Mark Ciotola remembers where it all began: as a young boy when he created his own ice cream flavor with a 15 cent licensing fee to his friends.
Since those days, the SF State Design Industry lecturer has worked on several start-ups, a 3D visualization system, done extensive research for NASA and created the blog sustainspace.
SF State has been at the cutting edge with computer science he said, although some don’t see the light of day, there are others that do.
“It is tough with computer applications to get the type of publicity for anyone who tries to do an app,” Ciotola said. “There are only a few big success stories and the odds are stacked against you.”
The heart of start-ups and inventions at SF State come from the design industry department, and Ciotola said it is no accident that he is teaching here.
“They created (my) course because there were so many inventions and start ups coming out of here,” he added. “Students are charged early on to create things and come up with a solution to a problem with no pre established conclusion.”
There have been numerous creations coming out of the DAI department year after year. From one SF state alumni who created the waterbed, to another with a computerized cnc machine, a designer who came up with his own line of sunglasses, which Whoopi Goldberg bought and wore to an awards ceremony, as well as countless others working on device apps.
He said the main problem as to why skilled student entrepreneurs are often overlooked is due to a lack of networks within the right group of people.
But again Ciotola agrees that there is one common denominator — students here come from a fairly diverse background.
“There are a lot of role models in the Bay Area, and professionals will often be perfectly willing to spill their guts to students,” he said. “There is no better place to go hit people up than San Francisco, there is so much talent here.”
“There are so many resources in the Bay Area. People have a hard time pitching these things elsewhere, I’ve been elsewhere and I can say that,” he said. Ciotola pitched ideas for a start-up in Australia, where he said no one knew what he meant.
San Francisco has its downside, of course. It is tough paying expensive rent while trying to start a business on a shoestring.
“It is better to go home and develop things there; a tough choice for students to make,” he said. “Thomas Edison’s first invention wasn’t successful. You might be successful or you might not. It is really important to build your networks and increase your staying power. It might take longer than you thought.”
His number one advice: work on building relationships.
“Get out there, build your networks now,” Ciotola said. “Eventually when you do need things from people, you will know where to go.”
And he said he wonders how long this current bubble is going to last, so take advantage of it while it is there.
Do whatever you can to keep at it on a continued basis and make sure what you are doing is something you’re really passionate about.
In the Bay Area especially, people are very supportive of the social consciousness of people and making the condition of humanity better.
“It is the most enlightening thing about being here,” Ciotola said.
He has his fair share of regrets, though.
“Maybe you’re working on something you are really passionate about, but maybe it isn’t very marketable. It’s a very tough balance there.”