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Finding Tomorrow’s Innovators With Today’s Modern Submission Management Tools

The Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Cal Poly needed an equitable review system that could handle seven different submission processes. They found Submittable.

California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo has a truly unique way of fostering innovation, community, and leadership among its six colleges through the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). But while the CIE was busy funding their university’s brightest minds and best ideas for the future, their application and submission processes lagged behind. 

One central station for for the entire process 

At most universities, innovation can be siloed: the engineers brainstorm with the engineers, the architects hang out with the architects, the mathematicians huddle with the mathematicians. Cal Poly wanted a way to ensure everyone was collaborating. They also wanted to make sure that all of their students, regardless of major, knew about options beyond getting hired at a start-up or staying in academia. To meet these goals, the CIE offers seven different programs for students and faculty centered around three focuses: learning about entrepreneurship, preparing great ideas for success, and launching smart plans.

With their programs in place, the CIE needed to find a submission management solution flexible enough for use with each of their varied programs.  

"We were using another tool and I can't remember what that was," said Lynn Metcalf, the CIE’s Faculty Fellows Director. "The alternative [to Submittable] was for applicants to be sending me PDFs throughout the summer, which I would then have to dump into a folder and collect and make sure I didn't miss anything. And then I would have to send them out to reviewers."

Photo courtesy of Cal Poly

Photo courtesy of Cal Poly

Saving time while increasing accuracy 

Before 2016, the CIE was using submission management software that fell short when it came to efficiency and organization. Even with a digital solution in place, it was a system that welcomed errors and ate administrative time. 

Switching to Submittable has saved the CIE time and headache. 

"It’s been great, it’s so efficient," said Lynn. "It's a central place where people can upload everything, where we don’t have to send out PDFs and emails and keep track of everything. People can go to one central location, review proposals and rate them. The efficiencies are great." 

In the last four years, Cal Poly has used Submittable to manage nearly 700 entries for 7 innovation-directed programs among an impressive 66 team members. They can’t quite count how many projects and ideas they’ve fostered, but they’ve done everything from helping an architecture professor turn a private design space into something entrepreneurial, to funding a bioengineering student’s fledgling company that helps Parkinson’s patients stay mobile. 

Having anonymous review promotes fairness. You’re not sitting in a room where the person who speaks first, or the person who speaks loudest, or the person in a position of power sways the other reviewers. 

Lynn Metcalf, CIE Faculty Fellows Director

Awarding innovation, in a more equitable way 

The team at CIE appreciated that Submittable's all-in-one platform helped reviewers collaborate and eliminated the need for downloads. They also greatly benefit by using Submittable features to make certain that the best ideas and business plans get rewarded, on a level playing field and regardless of who is submitting the application and regardless of who is reviewing the application. Specifically, the team utilizes permission levels and anonymous review to make the entire process more just and equitable. 

"Having anonymous review promotes fairness," says Metcalf. "You’re not sitting in a room where the person who speaks first, or the person who speaks loudest, or the person in a position of power sways the other reviewers." 

Seamlessly connecting funds to bright ideas 

With an improved submission process firmly in place, all seven of CIE’s entrepreneurial programs are humming, as students, faculty, and the entire community work to bring forth the innovations that will tomorrow’s world better. 

Specifically, the CIE uses Submittable for their Faculty Fellow program (which engages faculty across departments to support student innovation), their Elevator Pitch Program (a 90-second pitch competition with cash prizes), The Hatchery program (which incorporating mentorship and workshops), and Innovation Quest (a team competition that has awarded more than $350,000 since its inception). In addition, they support student and community member project launches through the HotHouse programs (a 13-week Accelerator and an Incubator), as well as the Central California Angel Conference.

"There was no, 'Now what?' when I graduated," said alum Alyssa Pelletier, whose professional career was boosted by the program. "I knew what I wanted and how to get it. I wouldn't have my awesome career if I'd just done my coursework, graduated, and looked for an entry-level job."

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