more about our Digital Media Management program.

The Gig Economy In A Flat World

Monday, June 24th, 2013

It’s been nearly 10 years since Thomas Friedman discovered that the world is flat.  His book describes a “plug and play” world built on an open, global, web-enabled platform that supports multiple forms of shared knowledge and work irrespective of time, distance, geography or language.  While globalization once was the province of governments or corporations, he proposed that the big change was going to come when individuals and small groups plugged in and learned how to “work horizontally.”  Keep in mind, this was before the smartphone.

A few years later, Tina Brown wrote in The Daily Beast that juggling part-time “gigs” was the career path of a rising “hustler class.”  What she called “gigonomics” boils down to professionals increasingly working part-time or short-term jobs rather than in salaried positions.  Her polls revealed that one third of the US workforce was working freelance or holding down two or more jobs.  By this time, the iPhone had been introduced but the “bring your own device” to work phenomenon was still years away.

How quickly everything changes.  What these writers could not see was how people would organize businesses around the shifts they described. Combine the global “plug and play” platform with “BYOD” and you get a view into what is becoming the gig economy.  While more people are able to work than ever before in history, to succeed, we must think in a new way.

Here are some illustrations of how employment is moving towards just-in-time gigs:


With over a billion unique individuals from around the globe using its services each month, Google employs them all.  Those billions of short search terms tell their systems what people are looking for, and what a user chooses from their search results list tells Google that user’s preference at that point in time.  This is the content they sell to advertisers while they reward all user/employees with quick results, accurate maps and other free services.

In this way, we all work for Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and any other service that uses our information for their gain.  It’s important to make the most of these gigs because they also put us in position to work with anyone, anywhere.  They afford us the best research services ever devised, the best news and access to the best people to work with.  Use these free tools to form your own small networks to stay on top of what is happening in your field or to help you turn a hobby into a career.

Magazines and news organizations:

It comes as a surprise to realize that most news now comes from unpaid sources.  As networked smartphones and their cameras turn millions into reporters, news organizations have welcomed submissions from the scene of events like the Hudson River landing of US Airways flight 1549.

Pioneered by the Huffington Post, the use of unpaid stringers and contributors has gone mainstream.  Even magazines like Forbes have hundreds of contributors to their web site. Such magazines provide a great platform for writers to be exposed to clients in the best possible light.  If you contribute articles to an industry-related news organization, you stand out and at the same time you are free to frame the issues you address in your own terms.  Be on the lookout for “Send us a pitch” links to become a guest columnist at the publications you admire and would like to support.

Universities and colleges:

No longer are university positions “soft,” if they ever were.  The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Adjunct Project reports that fully two-thirds of the faculty standing in front of college classrooms each day aren’t full-time or permanent professors.  In some fields, such as technical fields of practice, this is good thing.

Technology and methods change so rapidly that colleges are always on the lookout for practitioners who can teach.  The adjunct model is also a wonderful way to take advantage of high-level personnel who would otherwise not be looking for a full-time teaching career.  Likewise, professionals should look at teaching as a gig that helps expose them to standout students and new ideas.


Much has been made of the “lean startup” and its value.  One thing that the model creates is more serial entrepreneurs.  Their job is to identify a need and focus a team on filling it, at scale.  Tools like Kickstarter extend financing to artists, authors and other creative professionals by helping them pitch directly to their customers.  To date, over 4 million people have pledged over $600 million in support for over 40,000 Kickstarter projects.  To get started, go to their school page.  Your creativity and effort can result in gigs of your own choosing.


The Maker Faire and many large athletic and musical events, often once a year gatherings in a certain location, embrace large paying audiences.  While volunteers staff the booths and take tickets, out-sourced services create a state of the art infrastructure for these events regardless of location.  Gigs for electrical, sound, video, art and lighting infrastructure can turn even a desert into a happening.

Burning Man

These examples show how the gig economy is taking shape around us.  Once you start to see it in action, you might note how much of our lives rely on the efficiencies it provides.  So what can we do to make the most of these changes?

We can prepare for this new economic landscape by becoming networked problem-solvers. When you have an idea, research it, take pictures and notes.  Find or form an online group to investigate your idea and explore others.  Go horizontal and embrace the best minds you can bring to bear on the problems you want to solve.  Build a team of people you can go to with issues that lie beyond your own expertise.  Then, bring all the wisdom of your “small network” with you as you pursue your career in the gig economy.  It’s as close as your next gig.

Click to learn about Cogswell’s Entrepreneurship Masters Program.

About the Author:

John Duhring has been a founding team member at nine startups, including Supermac Software, WAiS Inc and Bitmenu. During his career he has also applied technology to learning at large companies such as Prentice-Hall, Apple and AOL. Follow him on Twitter: @duhring.

Idea to IPO Start Up Fair at Cogswell College June 5

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

We hope you will join us. Please RSVP to the Meetup.

Problem Solving at the Heart of Entrepreneurship

Friday, March 15th, 2013

Are you one of those people who has trouble getting up in the morning? Do you hit the snooze button a couple of times or turn off the alarm without getting up?

So did entrepreneur Dave Hawkins, inventor of the Wayki toothbrush and alarm clock.

Identifying a need and finding a way to fill that need is perhaps the single biggest factor in determining whether a business venture succeeds or fails. Creativity is not only essential in writing and art; it’s a way of thinking outside the box. Creative problem-solving is the cornerstone of the entrepreneurial spirit.

The Wayki alarm and toothbrush meets two needs: getting up on time and good oral hygiene in a creative way.

Like many people, Hawkins found that he had trouble getting up in the morning. He’d hit the snooze button multiple times or turned off the alarm, then would turn over and go back to sleep. He’d wake up and have to get out the door in a hurry and realized that oral hygiene was sacrificed.

Of course, Hawkins is not alone. So he set out to solve those problems with one product.

The alarm clock is kept in the bedroom, but the Wayki doesn’t have a snooze button, eliminating the habit of hitting the snooze for 10 extra minutes. In order to get you moving, the alarm shut off is in the bathroom and takes the form of a toothbrush. It is inserted into the Wayki base then a clock appears that is automatically set for two minutes.

A true multitasker, the Wayki in effect eliminates two problems by combining two common products in an interesting way. Although still in the development stages and seeking investment through crowd-sourcing, the Wayki is already generating some buzz in tech circles and media.